Playing oop (out of position) is a huge topic and it’s impossible to cover anything that could be said about it in a single COTW. I’ve decided to mostly concentrate on flop play, but there’ll also be some remarks about preflop and some information on turn play. I’m trying to write this from a game theoretical perspective (as good as I can), so please be aware when you’re reading this, that against a lot of villains it’s better to play “incorrectly”. For example, there’s no need to balance your range (and I’d say it’s actually bad in a lot of spots) against a guy that’s not paying attention and that you don’t see at the tables very often.
Before I start talking about specific lines and stuff I’d like to make a few general statements about playing oop:
– Position is important. Yeah I know, you’ve all heard and read that before. And I’m also sure that there’s quite a few of you out there who’ll be thinking “yeah, sure, I know position is important, let’s get to the interesting stuff.” But those of you who are on the same level that I was at when I started grinding micro FR probably don’t understand how important it really is. And even though I’m sure I’ve improved a lot since my micro FR days I’m also a 100% sure there’s stuff related to position which I don’t get yet either. So my point here is: Everybody who’s read a poker book or been on 2p2 for only a short time knows position is important. However there’s a huge difference between “knowing” and “understanding” and the latter needs a lot of work. And only when you understand something you’ll be able to make it part of your game in a non robotic way. I hope that doesn’t sound offensive or, even worse, discouraging, cause it’s not meant that way. It’s more of a warning that it takes some time and effort to get a better grasp of how positional issues should change your decision making.
– Whenever you enter the pot from a position where you’re likely to end up being oop after the flop you willingly accept having a big disadvantage. When you call a raise in the blinds, you know you’ll be playing the pot oop. When you raise in early position it’s pretty likely and even when you’re opening in the cutoff you’re not guaranteed to have position postflop. This is one reason why you should be tightening up your openraising range when you move away from the button. In poker there’s 3 advantages you can have over your opponent (quick shout out to Baluga Whale from whose videos I borrowed that concept). Those are skill advantage, card advantage and positional advantage. So whenever enter the pot from a position where you’re sure or likely to end up being oop postflop your opponent(s) has/have the positional advantage. To make up for that, you better have some good card advantage or skill advantage (This can be a lot of things: F.e. being a better player in general or having a good idea of villain’s tendencies which allows you to make good decisions against him postflop, etc.).
I’m going to distinguish 2 different scenarios. One is when you raise pf and get called by a player that has position on you, the other is when you call a raise being oop, which will mostly be the case when you’re in the blinds. So in the first scenario you’re having the betting impetus whereas in the second you’re the pf caller. I’m going to focus on heads-up pots, but I’ll make some comments about how you should adapt in a multiway pot. My hand examples will be from 6m games cause that’s what I’m mostly playing at the moment, however I don’t think this matters. All those lines work just as well at a full ring table as long as you adjust for table dynamics and the villains in the hand.
Playing oop as the preflop raiser
Whenever you open with a raise, other things being equal (mostly skill), you prefer to be called by one of the blinds and play the hand in position rather than being called by a player in later position. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen and the earlier your position, the more likely you’re gonna end up out of position postflop. There’s two things you can do to make up for raising in early position (or in the SB), where the risk of being out of position postflop is biggest: You should raise with a stronger range, which basically means raising with hands that you think will still make you money on average even if some of the time you have to play them out of position or against multiple opponents and also taking into account the times when someone behind you wakes up with a monster. (Plus, at least from a theoretical point of view, you should include some hands for deception/balance, which maybe aren’t +ev by themselves but help you make more with your big hands). The second thing you can do is to raise a bigger amount when your preflop position gets worse. This is open for debate, but in my opinion it makes the most sense to raise bigger in early position or in the small blind than in LP. As an example (that’s how I play) you could do 4x in EP, 3.5x in MP, 3x in the HJ/CO, 2.5x on the BTN and 4x from the SB. This has several advantages: From EP (and to some extent from the SB) you might reduce people’s willingness to call your raise, and if you get called you created a bigger pot when your range is stronger and you reduce the SPR (stack to pot ratio) which is good when you have to play your hand out of position cause when stacks get shallower, your positional disadvantage decreases as well. On the other hand, when you’re on the BTN, you loose less when you get 3bet and the players in the blind might call you lighter which is good, because you generally should be able to outplay them when you’re in position.
That being said, let’s take a look at what your arsenal is when you end up in a heads-up pot oop.
I just want to point out a few very important points:
– Flop texture matters a lot: Standard cbetting is something that is pretty easy to learn, so especially for the micro players reading this, having a decent idea which boards are good for cbetting and which aren’t should help you a lot.
– Change your sizing: Please don’t be lazy with your cbets. Against players that don’t pay a lot of attention (which will not only be the fishes but also masstabling regs) barring some very special circumstances there’s no reason I could think of to cbet more than 1⁄2 pot on a super dry A83r board with air. Or if you have TT on a T87 two tone board I got no idea why you would ever bet less than at least 2/3 pot (I’d prefer more) against someone who’s only thinking about his own hand and doesn’t adjust to bet sizes (unless you start overbetting big or minbetting). If you’re afraid of giving away information I’d recommend having a fixed amount based on board texture, but this just isn’t necessary versus most opponents you’ll play against at the micros (and at small stakes as well for that matter).
Again you should have a decent idea of flop texture and ranges. When to c/f is super villain dependent and also depends on your position. But in general you should be c/fing in spots where you think that a cbet is going to get called or raised too often to show an immediate profit. If f.e. you bet 2 into a 3 dollar pot, you need to win 40% of the time to break even. So if you expect villain to call more than 60% of the time and you don’t think that you can continue when called, you should just give up. Let’s look at an example:
You open in UTG+1 with AJ and a tricky TAG calls you in the CO. His range there is like any pp, some suited connectors, maybe some suited gappers, maybe some suited aces, maybe also premium hands. Now the flop comes 874 two tone. When you cbet, probably any pp is going to call, a lot of the sc’s got a piece as well, then there’s a part of his range that made a FD and if he’s tricky he might still float you with air. This might be a spot where you’re generally better off just c/fing, especially if you think he’d just flat the flop with 2pr+ and you don’t feel comfortable firing multiple barrels. Another example might be when you raise 55 in the HJ and the BTN who’s a huge station calls you. Flop comes QJ8 with a FD and you think that the BTN is calling with any gutshot or better. In this situation I really doubt he’s going to fold as often as he should to make cbetting profitable and making a multi street bluff versus a station is usually just bad.
This is a line that you should use less and also one where I struggle a bit. A lot of players just don’t have that in their arsenal when they’re the PFR. And the reason for this is that if they cbet a lot of air they should also cbet their monsters. So whenever they check you can be quite sure they’re just going to give up. That’s why against players that you think will take advantage of your obvious weakness and steal whenever you check, you should have a c/cing or a c/ring range. However this line should be used far less frequently than the other two. A few things to think about:
– To be able to cbet as often as you should, you can’t afford to play your monsters like this very often. This would weaken your cbetting range way too much.
– This line works best versus aggressive villains that you expect to fire multiple barrels once you check. If that’s the case, this line might make you more money than the standard cbet.
– Sometimes it can also make sense to c/c to keep your equity share in the pot. Let’s say you open in MP with JTs and a good and aggressive villain calls you in LP. The flop comes J87r. That’s a flop where an aggressive villain is gonna raise your cbet quite often and against some very aggressive opponents a bet/3bet line might be best. However, if you don’t think you can comfortably 3b/get it in here, I’d prefer to c/c on the flop instead of cbetting and then either fold to a raise or call the raise and get bluffed off your hand on the turn. I think those pair+weak draw hands are probably the kind of hands which I usually use to strengthen my c/cing range.
– Every once in a while it makes sense to c/c flop, c/r (if possible c/s) turn with a monster or a good draw versus an agro player on your left, just to send him a message and prevent him from betting every time you check on the flop.
– You could also c/r on the flop instead of c/cing, however this is something I don’t do very often at all when I’m the PFR.
The cbet Flop, c/r Turn line
This is a line I really like and which you should do as a semi- bluff and also for value. I use this mostly against players that like to float so I get value from their bluffs and it should also prevent them from barreling every time I check on the turn. How wide you can do this depends on villain’s floating frequency, but against some villains doing this with any FD or OESD should work. Against others I’d need some kind of combo draw. This all depends on how wide you think they are floating you and how they are gonna respond to your c/r. However to make this play work you got to be sure that this villain is floating a lot and will bet most of his floats on the turn.
PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $2.00 BB (6 handed) – Poker- Stars Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com
Button ($282) SB ($236.75) Hero (BB) ($200) UTG ($200)
MP ($200) CO ($391.85)
This was in a 3b pot, so the stacks were perfect for it. Unless villain is a big nit, I’d expect him to float me with Ahigh or some medium pp pretty often (if those are in his pf range). So if I expect him to bet the turn pretty often, I prefer the c/r over a b/c line for two reasons: I’m the one getting in the last bet, so I have some fold equity to go with my pot equity which is huge and I also maximize value against his bluffs by letting him put a bet into the pot before making him fold.
The cbet Flop, c/f Turn
I’m sure you all know this line. All I wanted to say here is, that it’s sometimes better to just give up when your cbet gets called. You should have a range for cbetting the flop and then c/fing on the turn and firing multiple barrels all the time is going to be a sure recipe for disaster for most players especially at the micros. It’s important to recognize good spots to double barrel or c/r on the turn, but a decent portion of the time just giving up is going to be the right play.
Adjusting in a multiway pot
I don’t want to go into detail here, but in general you should give villains more credit when they show aggression and you should also bluff less, because it’s more likely that you’ll get called. And you also need a stronger hand than you would in a heads-up pot to play for stacks. This also applies when you’re the preflop caller.
Playing oop as the preflop caller
So now I’m going to assume that you’re calling a raise in the blinds. Two basic things to consider: Your range in general should be pretty tight cause you’re going to have the positional disadvantage. How tight it should be depends on villain and on villain’s position/range.
The lead out/ “donk bet”
A donk bet is a bet made from a player who’s acting before the preflop raiser’s got a chance to act. This again is open to debate, but in my opinion it’s usually not a good play especially in a heads-up pot. The reason for this is that whether you have a monster, a marginal hand or air you usually benefit from villain putting more money into the pot with a weak range. This is almost always the case when you call a raise from LP (and to some extent from MP as well). When you donk, you take the possibility to cbet away from the preflop raiser and his range for putting money into the pot (calling or raising your donk bet) is gonna be stronger than his cbetting range would be. That’s not something you want when you’re bluffing or have a marginal hand. And to only donkbet with monsters is pretty transparent. There are some spots though where I think donking is a good idea:
– It’s a multiway pot and you think it’s likely that the flop will get checked through. So with a good draw or a monster it might be a good idea to lead out.
– You think donking out will maximize fold equity if you’re bluffing or value if you have a monster. I hardly ever do it, but I could imagine that you might get some spazzy bluff raises or light call downs if you have a good image. However, a c/r is usually gonna work just as well.
– If you’re heads-up and you’re pretty sure that villain is gonna check back on the flop, you might want to lead out to get him off two overcards. For example if you call a raise from the CO and the flop comes 653, it might be a decent spot to lead out with your whole range to prevent the CO from taking a free card with all his unpaired overcards.
I think that most of those are really marginal advantages and usually not enough to make donking better than a c/c or c/r.
PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $2.00 BB (6 handed) – Poker- Stars Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com
Button ($434.45) Hero (SB) ($200) BB ($29.30)
MP ($285.15) CO ($200)
In this hand I was up against a very bad player with a short stack in the BB and a nitty/passive player (over 200 hands) on the BTN. My equity against the fish is excellent and he’s bad so he could call with anything. At the same time it’s quite likely that the fish on the BTN is going to check back and I don’t want to give 2 players a free card. So I lead out expecting a call from the BB and a fold from the BTN the vast majority of the time.
Again it all depends on ranges and board texture, but especially oop you’ll just have to give up on some boards. You’ve got to realize though that if you’re c/fing the vast majority of the time you’re probably calling too light preflop. C/fing is going to be a good play in a lot of situations, however you have to make sure that a decent part of your range is either going to c/c or c/r. Otherwise you’re just burning money by calling raises oop and then giving up to a cbet all the time.
It’s really tough to give general guidelines when you should be c/cing. In general you’re going to take this line with made hands that have some showdown value like top pair with a weak/medium kicker, 2nd pair, even bottom pair or Ahi. It’s really important though that you have a read on the villain and a plan for the rest of the hand. C/cing the flop with anything just to fold on the turn is usually not a good idea. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some hands that you elect to call with one time and then give up. But if you’re doing this the vast majority of the time you’re going to lose a lot of money. Here is a hand I played against a slightly passive villain:
PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $2.00 BB (6 handed) – Poker- Stars Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com
CO ($418.50) Button ($220) SB ($200)
Hero (BB) ($211) UTG ($334.85) MP ($249)
Unless you have a very aggressive dynamic going this hand is probably too weak to c/r for value on the flop so I elect to c/c. On the turn, the decision depends entirely on what you think of the villain in the hand. Against a lot of players it would be better to c/c again (if you have a plan for the river), but I didn’t expect this villain to have a large bluffing range here, eventhough the turn is a decent card to bluff at. Against some villains you might include some monsters/good draws into your c/cing range, otherwise you’ll always have marginal hands when you c/c. Something I wouldn’t recommend very often at all is to float oop with complete air to steal the pot later. Against some players you can call on an Ahi flop with anything and if they check back on the turn you can be almost certain that you can steal it on the river. There’s so much that can go wrong though and you need a solid read on villain to try this in my opinion.
Whenever you think your hand is too good to just c/f (and donking isn’t a valid option for you in most spots), then you’re going to make a decision between a c/c and a c/r. As a general guideline I’d recommend to c/c with most one pair hands, while you c/r very good one pair hands and monsters plus a lot of draws. What I think is very important in this context is that you’re thinking about your entire range (and at this point I’d like to give a quick shout out to Foucault who helped me a lot with this stuff). Let’s say you decide for whatever reason that you want to c/r with roughly x% of your hands. So what hands should you choose for it? In general you’re going to have a range that you raise for value and a range that you’re bluffing with (good draws fall somewhere in between I guess).
C/ring for value is a viable option, whenever you think you’ll get called by enough worse hands. Whether you can c/r KQ on a QT4 two tone board for value depends on your opponent and your image. Sometimes just calling is the more +ev line here. The same is true for your monsters, sometimes you might decide that calling is more +ev than c/ring. Most players that have some idea what they are doing have a decent understanding of what hands belong into their value range, eventhough they might overplay some hands or play others too passively.
Now the other part of your c/ring range is going to be bluffs and semibluffs. And when I look at the posts in the micro forums it’s pretty obvious that some players don’t really have a good idea what hands they should be c/ring with. Again there’s always exceptions, but in general you should bluff with those hands that have the best equity against villain’s calling range. This is really important, cause every now and then I read a post from someone who asks if his c/r bluff with 55 on KT4r or so was a good one. Well, if you think it’s +ev to c/r bluff a huge part of your range, sure then go ahead. But if you’re playing against someone who won’t let you run him over with bluffs and you want/need to have a “normal” c/ring frequency, then there’s just no reason to put 55 into that range. Let’s assume you’re playing against a rather tight villain and his calling range (for simplicity let’s assume he’s not 3betting) on KT4r is going to be JJ-QQ, any Kx, QJ, sets, AA. So what should you c/r bluff him with? Again, choose hands that have the best equity vs his calling range, this means you want to have hands in there which have a gutshot (AQ, AJ, J9, Q9) an overcard (all Ax) or hands that can turn good bluffing cards. That would be hands with a backdoor flush or straight draw. You don’t want to have 55 in there, cause 55 has exactly 2 outs against a huge part of his calling range.
I want to say that once more cause if that’s all you take away from this COTW I’m happy: Unless you think you could profitably c/r almost anything against a certain opponent, choose those hands that have the best equity vs villains calling range and those hands which can turn a backdoor draw that’ll let you continue bluffing on the turn.
Hero (BB) ($256.60) UTG ($239.45)
CO ($272.75) Button ($236)
If he’s calling with a 9 I have about 14 outs, if he calls with a big pair or an 8 I have about 8 outs. Also any diamond on the turn would give me a flush draw so that would improve my equity when bluffing.
PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $2.00 BB (4 handed) – Poker-Stars Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com
Hero (BB) ($313.85) UTG ($50)
I’m probably bluffing with the best hand pretty often here and c/cing would be a good option against some villains as well. The important point here is to note that I c/r with A9hh, because any heart, T, maybe even a 7 or Q will improve my equity and helps me if I want to keep bluffing. I usually wouldn’t c/r A9cc or A9dd there.
1. If you’re up against a very aggressive villain that fires multiple barrels frequently and you flop a monster, a good draw (8 outs or better) or even just something like mid pair that you don’t want to call down with, you might be better off making the c/r on the turn than on the flop, cause that way villain will put more money into the pot with a weakish range before you drop the hammer. Just realize that if you’re c/ring on a lot of flops villain might be suspicious when you suddenly flat on the flop and c/r on the turn.
I think this is quite long already (tl:dr, I know, I know…), so I’m going to finish it here. A lot more could be said about playing out of position, but I hope that you found this interesting/ helpful and feel free to ask if you have any questions or flame if you don’t agree with what I said.
PS: If anyone’s interested in doing it, I think it would be be interesting to discuss some lines in more detail, f.e. there’s easily enough stuff on c/ring to make that a COTW on it’s own and take a closer look at how to continue on different turns and rivers versus different villains.