Conventional poker wisdom would tell us to be careful when playing pots out of position, especially with mediocre holdings. This is solid advice that usually won’t fail us.
However, versus certain types of opponents, we can disregard our positional disadvantage and play the pot quite straightforwardly. The key is knowing our opponent!
Certain types of passive players will call down with hands they perceive to have value, and they will simply never bluff raise these hands (or any hands) on the river. If they were drawing or if we bet too large on the river, they will simply fold.
Knowing this play and identifying these types of players can allow us to bet super thin for value and confidently fold when raised. I enjoy watching some of my local game’s better players and I’ve noticed that all of the best ones are more prone to bet-folding on the river versus check-calling, check-folding, or checking behind. In doing so they often get paid off by second best hands while only having to fold a minimal amount of times. It’s exploiting these edges that make them the game’s best.
Here is an example from a recent $2/$5 NL hand.
10/8/14 $2/5 NL $500 Effective Stacks.
Our opponent has ~$500 & we cover. We have our standard nitty image and use it to open the 88 UTG to $15. Villain calls in middle position as does the button and BB.
Flop 7 4 3 [Pot $60 Stacks $485]
After the BB checks, we make a simple half pot bet of $30. The Villain is the only caller. While we could have gotten into trouble playing a multi-way pot out of position, things have worked out as we have “reverse isolated” the Villain, a super nice player who we know from experience is likely to call down with his value holdings & draws but won’t turn his hand into a bluff. If he raises, we can confidently fold our hand.
Turn 7 4 35 [Pot $120 Stacks $455]
Going with our read this is an easy bet despite not being the best turn card. We bet $50 and Villain calls quickly. In hindsight this bet is probably a bit on the small side – if we want to maximize value we should probably bet more. When making my decision in-game, I bet a little too quickly and didn’t consider betting larger. If villain raises here we can fold and be confident we made a good decision.
River 7 4 353 [Pot $220 Stacks $405]
The board pairs on the river and we have another easy value bet. We believe our opponent will not raise with worse and if he raises, we will fold. Previously, I may have checked here, either losing value when he checks behind with his second best hands, or being put in a tough spot when he bets, now second guessing myself since my read is that he would not turn his hand into a bluff. We can comfortably employ the bet-fold here, we just need an amount we know he’ll call. We bet $75 into the $220 pot and our opponent snap calls and then mucks when we show our overpair. We scoop the $370 pot and pat ourselves on the back for being the architect of such a beautiful plan.
This isn’t a play we can use on just anyone – again we must have a solid read on our opponent. Trying this play on an above average player, or even a losing but crazy player, is a recipe for disaster as we can be put in tough spots or be bluffed off the best hand. Know your opponent, have a plan and then go with your read!