A lesson in position leverage at the poker table

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There’s a common problem I see in tournaments and cash games: Too many players limp preflop from late position. This is a losing strategy.

I was playing a $1-$2 no-limit cash game. The table was soft and I was on the button. Two players limped in front of me and I had 8-6 offsuit.

The player to my immediate left was overly aggressive and had been overplaying many of his hands. I had stacked him once and he had reached into his pocket at least one other time since I had been at the table.

Normally I would raise or fold here. With two limpers, I like to raise to knock out the blinds and isolate the limpers knowing I have position. If I get a high flop, it allows me to bluff consistent with my preflop raise. If I hit the flop, I may win a bigger pot. In this case, I limped in part because I was distracted as I was getting a drink from the waitress and in part because I didn’t want to raise and face a reraise from the player to my left in the small blind.

The small blind completed and the big blind checked. The flop came 8-6-5 with two diamonds. Everyone checked and I kicked myself for not raising preflop. I wasn’t loving this situation as it was a dangerous flop with all of those limpers. So I bet $15. The small blind went all-in for about $75 more. The big blind went all-in for about $500 more. Everyone folded to me. Not much of a decision. I definitely would’ve called the small blind but I knew the big blind had the straight.

I folded and the small blind turned over A-3 of diamonds while the big blind had 4-7 for the straight. Neither player improved, nor would I have, and our small blind reached into his pocket again.

Let’s look at how the hand would’ve played if I had raised from the button. I know I’m making assumptions, but I feel confident based on having observed these players for quite some time.

The small blind most likely calls me and the big blind most certainly folds. Not sure if the other limpers call. After the flop, I don’t know how the betting would’ve gone, but I’m confident the small blind and I get the chips in.

Hindsight is 20-20 and you should make decisions based on the information you have. At the time, the action was on me preflop.
I should be looking to leverage my button. In this case, with a couple of limpers, I should’ve raised to thin the field and take advantage of my postflop position.

— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. Email thepokerwriter@aol.com.