One of the first things most players learn when they start to play No Limit Texas Hold’em, no matter if it is online or in live games at a casino, is position. More specifically, how to play from the button.
Playing from earlier positions, like “under the gun” are often over looked by novice players as they focus on playing from the “drivers seat” at the poker table. There are many nuances to playing from the Button that most players will never learn and exploring different options in this position will help improve your play dramatically.
First of all, if you are new to NL Texas Hold em, the Button position is the position of the dealer, designated by the “D” icon or chip that you see on your screen. The reason this position is so valuable is because it is the last one to act at the table in all subsequent action. Remember, poker is a game of incomplete information and it is a huge advantage to have the information of how everyone else has played the hand (meaning whether they bet or checked or folded) before you have to make a decision. You can tailor your play based on how your opponents played, regardless of your actual cards.
The Button is the position that many players will try to steal the blinds from if no one has opened the pot already. Raising into an unopened pot from the Button has gotten to be so common place in online poker that advanced players will not respect it anymore if they are in the Small or Big Blind. Therein lies the problem. Everyone wants to play from the Button, make raises, steal pots. However, like the continuation bet, more hardened internet players will not respect this play. A good player when faced with an opponent making a position play from the button, will many times respond by re-raising all-in, forcing the Button player to fold.
What you really need to do is learn to vary your play from the Button. (much like every other position!) The mistake that many players make is becoming too predictable from the Button. You simply cannot make the same raise every round from this position or you will get caught. However, much of what you do to vary your play will depend on the table you are at.
For example, if are you in a cash ring game with $1-$2 Blinds, what is the point of raising from the Button to try and steal $3? By doing that, you are many times just building a pot for your opponent! Rather than just making a raise from the Button because you have read that it is a good play, learn to analyze the situation you are currently in and make adjustments from there.
There is little or no point in stealing $3 worth of blinds in a low limit game, but if you are playing a $25-$50 game, it is obviously much more worthwhile.
This holds true for the early stages of a Sit n Go as well. Why try and steal $30 worth of blinds? You will get yourself into trouble more often than not, and for what? Small pots that don’t much matter one way or the other.
However, what about the late stages of a SNG or multi-table tournament? Much different. You want to steal at these stages from the Button as well as other positions. The Blinds and/or antes have become large enough to really matter and you can build your stack very quickly this way. Plus, you now have the added benefit of varying your play. Early on, you did not steal, now you do. Sort of a put the pedal down approach: start slowly and cautiously, and build into extreme aggression.
If you glean nothing else here, learn this: you must vary your play from the Button and how you vary it is situational. It greatly depends on the type of game you are playing, the point in the game you are at, the temperment of your table (the tendencies of the other players) and so on.
I have a couple of simple rules that I like to keep in my head in regards to playing form the Button:
1. Never do anything all the time with one exception! If you are stealing blinds from the button, and the Small and Big Blinds do nothing to stop you, continue doing it until they stand up for themselves. Once they finally get tired of it, quit and start varying your approach. If they don’t, simply raise and steal EVERY time until they do.
2. I will almost always call with ANY two cards into a pot of limpers. Again, you have the advantage of acting last and by limping in, the others are telling you they are not thrilled with their holdings. Many times if the Flop is a blank, you can steal the pot when the action is checked around to you post-flop. Be aware that the odds of being able to do this go down considerably the more players you have involved the hand. Also, every now and then the Small or Big Blind will wake up with a hand and raise and you will lose your bet.
3. Remember that the Blinds CAN actually have a hand. Many times players get so into playing their position that they fail to realize that the Small Blind and Big Blind can actually be dealt good cards. Do not make this mistake. Do not fall so far in love with playing position that you cannot get out of it. I have seen many players put out of action because they insisted on calling a re-raise with something like K-9 off suit and the Big Blind had K-K or something similar. It can happen.
4. I adjust my button play to fit the table. If I am at a table of limpers, I will put in big raises from the button more often. If I have aggressive players in front of me, I will fold more and be a little more picky because I know this aggressive player will make a large continuation bet after the Flop. I will need to have something strong in order to raise him. If I do not, I am likely just throwing away chips.
5. I like to employ a “reverse psychology” from the Button; if my holdings are nominal, I will make a bigger raise. In other words, I don’t really want to play the hand, I want to end it pre-flop. If I have a very strong hand, I might limp in or raise less to disguise this fact. I want to encourage some action here. How much action depends on who is involved in the hand and how strong my hand really is. Beware of this play especially online! If you are not careful you can encourage too many players to stay in the hand and end up with your pocket Aces being sucked out on by someone with 9-2 suited. It happens, be careful!
Overall, playing from the Button can be and must be, quite profitable. It is very important that you become skilled at it to improve your over all play. You do need to remember however, that there is more to playing from the Button than just raising every round.
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