Position and limping in PLO
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
Position is power in poker says Jeff Kimber
Position is power in poker, and no matter what else you learn as you become more experienced, just getting that notion into your head and using positional advantage will become one of the key components of your poker, whatever form of the game you’re playing.I remember being taught this in the very infancy of my poker career, and thinking, “Yeah it is nice to be last to act, but it doesn’t matter that much. I’ll just check raise if I’m first to act.”
About 13 years later, I think I’ve finally started to use position every time I sit down to play poker, folding more out of position and playing a wider range when last to act, but it’s taken some time to fully understand its importance.
Think about it. How often do you actually get to showdown and have to put your cards on their backs to claim a pot? In an NLH tournament it’s really not that often, which is good, because it’s hard to make a flush, a straight or any other big hand.
While tuning up my PLO cash game, I’ve found using position to my advantage to be one of the biggest improvements to my game. At the most basic level, I’ve tightened up my range in early position, passing anything that isn’t an absolute premium hand, whereas on the button in unopened pots I loosen up completely, and only pass the bottom 20% or so of starting hands.
Playing such a wide range on the button can see you make all sorts of disguised hands, and while playing this fast and loose out of position would lead you into all sorts of ugly situations on the button we can control the action and the size of the pot, as well as pick up a lot of pots when dangerous boards are checked to us, mostly on the flop, but also on the turn and river as the board changes. Opponents using tracking software lazily will see your average VPIP at one level, whereas in reality the difference between your starting hand ranges in early position compared to on the button is huge.
If I raise under-the-gun, an opponent may see a VPIP of 30 and conclude that my range is fairly wide as I’m playing almost a third of hands. In reality, my VPIP is highly skewed towards button play, and my range under-the-gun is extremely narrow, but those not concentrating or looking at positional stats will make incorrect decisions. Playing a wide range from the button and stabbing at a lot of pots when the chance arrives will often give you a loose enough reputation to get paid off when you do have the goods.
In a perfect world we’d always have position in every hand, but poker doesn’t work that way. Limping is much more prevalent in PLO than other forms of poker, and over zealous hold’em players moving to PLO will look at a limp as an invitation to raise, isolate the limp and play the rest of the pot in position with the initiative. In PLO however, limping to fold is almost unheard of, and “punishing” limps is far more difficult, with cold-calling behind far from unusual too.
Isolating limpers can prove an expensive habit. Often you’ll see a flop multi-way and, having continued the aggression on the flop and been called, you’re faced with expensive decisions – whether to continue inflating an already bloated pot having missed completely or to give up and leave your money in the middle.
While open-limping is not to be encouraged, there are times when limping behind can be your best option, such as when you know there are aggressive players behind who are likely to re-isolate any isolation raise you make, or when limpers have shown a tendency to call every raise. The advantages of limping behind are that you get to see a flop, and hopefully flop a huge hand cheaply, and because of the multi-way nature of the pot there’s a better chance you can cooler someone with a nuts-versus-a-slightly-worse-hand scenario.
Players often play more “honest” in multi-way pots, as it’s much less appetising to run a bluff in a four- or five-way pot, and you can often pick up pots cheaply as opponents have not contributed much and therefore don’t feel the need to defend the one big blind they’ve put in.
As we’ve discussed in previous months, our core holdings, the premium hands with which we look to play big pots, are hands that contain coordinated, suited, big pairs and high cards. Beyond that, we have hands that don’t quite tick every box and will pick up less equity on the average flop, but will fit or fold – either smack a very big flop or miss completely and be very unlikely to win the hand from there. These kinds of holdings are ideal to limp behind: the likes of 8-7-6-4 with no suits, or hands with a suited ace, which can flop the nuts cheaply, but in the main will miss and will likely be folded.
It is rarely, if ever, worth isolating short stacks, because other players can enter the pot and reopen the betting and put you in very tricky situations. It is, though, important to be aware of the short stacks on the table and their tendencies, as if they are likely to raise behind you, a limp may be very rewarding to get some dead money in the pot before re-raising once the action gets back to you.
Limping in the small blind, even in multi-way limped pots, is very rarely a good idea because it’s so hard to get paid if you do make a hand, and invariably those big hands are cancelled out by the tricky spots you’ll find yourself in playing out of position.
Even if you have the potential to flop the nuts, say with a suited ace, the pot is so small, and being first to act, protecting your hand, and getting paid off by a worse holding, is easier said than done. With so many scare cards that change the nuts, and the unlikelihood of opponents folding on the flop due to the small pot created by the passive pre-flop play, getting out of the small blind as cheaply as possible is nearly always the best move.
Raising over-limpers from the blinds is a topic many fine PLO players disagree on, but it is something I will happily do with ultra-premium hands. Bear in mind the key mantra in our PLO game – the easiest way to make money is by holding hands which dominate our opponents’ – and it’s obvious that bloating pots, even out of position, against players we know play ranges below our hand, is a profitable play. These hands will hit a lot of flops, and also flop nut backdoor equity which will allow us to fire multiple barrels.
Being out of position makes it much harder to win the pot with the worst hand, and can lead us to fold the best hand to aggression from the button, but as long as we’re confident the opponent will pay us off when we do make a monster, bloating the pot from the blinds is profitable.