Playing Junk from Late Position

by trikkur

The following article was found on the 2+2 forums. The original post is by the user tannenj  and is titled Pooh-Bah Post: Playing Junk From Late Position and can be found here. This article has been edited for clarity and readability.

My current VPIP/PFR stats: UTG: 11/11. MP: 11/11. CO: 22/20. BTN: 30/27. My attempt to steal blinds percentage: 31. The last five numbers used to be even higher when I was playing a higher variance style; I’m sure many good players can provide numbers higher than these. Note how sharply the numbers jump from MP to CO, and from CO to BTN. Winning players generally make most of their money from late position (cutoff and button).

From late position, I’ll often raise with anything suited, anything connected, and if conditions are right, any two cards.

Why Play Junk in Late Position?

1. To Steal the Blinds

There’s little reason for me to elaborate much on this; Pokey covered all the details (and more) in his thread (See Stealing the Blinds). The gist of it is that stealing blinds = $$$; if you check PokerTracker, you’ll see that your PTBB/100 skyrockets when you attempt to steal the blinds. If you want to steal the blinds 25, 30, 35 percent of the time that you’re on the button, you have to be willing to raise 25, 30, 35 percent of the hands you’re dealt from this position (actually, the percentages are even higher, because PT only registers a blind steal attempt if there are no limpers to you). If you want to raise 30 percent of your hands from the button, you’re going to have to raise some absolute junk.

2. Position makes it profitable to play many more hands

If, in theory, it’s profitable to play X% of hands UTG at a 6max game, then it will be profitable to play X+Y% (Y>0) of the hands you’re dealt on the button. Position is a HUGE advantage; obviously, this is not a new concept for SSNL.

3. Table image/metagame (this is less important than the above two reasons, but still worthy of a mention in my opinion)

When weak players see you show down after raising preflop from the button, they’ll think you’re a fish and give you action the next time you raise aces UTG. Stronger players might realize you’re positionally aware, but A) sometimes you’ll get aces on the button, B) if they suspect you’re playing a bunch of junk from late position and decide to tangle with you without hands, guess what? In general, neither of you will have hands, and you’ll have position after the flop comes, and C) at SSNL, strong players are MUCH less common than weak players.

When Play Junk?

1. Use PokerTracker stats

If you’re on the button, use the statistics “Folds BB to steal” and “Folds SB to steal” to evaluate the preflop tendencies of the players in the blinds. It is notable that you can only get these statistics in your HUD if you have PokerTracker. In general, the more these players are relinquishing their blinds, the better, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t steal if I expect to be called. If, say, I’m on the button, the SB is a nit who folds his blind to steals every time, and the BB is a 65/1/1 fish who A) rarely folds his blind and B) rarely folds postflop, I’ll raise to isolate the fish with almost any two cards.

If you’re in the CO, you’ll still want to glance at the percentage of time the blinds fold to steals, but you’ll also want to look at the percentage of time the button calls a preflop raise. In the past, I’ve been guilty of not paying enough attention to this statistic; if the player on the button is constantly calling raises preflop and has a reasonable postflop game, it makes sense to cut down on the junk you’re playing from the CO.

2. Use non-statistical reads

Maybe you’re on the button, and the players in the blinds tend to defend their blinds by calling preflop, but tend to shut down if they miss postflop. In a case like this, it’s profitable to raise (and continuation bet, of course) with any two cards. Maybe effective stats are deep, and neither of the tags in the blinds likes to fold to steals, but both of them have a tendency to overvalue top pair, overpairs, etc. I’ll be much more likely to raise with junk in a spot like this than with 100bb stacks against players in the blinds whom I respect. I could spend time coming up with more examples; the bottom line is that it’s not difficult to find “excuses” to play more hands if you’re a thinking player and will have position throughout the hand.

How To Play With Your Junk After The Flop

But seriously, when I came up with the idea for this post, I intended for this section to be the meat of it. Playing junk from late position is easy when you pop it up preflop, everyone folds, and you get the blinds. But sometimes you’ll get a caller or two. What follows is a list of the situations in which you’ll find yourself when you raise from late position with a not-so-great hand and get called, and fabricated hands designed to illustrate the written principles. For simplification, I’ll assume that there’s one villain per hand, that the villain won’t 3bet preflop that he won’t donkbet the flop, and that stacks are always 100 BBs. This is obviously unrealistic, but this article is theoretical in nature. Note that I ordered the three categories in this list in a way that I think proceeds from easiest to hardest to play, and also in a way that I think proceeds from least interesting to most interesting:

1. You hit the flop hard (two pair, trips, set, straight, flush, boat, quads, royal flush, big draw)

You lucked out with your junk, and it’s time to get the villain’s monies. Slowplaying can be a reasonable option once in a while when A) you have the board crippled and your hand is beastly enough to let the villain catch up without having to worry about being outdrawn, or B) the villain is a thinking player and you want to throw him a curveball for shania’s sake. But in general, you flopped huge and want to get some money in the pot. Poker at its core is about playing big pots with big hands. You have a big hand, so start building the pot. Bet, bet, bet is usually the play here. If a scare card hits, you’ll want to slow down sometimes; this is read-dependent, of course.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players
Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

Everyone folded to you. You don’t have to do it every time, but this is a good spot to try to pick up the blinds.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $13, BB calls $13

One caller. That’s about the best flop you can ask for. The board has two diamonds, and I didn’t provide a read on the villain, so there’s no reason to slowplay. I like a bet of close to the pot because the board is drawy.

Turn: ($41, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $35, BB calls $35

Same logic as above, really. Our hand is vulnerable, but at this point it’s almost always the best hand, so bombs away.

River: ($111, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $78, BB folds

Bet size is preference. Since there’s no need to protect anymore, it’s reasonable to make a smaller bet. I have shoved in these spots before, though.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

Blinds, position, metagame, etc.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $11, BB raises to $29, Hero calls $18

When the board is drawless, I tend to continuation bet a bit smaller. Yum, he raised. You’re not afraid of being outdrawn (he has two outs at most), so call and let him think continue to think his AJ is the best hand or fire another barrel with air. It’s possible that he has something like A6, but when you raise preflop with a 6 in your hand and flop trips with it, you’re not folding the hand when the stacks are this size.

Turn: ($73, 2 players)
BB bets $60, Hero shoves, BB folds
The turn was another diamond and provided air like KQ and AQ with straight draws, so he there’s a small possibility that he has some outs now. I can see just calling anyway — and I’d do it fairly often, especially with the right read — but shoving is a bit safer and perfectly reasonable.

Read: The villain in the following hand is a level one thinker with no hand reading skills. He plays at about 25/9/1.5, and has a tendency to call big bets with draws, to go too far with top pair, etc.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

See above.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $13, BB calls $13

You flopped an open-ended straight flush draw, which is a favorite over any hand except a set (and even against a set, it has about 42% equity). It’s possible that the villain has you in bad shape with something like , but it’s unwise to worry about that; you should think of your hand as an absolute monster. You want to throw out on a continuation bet on the flop because you have an equity advantage over the villain’s range and you want to build the pot. If you get raised, you’re shoving. If you get called and hit on the turn, you’re making another big bet. If you get called and miss on the turn, both betting and checking are reasonable; the better the villain, the better an option betting becomes, in my opinion. This is the case because a good player will generally raise a wet flop like this with a big hand, and if a good player doesn’t have a big hand, he won’t call a turn bet.

Sidenote — it’s important at this point to clarify what I meant above when I used the phrase “big draw.” Everyone knows what the terms two pair, trips, set, straight, flush, boat, quads, and royal flush mean, but the phrase “big draw” is somewhat ambiguous. An OESFD will always be a big draw, but how about an open-ended straight draw, a flush draw, a gutshot and two overcards, etc.? A “big draw,” for the purpose of this article, is just a draw that you’re willing to felt on the flop. This is heavily dependent on reads and flow, of course; it’s more of a “feel” thing than a science.

Turn: ($41, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks.

Our read indicates that checking is probably better than betting in this spot. We’re not confident that the villain will fold to a bet, and our hand no longer has an equity advantage over a pair. Betting is good because it disguises your hand, but the villain is only thinking on one level and will probably pay off a river bet if you hit anyway. Checking does carry the disadvantage of making it impossible to stack the villain if we hit on the river, but rarely in poker are there flawless plays.

River: ($41, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $30, BB calls $30

Time to value bet.

Read: The villain in the following hand is very aggressive postflop and likes to raise your continuation bets with a wide variety of hands. He’s a solid player, though, and has respect for your play.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5
See above.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $11, BB raises to $40, Hero shoves, BB folds
I’m calling this a “big draw” and including it in the first category of hands because against this villain, you’re willing to reraise all in with it after he check-raises your continuation bet. You have at least eight outs no matter what the villain is holding and against a hand like AQ, you’re less than a 2:1 dog. The villain’s range is very wide, and he’ll fold often enough to the shove for it to be a good play.

2. You missed the flop entirely (no pair, very little drawing potential)

Your hand is more or less hopeless at this point, and the only way to win the pot is to bet. The play in this spot is generally to make a pure bluff on the flop, and to continue at times on the turn (and I don’t make a habit of three-barreling, but sometimes it’s +EV with the right board and the right read). Against the 65/1/1 type I described at the beginning of the post, the best play is often just passing up on a continuation bet and shutting down. It might feel strange to raise preflop with a garbage hand and then not even bet the flop, but if he’s not folding and you have a minute chance of improving to a real hand, putting more money in the pot might as well be burning it.

Read: The villain in the following hand is a straightforward tag, say 17/13/3.5 or so. He plays solid, but you’ve played a ton of hands with him and never seen him make a move or a “tricky” play postflop.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

I’m raising suited connectors in this spot almost every time.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $13, BB calls $13

Bad flop. The club provides our hand with a runner flush draw, but that’s hardly a good draw. You want to bet based on the texture of the flop and not on the strength of your hand, so you make the same bet as you made with the monster hand on the drawy flop above. He calls, which more or less means he has a king, a queen, JT, or diamonds.

Turn: ($41, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $35, BB folds

The turn is a brick, which is a good thing in this spot. Betting here is a solid option, because A) the villain is straightforward enough that we can assign him a fairly tight range, and B) most of his range will fold to a turn bet. The villain most likely won’t continue to draw against us with these pot odds, and there’s a good chance he’ll fold a queen, maybe even the weaker kings in his range. Not a play I’d make every time, but this is a thinking player’s turn bet.

Read: The villain in the following hand has folded to 7 of 11 continuation bets thus far, but aside from that seems like a donk and PokerTracker shows that he has gone to showdown 28 percent of the time, which is fairly high.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

Blinds, position, suited cards, implied odds, etc. You know the big blind has a tendency to pay off. Raising will steal the blinds pretty often, and if you flop big, you might get rewarded with a stack.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $11, BB calls $11

He’s folded more than half the time to continuation bets, so theoretically even a full pot cbet should show a profit. You bet a little over two thirds of the pot because the flop is pretty dry and again, consistency is a good thing.

Turn: ($37, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

The continuation bet didn’t work, the runner flush draw we flopped was eliminated by the turn card, and our read is that this villain likes to go to showdown. We still don’t have a pair, so we can’t semibluff either. Now is a good time to give up.

River: ($37, 2 players)
BB bets $24, Hero folds

J-high is good almost never in this spot, even against this villain, and raising is just asking for it. As Taylor Caby would say, just pitch the hand.

Read: The villain in the following hand is the 65/1/1 megafish described earlier. He has folded to continuation bets only two times out of 15 and gone to showdown 53 percent of the hands he’s played.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

You know the big blind is probably calling preflop, but raising is good anyway because it’s +EV to isolate this dude with pretty much any two cards, especially with position.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

He’s not folding, so there’s little reason to bet. If you’d flopped top pair (either the queen or the T) you’d be betting this flop with a plan to get three streets of value. The only reason to consider betting now is if you think queen-high is good enough for value, but even that’s illogical because you won’t get three streets of value out of even the biggest fish with a high card hand, and we don’t even have an ace.

Turn: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

See flop analysis.
River: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $12, BB calls $12

Time to take this noob to valuetown. It’s not a certainty that your hand is best, but you’re losing major value if you check behind against this guy.

3. You got a piece of the flop (bottom pair, middle pair, low top pair, a mediocre draw)

I left this for last because I think it’s the most discussable situation. A “mediocre draw” is any draw that you’re not willing to felt on the flop — depending on your read of the villain and your feel for the situation, this can mean overcards, a gutshot and an overcard, even a hand as good as an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw.

This category is interesting because it’s the only one of the three in which there are usually two reasonable ways to play the flop and the turn:

A) Check behind. If you have a weak pair, your hand might be good but can’t stand to play a big pot. A check behind with a hand like middle pair is a “value check” — it keeps the pot small, induces bluffs, and ensures that you won’t get raised off your hand and that it gets a chance to improve to trips or two pair. A check behind with a mediocre draw like a gutshot and overcards is somewhat tricky, but it’s a reasonable option at times because it guarantees that you won’t get raised off a hand that has something like six outs, ten outs, etc.

B) Bet. Bets in spots like these are semibluffs. If you flop middle pair and elect to continuation bet, you’re generally not betting for value. Your goal is to take down the pot, but if that doesn’t occur, at least you’ve inflated the pot for your five outer (two outs to trips, three outs to two pair). If you have a draw that you’re planning to fold to a raise on the flop, you are betting and hoping the villain folds, but with the knowledge that your hand has some outs if you get called.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players
Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

This hand is some serious junk, but it is reasonable to open with it once in a while from the button.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $13, BB calls $13

You flop middle pair and elect to semibluff with it. It doesn’t make much sense to bet your jack for value at this point, because it’s going to be pretty tough to bet all three streets with this hand unimproved and see a showdown. You bet $13 because the board is drawy. Unfortunately, the villain calls. You might have the best hand at this point, but that doesn’t mean the continuation bet was for value.

Turn: ($41, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

You decide not to continue the semibluff this time. If the villain can read hands, he’ll know that you don’t have a good made hand now, but in this hand the villain is unknown. If the river bricks and the villain makes a reasonable bet, you have little choice but to fold.

River: ($41, 2 players)
BB bets $30, Hero folds

The villain could be betting missed spades or air, but it’s probably more likely that he has a queen or a better jack than we have. I’ll try to pick villains off in these spots in the right situation, but the standard play after semibluffing, checking through a blank turn, and missing on the river is folding if the villain makes a river bet.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

You have the same hand and elect to raise it again; you’re going to play the flop differently this time, though.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks
Oh my, a very similar flop. Last time, you tried semibluffing with your flopped middle pair, which was perfectly reasonable. This time, you’re going to check behind and try to see a cheap showdown. I tend to be more likely to try this with dryer flops. I changed this flop slightly from the last hand — this flop was rainbow, the last one was two-tone — but I’m capable of semibluffing on a dry flop and checking behind on a wet flop, etc. It’s also better to check behind with a pair of jacks or queens than with a pair of fours or fives, of course, because overcards are scare cards when your hand is just one pair.

Turn: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

This is a good turn card. There’s still not much of a reason to bet, because you’re not getting more than one street of value out of this hand. If the river doesn’t scare us and the villain checks again, it’s time to think about betting. If the villain bets the river, you have little choice but to call since you induced a bluff. (See Inducing a Bluff)

River: ($15, 2 players)
BB bets $9, Hero calls $9.

There’s a chance the villain has you beat, but I’m not folding after the way we played the hand. There’s no reason to raise the river (save for very high level thinking against a villain with whom you have a lot of history), so calling is the only option in this spot.

Read: Villain is nitty and bad. He runs at 9/5/4; when he calls a raise preflop, it usually means he has a pocket pair. If he flops an overpair, he’s generally felting it. He likes to check-raise continuation bets big with small overpairs, unaware that against good players, this turns his hands into bluffs.
$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players

Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5
Your hand sucks, but the BB is the perfect player to blind steal against because he’ll usually fold his hand, and if he doesn’t, you have implied odds out the wazoo.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

You flop an open-ended straight draw on a rainbow board, but the villain’s range consists mostly of overpairs and sets. Given the provided read, the villain will check-raise if you continuation bet. PokerStove says your hand only has a 29.26 percent chance to win against the range of JJ-66 and 22, so if you get check-raised big by the villain, you can’t shove and you won’t have the odds to continue with the hand. You decide to check behind and ensure that you get to see a free card, knowing that there’s a good chance of stacking the villain you peel off a 3 or an 8. In addition, if you miss on the turn and the villain bets, you can call the bet knowing that you generally have the implied odds to continue.

Turn: ($15, 2 players)
BB bets $12, Hero calls $12

The turn doesn’t complete your draw, but it’s a low enough card that the villain can still have an overpair with JJ or TT (I’m assuming he would’ve reraised preflop with QQ+), and he could have a set with 99, 77, 66, or 22. Calling is a slam dunk against this villain.

River: ($39, 2 players)
BB bets $44, Hero folds

You have close to the nut low, and judging by the villain’s tendencies and his overbet, there’s a good chance he just filled up. It’s possible the he just has an overpair, but our read is that he won’t fold that to a shove anyway, and in this case he might even be right to felt it if you pushed because a river push would make your line strange as hell. Just fold this time and stack him when you have a real hand.

Read: Villain is loose preflop and likes to call raises out of position with hands like QJ, KT, etc. He’ll fold to a continuation bet if he misses the flop, though; thus far, Poker Ace Hud indicates that he’s folded to 13 of 16 continuation bets.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players
Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

Against a BB like this, you can probably raise profitably and then continuation bet with any two cards. This analysis ignores the SB, of course, but for the purpose of this article, the SB doesn’t exist.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $13, BB folds

The flop is the same as in the last hand, but the villain is different. Whereas a check-raise loomed against the last villain and implied odds were plentiful if you checked behind, this villain will probably fold to a continuation bet (and a hand like KT or QJ is about even money against our draw at this point), and it’s tough to say how much money we’ll make if we check behind and make our hand. If the villain makes a big raise, we probably won’t continue, but that’s an unlikely scenario. Against this villain, the play is to continuation bet and try to take the pot down.

Read: Villain is a 44/18/5 lagfish who loves to attack weakness. He folds fairly often to shows of strength — in fact, he has folded to five of seven continuation bets so far — but you have seen him fire three barrels with air when he thinks he can steal pots.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Ring Game
6 Players
Stack Sizes
SB: $Whatever
BB: $200
UTG: $Not
MP: $Very
CO: $Relevant
Hero (BTN): $200

Preflop: ($3, 6 players)
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero raises to $7, SB folds, BB calls $5

From the button, this hand is an auto-raise for me.

Flop: ($15, 2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks

You flop top pair and check behind. The flop has two spades and any Q, K or A is a bad card for you, but given your read, checking behind is the play. If the villain fires the turn, you’re calling 100 percent of the time regardless of the turn card. The river is trickier if he bets again, but it’s important to keep your read in mind.

Turn: ($15, 2 players)
BB bets $14, Hero calls $14

The turn was an undercard and didn’t scare you. As expected, the villain bet out. This is an easy call against this villain, and there’s little reason to raise.

River: ($43, 2 players)
BB bets $23, Hero calls

The king is a bad card because you no longer have top pair. The villain leads for $23 into a pot of $43, giving you 66:23 odds (a little less than 3:1). It’s possible that the villain hit the river, but you reason that your hand will be good more than 25 percent of the time against his range. This is good reasoning against a villain like this one — if he’d bet the pot on the river, you’d have a harder decision, but with pot odds this generous, the river bet is a pretty easy call.

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