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Texas Hold'em No Limit Intermediate

Out of Position Poker Strategy

19,402 Views on 6/11/15

Playing out of position poker requires a different approach. Position is everything so make sure you know the optimal play based on your seat at the table.

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Poker Strategy

For many years, it was commonly advised to simply avoid spots where we are out of position as much as possible. A common adage was

Out of Position = Out of the Action

There is a lot of truth to this still – position confers a huge advantage. We’d rather be playing with that advantage than against it. However it’s not realistic to assume that we can avoid every single situation where we are out of position. We will have to play at least some percentage of our hands while lacking position, and it’s good if we have a set of rules to help us deal with this.

Tip 1 – Defending the BB

One of the things that players have realised more and more as time goes on is the importance of defending the big-blind aggressively. In a 6max game we should likely have a BB cold-call of around 26%. This is hugely different from what was thought previously. The standard advice was to fold the big-blind very frequently since we would be out of position postflop. 

Tip 2 – Turn Probes

Since defending our big-blind wide will increase the number of situations where we find ourselves OOP postflop, it’s useful to be aware of the different lines that are available as the cold-caller.

Assuming we cold-call preflop and our opponent checks back the flop, we should be firing the turn extremely often, even with garbage holdings in many cases.
Keep in mind that this is an exploitative strategy that works well at cash game limits below 200nl, but should be used with caution at higher limits.
If we were to fire both turn and river, every single time our opponent checks back the flop in-position, we should actually generate an automatic profit at lower limits. The reason this works is because our opponent is often capped after he chooses not to cbet the flop IP.

Tip 3 – River Probes

This particular line occurs when we check/call float the flop OOP, the turn goes check/check, and we are first to act OOP on the river. This is another excellent bluffing spot, commonly referred to as a “river probe”. We should typically fire our entire air range at the lower limits. Many players are folding over 60% of the time to river probes, meaning we can generate automatic profit in this OOP situation.

Tip 4 – Check/raising vs Cbets

Smashing Up Opponents

In many cases it’s not going to make sense to expand our cold-calling range OOP if we are simply going to check/fold way too many flops. It’s also the case that even if we do manage to defend frequently enough, this is still not necessarily going to be great for us if we have a strong tendency to defend passively as opposed to aggressively. 

Understanding exactly when to check/raise the flop when facing a cbet is a very important component of our strategy. This is something that we probably want to dedicate a week or two to improving in the near future.
Keep in mind that a decent “raise vs flop cbet” for a 6max reg is around 15%.

Tip 5 – Tend towards taking the initiative with draws

Money TagLet’s imagine for a minute that we face a double-barrel with a draw on the turn when OOP. It can be a little tricky to call the turn because we will be OOP on the river without initiative. Assuming we hit it can be tough to work out whether we should be donk-betting for value or simply checking and hoping our opponent fires.

It’s actually going to be a lot easier if we can take the initiative away from our opponent on either flop or turn by going for a check/raise. Not only do we get some additional fold equity this way, but it’s also a little bit easier to figure out what the correct option on the river will be. In most cases we don’t need to think too much about checking assuming we are not giving up, we can fire both as a bluff and for value.

It’s not theoretically incorrect to check/call the turn with draws however. In fact, if we only check/called the turn with made hands, this is potentially an imbalance in our strategy. So it should be correct to occasionally check call if we feel that we are getting reasonable pot-odds/implied-odds OOP on the turn.

Assuming we do decide to check/call a draw OOP on the turn, we may decide to donk-bet OOP on the river, especially if we anticipate that our opponent will have a low river barrelling frequency, either as a result of his river stats or how the river card connects with his range. Theoretically it would not be correct to only ever donk-bet the river for value (unless we have exploitative reasons), and as such it’s typically going to be useful to incorporate a river donk-bluff range after check/calling twice.
It might be worth taking a minute to think about whether this is a line we have ever used in our own personal game. There is a decent chance that 80% or more of poker players have simply never taken this line as a bluff. Usually we will use this line with busted draws.
So imagine for a minute that there is both a club and a heart flush-draw available on the turn. We have both clubs and hearts in our turn check/calling range with some frequency. When the club lands on the river we will naturally lead our completed club-flushes (if it is preferable to do this), and we can bluff with our busted heart flushes at the same time.

Tip 6 – It’s acceptable to overfold, even from a GTO point of view


This is probably one of the bigger mistakes that more advanced players are making in recent times. The application of the minimum fold-equity formula leaves players making pretty big mistakes in their range construction OOP.

Let’s say we face a 2/3rds pot cbet OOP on the flop. If our opponent’s bluff works more than 40% of the time he is generating automatic profit. So it’s common for players to make sure they defend over 60% of their range. 60% to make sure that villain does not make automatic profit, and then another 5% on top to compensate for any equity villain gets to freeroll when we just call.
So the short version of the story is, we now have a player who is only folding 35% to cbets OOP and is using “GTO” to back up his decision.
Sadly, he’s not going to do very well in this situation, because he has applied GTO principles incorrectly. It’s very important to remember that the minimum fold equity formula produces simply an estimate which we must adjust based on a range of factors. In this scenario it’s very important to keep in mind that our opponent simply has a huge positional advantage. It is actually impossible for us to prevent him from generating automatic profit. It is important to accept this and factor this in to our range construction. 

Poker HandThere is a decent chance we should be folding more like 50% of the time to cbets when we are OOP facing a 2/3rds pot bet. Is it really true to say that our opponent is generating automatic profit though? Not exactly. It’s true from one perspective but untrue from another perspective. 

If we focus purely on an isolated hand where we are out of position, then yes, our opponent is making automatic profit. The mistake is to think that the way we counter this is by an adjustment to our defending range in this specific situation. It’s not. The way we defend against this is by generating automatic profit when we ourselves are IP and firing a cbet.

Our opponent will either need to overfold himself, or defend a range which is wide enough to be unsupportable on later streets. So if we take two optimal opponents and factor in both scenarios, one in position, one out of position, then no automatic profit is being given. So the idea behind GTO modelling is not to create unexploitability in one specific scenario but to create an equilibrium which exists across the entire game.

Tip 7 Cold-Call equity, 3bet playability

The general consensus is that
  • Our calling range OOP should dominate our opponents opening ranges as much as possible. (Therefore it should consist of high-card hands which are not quite strong enough to 3bet for value)
  • Our 3bet bluffs OOP should typically be playable holdings (suited connectors for example), as opposed to high-equity holdings. 
The reasons for this are included in the next two tips.

Tip 8 – Domination sucks when OOP

It’s never great to be in a situation where our range is dominated, but it’s much more manageable when we have position. It’s a lot easier to pot control and get to showdown without being value-bet to death.
Being OOP and dominated is a recipe for disaster. Our opponent can put more pressure on us and is able to value-bet more effectively as a result of his positional advantage.
This is typically why we avoid 3betting high equity hands. If we are in the BB and hold something like KTo vs a BTN open, we still dominate a number of hands in the BTN’s opening range. We have no qualms about playing a small pot OOP. As soon as we use that KTo as a 3bet and get called, we are now frequently dominated by our opponents calling range since he will fold out most worse Kx holdings and call with most better Kx holdings.

Tip 9 – Speculative hands result in increased aggression


Continuing with the previous example, we 3bet KTo BB vs BTN and hit a flop of K72r. What is our strategy for the hand assuming 100bb effective stacks?

There is nothing wrong with firing a cbet, but it’s important to recognize that we do not have 3 streets of value because our kicker is weak. We are going to have to check at some point in the hand. We can either check right away on the flop, or we can check the turn, or maybe even fire 2 and check the river. However, unless we improve, we are forced to play passively on at least one or even two of the three streets.

Now contrast this to a scenario where we 3bet a speculative hand such as 75s. Firstly we are a little more likely to flop a straight, flush draw or backdoor draw which we can play aggressively. It might even be a good candidate for a 3barrel bluff depending on the limits and opponents we are playing.

Even if we do flop a pair as we did in the KTo example, it’s going to be a vulnerable pair of 5’s or 7’s. It’s usually going to make sense to play this hand aggressively seeing as it is extremely vulnerable. We may still find the hand is a reasonable candidate for a 3barrel bluff since the showdown value is low and we hold a blocker.
The important thing is that speculative hands allow us to keep our aggression levels high, which is important when OOP. Some of the weaker high-equity holdings like KTo can too easily entangle us with the board and force us to play passively.

Tip 10 – It’s ok to cbet less

The bottom line is that there should be a considerable difference between our cbet frequency IP and OOP. Perhaps it should even be over 70% when IP but below 50% when OOP. 

We mentioned in the previous tip that it’s important to play aggressively when OOP. This is not the same as playing a wider range though. We should typically be a lot more selective with our range on the earlier streets when OOP, but commit to being a little more aggressive with the range that we do decide on continuing with.

Tip 11 – Understand defending checks as the PFR


This is something that so many players never do. Let’s imagine a scenario where we open-raise the SB and the BB calls. Many players are doing this
  • Cbetting vast majority of the good hands
  • Checking a few mediocre hands with the intention to check/call once
  • Check/folding the vast majority of the time after checking
As a result it’s possible to take an exploitative line in the BB of betting any 2 cards once the SB checks.

It’s correct for the SB to check some strong hands with the intention of going for a check/raise or a check/call. It is also correct to check some bluffs in the SB with the intention of check/call floating or check/raising. 

PokerVIP LaptopEven if this is not always strictly necessary from a balance point of view, there are some scenarios where the expectation of taking one of these lines for exploitative reasons is considerably higher than the expectation of simply taking a more “standard” approach (i.e cbetting).

So if we have never check/call floated as the PFR, or check/raise bluffed as the PFR, then there is a component missing from our OOP strategy.

Tip 12 – OOP loses money

Just as a final pointer regarding OOP play, remember that we should theoretically lose money when OOP.

If we were to have 2 GTO opponents battling it out, but we set it up so that one player would be OOP every hand, the player OOP would slowly lose despite following a GTO strategy.

So essentially we are not necessarily trying to prevent our opponent from making profit when he has position. In many cases this will be impossible. Our goal is to minimise his winnings, but still expect him to generate a small amount of automatic profit.

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I am of British nationality and go by the online alias w34z3l. I am considered one of the top consultants in the field for technical analysis (i.e. database work) and application of game theory concepts to various card games. I make a ... Read More


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