Late Position: Pre-Flop Strategy
The guidelines in the past lessons are only suggestions for beginning players. Some will say they are too loose, some will say too tight. Some will agree with the course of action, and of course, human nature being what it is, some will not.
In lieu of writing an entire book, these lessons are outlined for you to help begin to stimulate the decision making process. Though you are playing in the PokerStars School tournaments currently, the guidelines can and will change dramatically when you venture out to play in a real casino. Or, you will play them differently when you play in a home game where you are familiar with the players. As you get to know the habits of different players, you will begin to know the subtle nuances of how they play. This will cause you to either loosen up or perhaps play a bit tighter depending on your intuition.
The professional players will play hands differently all together. In a major tournament, the professionals will shake it up to a point that no one could objectively give definitive answers regarding starting hands. For the time being, as a beginner, follow these lessons to help you get a feel for the game. This will help you learn the potential hands you can play and the ones you should not play during pre-flop betting.
Late Position Strategy
Medium to Low Pocket Pairs and Suited Connectors
If you are able to enter the pot reasonably cheap in late position with medium to low pocket pairs or suited connectors, they could have value for you. With these two situations, you want to have 3 or more callers in with you, and no raisers.
It is advisable to call with 5% or less of your stack and not to risk any more with these types of hands. If the flop hits you favorably, then you have a lot of extra money in the pot to win. If the flop does not hit you, then you can release your hand without doing irreparable damage to your stack.
It is better to have a medium to low pocket pair than to have medium or low suited connectors. Let's reason this out:
There are 3 callers and the blinds and you have the 78c. Hypothetically, would you be looking for a flop such as the 8h 6c 5h? This kind of hand could be a double-edged sword and would need to be played well and with much thought. It would give you the open-ended straight draw and the top pair with a back door flush draw (catching the last two cards to make a flush).
You would have a pretty good drawing hand. But:
- With that many players in the pot, if you called with more than 5% of your stack on this hand, did you risk too much?
- If the button or blinds were to raise you, it would cause you to make a major decision based on a drawing hand.
- What if everyone checked and you get a free 4th card, which is a club. You now also have a flush draw. However, it is a mighty low flush draw. With suited connectors, it is really better to make a straight than a flush in this situation.
How many other cards could beat you now? Any two hearts or any two clubs higher than yours if the 3rd heart or club comes on the river. If someone has an over card, then at any time you will be beaten out of top pair if it arrives on the turn or the river. One of the other players who got in the pot as cheaply as you did might be playing an 89 suited or 8T suited. A 79 suited would have made the straight for them on the flop or a potentially higher flush. And, any pair bigger than your 88 would have you beaten.
As a beginner, playing this type of hand can be very tricky. A good rule of thumb is to see the flop cheaply in late position. Don't call with more than 5% of your stack, and if the flop hits you right between the eyes, (887 for instance) then you are in great position to win. If not, you must have the discipline to release your hand when someone bets on the flop or if one of the blinds raises behind you pre-flop. After the pre-flop round, you are in the position to see 90% of the action prior to acting in the subsequent rounds. This is what makes late position so powerful.
Holding a medium to small pocket pair would warrant a call of no more than 5% of your stack if there were 3 or more callers in front of you. If there were to be a raise, you would fold these small pairs. If you are allowed to see the flop for a call in late position, and if you don't make a set or two pair, then you can easily release your hand if someone bets. For example, if you hold 55 and a 5 K 7 flop, you have a good chance of winning. However, there are two over cards and someone could have the 77 or KK.
Playing AA in Late Position
It is the beginning of the tournament. Many poker professionals refer to this as Early Stage. You get AA in late position.
- There have been no callers. There are only the blinds and it is up to you to act. Your beginning chip count is $10,000 and there are $25-50 blinds. These amounts are very small in relation to your chip count. A call of $50 would be .5% (1/2 of 1 percent) of your stack.
- For some players, this is more incentive to trap the blinds for extra bets. So, they would elect to call. They are hoping that some part of the flop will hit the blinds and entice them to make extra bets.
- You are taking the chance of getting eliminated by slow playing (not raising with a dominant hand in a normal raising position). One or both of the blinds gets into the game cheaply as you and have played a hand they would normally have folded against a raise. They get a lucky flop. A new player, and even sometimes a seasoned one, would be married to the Aces and could end up on the rail.
Playing KK or QQ in Late Position
KK and QQ are both such great hands but can turn sour so easily. Several things can happen when you hold these cards.
- Someone could be slow-playing Aces. You are in late position and you have callers. You make a $200 raise. Holding a premium pair, you would like to win the pot right then or at least get it down to heads up play. If there is a deceptive player behind you, and he re-raises, say another $1,000, you have a problem. It is early in play with the blinds at $25 and $50. You have invested about $250 in this hand. If you think you are beaten, then you have to lay down your KK or QQ.
This is where you will need to have developed a good perception regarding this player. Judgment call at best. Has he slow played before? Is he loose or tight? You would most likely have to put him on AA. This is a very hard thing to do. But, you stand to lose a great deal of your stack with this competitor.
- He could raise you another $200 here and achieve exactly what he wanted to do. That would be to get you to follow him down the yellow brick road. Most likely the other players will fold and you will be heads up with this AA player. The flop will have to hit you by making a set. If an A were to flop, then you will be up against another decision. Always be prepared when you raise to see the flop and how you will react to it. That might make a difference in the amount you raise pre-flop. Limping is much more frequent in the early stages of the tournament than later on.
Playing AK in Late Position
AK is a little bit less than even money against a pocket pair. Statistically it is about 11: 10. You will need to flop an A or K to win, or some drawing hand for a straight. Many players will raise with AK to define their hand. This means that if the blinds are $25-$50 and a player were to raise $100, the player with the AK would re-raise $300 just to see what the other player will do. If the other player comes behind him and makes it $1,000 to go, then it is apparent he means business and probably has a big pair. Another judgment call has to be made.
As a beginner, it is safer to play a really tight game at first. You certainly can play the hands in lesson 5. If you truly want to maintain your stack, then play like a rock (a player who takes few risky chances). Just familiarize yourself with playable hands. Wait until you have best possible starting hands. Look for reasons to toss your hands. If you do, then you are less likely to get stuck trying for a draw and losing your stack early on in the game.
Always be aware of your stack. Where is it relative to the other players at your table? Be ready to toss your hand if you are in a low stack position. At this time it is imperative you squirrel away your chips in hopes of catching a powerful hand. You are in late position, and that is the best position to be in, but you must also have the cards.
If you have a big stack and have the opportunity to go against a player with a vulnerable small stack, be prepared to attack when you get playable cards. You could be in a win-win situation here. If you bet, you could win his chips right then and there. Or, if you allow him to bet, you could raise him all in. You could kill two birds with one stone. Win his chips and eliminate him. Sweet.