QuickConcept #6: The Situation You Want To Avoid The Most Is Check/Calling OOP With A Medium Strength Hand Or Draw.
The Value of Position
Given the state of the games and availability of poker training out there, I’m assuming practically everyone reading this doesn’t need to be told that being in position (IP) is good, and being out of position (OOP) is bad. I don’t know about you, but that seems too general for me, especially since every PLO book or video talks about how position is more important in PLO than any other poker game.
So if you’ve already mastered everything there is to know about using position, then go ahead and skip this part… In case you haven’t, I’ve broken down what I consider to be the five most important reasons why position is valuable in PLO. They are:
- Extracting Value
- Pot Control
- Equity Realization
- Getting to Showdown
Extracting Value: It’s The Name of the Game
It’s no secret that the majority of your profits (especially at the low and mid stakes) are derived from extracting the maximum amount of value from your hands. This is way easier to accomplish in position, because you have more information about your opponent’s holding. A hand that would perhaps be a check OOP can turn into a value-bet after our opponent checks, allowing us to extract more value.
Most PLO books and training videos often remark how many players would benefit from tightening up OOP. This is because even when getting the right odds or immediate price pre-flop, realizing equity and getting value from your hand can be a formidable challenge. Executing bluffs is also more difficult with a lack of information. For all these reasons, a tighter pre-flop strategy is recommended when it’s likely you will end up OOP post-flop.
Additionally, squeezing value out of the fish is definitely your biggest source of profit. Being IP or OOP matters less against them, because they generally play poorly and won’t put you in many tough spots regardless of the action. However, as the stakes increase, you’ll find yourself battling with more competent regulars and trickier fish. As a result, you won’t be able to play many hands OOP, which means maximizing value IP is a necessity.
Rewind back to Core PLO Concept #6, where we defined the three reasons for making a bet. Do you remember what they were?
Value (make worse hands call)
Bluff (make better hands folds)
Protection (or in other words, making hands with pot equity fold)
The profit from bluffing in PLO comes in a variety of ways, but it shouldn’t surprise you that bluffing is a lot easier to do in position. First, we have significantly more opportunities to steal pots. We can open in late position and steal the blinds, or we can limp behind with marginal hands and easily steal multi-way pots when nobody shows interest; both of which are harder to do, (or even unavailable to us) when OOP.
Beyond these obvious steal spots, floating, and representing scare cards on later streets are both viable options that are much more effective in position. Sure, there are spots where floating someone OOP, donk-leading or check-raising the turn on scare cards is profitable. It’s undoubtedly harder to pull off, simply because you don’t have as much information when OOP, so the card you’re trying to represent could have easily hit your opponent as well.
Moreover, as your hand reading skills improve, you will understand how big of a role the ability to represent hands has on your bottom line. For example, Omaha has 16,432 distinct starting hands, while Hold‘em only has 169. So especially given the state of the games right now where people have difficulty hand reading, you can make your opponents life terrible if you know how to represent hands well.
Controlling the size of the pot is probably the most underrated and even misunderstood aspect for the benefits of having position. Throughout QuickPro, we will talk about the importance of building pots with big hands on early streets, and equally important, not building big pots with medium-strength hands.
Many hand histories I receive are tough spots on the turn or river where the student has barreled the flop, gotten called, and now they can’t decide what to do when the turn gets ugly, or their barrel gets raised. You know what my response is? Don’t play bad hands OOP in the first place! Obviously I’m slightly exaggerating, because you have to play OOP sometimes, but we’ll talk more about hand selection and opening ranges in the next chapter.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Man, this PLO stuff sounds easy! Bet the maximum when we have the stones, check the medium part of our range, and then just fold when we have air!” Not so fast. The problem most players have is identifying what a medium-strength hand is in the first place. More specifically, they invest too much money early in the hand with only one or two streets of value or playability. They see a hand like middle pair and a small flush draw, or top and middle pair and think it’s the nuts because they’re used to Hold’em hand values.
There is another type of beginner player that attempts to get all the money in on the flop with medium-strength hands, regardless of how deep the stacks are. I’m not sure if they like to get the money in quick because they’re afraid of getting outdrawn, or because they’re used to railing higher stakes where the games are more aggressive and stack-off ranges are wider. The easiest example of this is players who like to get all their money in on the flop with sets on wet boards when they’re in position and the SPR is still really high. As a side note, make sure to note the players who stack off light when they’re deep because, in the long run, those are the guys who will buy you expensive things.
Last, controlling the size of the pot and leveraging your stack matters greatly as stack sizes increase. Being in position with a lot of money behind gives you the ability to gather information from your opponents over all the streets, this increases the likelihood of taking the most +EV line.
In essence, equity realization is a fancy way of describing the ability to remain in the hand until all the cards are dealt, or in some cases, our ability to check back and take a free card when we know our opponent probably won’t fold to a bet, but we have 30%-35% equity against his range.
Recall that our most important objective isn’t just to realize as much equity as possible, but also to force our opponent’s to forfeit theirs. Achieving both of these things is much easier to do in position, and practically impossible to do OOP against competent opponents. Weaker players will obviously make more mistakes against us by checking back the flop and turn too much, but even against them our ability to realize our equity is significantly reduced. This helps explain why the situation you want to avoid the most in PLO is check-calling OOP with a medium-strength hand or draw.
Check-calling OOP is a losing play for many reasons, but mainly it reverts to building up big pots just to give up on them later. Or even worse, building up big pots just to lose a stack later on to a better hand. We’ll be returning to this concept repeatedly during QuickPro, and I think once you check out the hand histories after this chapter, you’ll get a better idea of exactly why playing passively OOP with medium-strength hands and draws is a big leak.
Getting to Showdown
Another reason why having the positional advantage kicks so much ass, is being able to check and showdown a winner. It’s a beautiful thing; you finally get to the river, the opponent checks, and you have the option to put in a value-bet, fire a bluff, or check behind and show down the winner if you wish.
Getting to showdown profitably is challenging OOP, and frankly, you’re at the mercy of the player in position. Anybody who’s played PLO has been in a spot where they potted the flop and turn with a set or two pair, gotten called by someone in position, and then felt completely lost when the river fills the straight or flush draw and their opponent bets.
Put more simply, our options on the river are greatly reduced when OOP. You can stick in a blocker bet, or check and hope the opponent kindly checks back. In either case, you’re in danger of facing a large bet or raise, which puts you in many weird spots that ultimately increase the likelihood of making a mistake and losing money.
The Psychology of Position
Beyond the five main categories outlining the usefulness of position, there is one more concept to point out that I think most books and videos don’t talk about enough. I’m talking about the way being either IP or OOP affects an opponent’s mindset, and how we can ultimately apply this knowledge and use it to our advantage.
What is the public perception of PLO anyway? I find it amusing how when you tell someone you play PLO for a living, they view you as some kind of massive action junkie. They say something like, “Dude, isn’t there a ton of variance in that game? Are you sure you can handle it?” I feel like I just told them I’m about to do the running of the bulls, or that I’m experimenting with some type of addictive designer drug or something.
To an extent they’re absolutely right. There is more action in PLO, so I guess if people are under the impression that NLHE is the Cadillac of poker, I suppose PLO is more like a Ferrari. Let me put it this way: have you ever played PLO in a casino? When you show up, they lead you to a table that’s separated from all the other tables, and usually it’s full of degens who are either:
A) Playing because they’re wasted and want some action
B) Trying to get unstuck from playing a NLHE game from earlier, or
C) People who don’t want to sit at a NLHE table and grind it out, but who know that if they sit at a PLO table, they’ll get in a big pot and have a chance to double or even triple up.
If you have a casino nearby or you’re going to one sometime soon, you should definitely give live PLO a shot. It’s a whole different ball game; it can get pretty wild!
Also, since most people view PLO as a high variance game, they have a picture in their mind that the nuts are really vulnerable. Ask someone about his or her experience with PLO, and many times you’ll get a bad beat story, or they’ll recount a time when they were on the wrong end of a cooler situation. Additionally, most players with a basic understanding of PLO are aware that Aces aren’t a winner at showdown nearly as often as they are in Hold’em, which seems strange to NLHE players that have never tried PLO because obviously Aces is the holy grail of starting hands.
All of this is great and everything, but ultimately our sole concern is how to leverage this knowledge against our opponents. The first adjustment is to barrel more often against frequent check-callers. This may seem unnatural at first because after all, when you don’t have anything and someone is calling you, it’s easy to find hands better than yours on any board texture, especially when your opponent holds four cards instead of two. However, if our perception of PLO is correct (people are scared of getting drawn out on, they perceive the nuts to be vulnerable and bad beats are constantly happening to everyone), then doesn’t that mean they should be more likely to get the money in fast to protect their hand, especially when OOP?
The vast majority of players tend to play made hands fast OOP, which means the bulk of an OOP check-calling range is weak and medium strength hands. Many beginning players often make the mistake of firing a barrel on the flop and turn, only to chicken out from firing the third barrel on the river, and then get frustrated when their opponent turns over second or third pair and takes it down. Like I’ve said before, one of the easiest ways to lose money in poker is to build up big pots and then give up on them later. On the other hand, one of the easiest ways to make money playing poker is to force opponents to give up on big pots on later streets.
So far we’ve covered why position is so important, and how we can make life tougher for our opponents if we know how to leverage it. Before we move further, I want to take a moment to discuss the importance of using relative position, because it doesn’t receive enough attention from books and training videos.
Relative position is defined as your position in relation to the pre-flop raiser or the most likely post-flop aggressor. Ideally, you want the aggressive player or c-bettor on your left and the passive player on your right. It’s basically like having the button post-flop, because it provides the opportunity to see what everybody does before deciding what line to take.
For example, let’s say an aggressive player opened UTG, and you called out of the BB after a fish called from the SB. In this hand, you have good relative position because there’s an aggressive player on your left who’s likely to c-bet a wide range of boards, and a passive player on your right who’s going to call a wide range of c-bets. Relative position is useful in PLO because almost half of the pots you’re involved in are multi-way. If you don’t know how to use relative position to your advantage, you’ll be leaving a bunch of money on the table.
Up to this point, I’ve mentioned repeatedly that representing hands in PLO is a big source of profit. None of that changes using relative position, and in fact, you can get away with many high percentage bluffs once you become a confident hand-reader.