Position & The Gap Concept

Continued from: Position in Hold'em Poker

Another relevant consideration when dealing with positional play is the "Gap Concept". The gap concept states that it takes a better hand to call a bet than it takes to make a bet. When someone raises and gets re-raised you need to look at the possible strengths of hands that would raise and then re-raise. Then you must measure the value of your hand in relation to the strength of raising and re-raising hands.

Gap Concept

Facing a raise and a re-raise you would almost always muck your AJ. It's too likely your hand is dominated (a situation when you and an opponent share a card but your opponents other card (kicker) is stronger than yours). When your hand is dominated you are about a 4 to 1 underdog. It's about 80% to lose the hand if it goes to showdown, which goes for any time your hand is dominated. Again your hand is dominated when you and your opponent share one hole card but his other card is of greater value than yours. The bigger problem is when you are dominated and you and your opponent both pair your high card. Now you're in big trouble. You may go bust in this situation. How does this apply to position?

When you raise under the gun with A10 and it gets raised or even called, it's not unlikely that you are dominated. Remember that your opponent called your raise, and it takes a better hand to call with then to raise with. So if you enter a pot with a marginal hand from early position it could get smooth-called and dominated, or re-raised and you'd have to muck it. Now, let's say everyone folds to you in the cut-off seat (one before the button). Now when you have A10 you should usually raise. The fewer players there are to act after you, the less likely you are to be re-raised. There are simply fewer players yet to act and therefore a smaller chance that you'll be raised. Even if the blinds call you, you will have position on them in every betting round, giving you a lot of betting leverage.

Let's suppose you raise 3 BB (three times the big blind) with A10s (Ace 10 of the same suit) and you're on the dealer button, but the big blind thinks you might just be trying to steal the blinds. (That's not a bad thought; in many cases he would be correct). So let's suppose he elects to call. Now the flop comes out Q J 10, he checks, you bet, he mucks. If he elects to call you because he thinks you're trying to run him over, he will still have to face two more possible bets on 4th and 5th Street. If he didn't connect he should have just mucked his hand. If on the next round he checks again, you might want to check. Then on the river, if he checks again, go ahead and bet. You need to punish him for being stubborn and not surrendering his blind sooner. It is very profitable when you can condition players to surrender their blinds to you without a fight. This time you really did connect, so you need to aggress. When he checked on the river he told you he didn't have a calling hand by not betting (remember the gap concept) so, unless he was trapping you or looking for a check-raise, you're probably ahead in the hand. When you checked behind him it sent a message that you weren't falling for a potential trap. That being said, he wouldn't check the River after you checked the Turn behind him if he had a big hand. He'd be too worried that you'd check behind him and he wouldn't make any more money on his hand.

A little side note here: Sometimes it seems like the strategy to poker only works if your opponent plays correctly, and that if he doesn't your assumptions will just get you into trouble. There is some truth to that, but we always have to assume our opponent is playing properly until we find evidence to the contrary. If he just plays bad poker, it won't matter. It will just be that much easier to break him. So against weak players, just play tight aggressive poker and you'll win. No need for fancy plays or big bluffs. It's only when you're up against good players that you'll need to mix it up. The only reason to make the non standard play is when you feel like what you lose in EV by making the fundamentally sub-optimal play will be made up for in EV with deception.

As a rule of thumb, the better the player the more you should mix it up. You'll sacrifice too much EV with fancy plays and big bluff moves against bad players than you will gain through deception. The reality is that they're probably not thinking too much about what you're doing anyway. This is especially true on the Internet. Just play good solid poker. Fold your weak hands, raise with strong ones, and laugh when you still invariably get paid off when you connect. No need to mix it up. So we don't play marginal hands from early position because they can't hold up to a raise, and because if they go to the flop we are in bad betting position. Remember, he who acts last acts with the most information, and poker is a game of incomplete information.

♣ Continued at: Becoming a Poker Detective

♣ Back to the index of Dead Money's guide to hold'em strategy.