Most of us learn early on in our poker education that having position on our opponents is always much more desirable than being out of position. It’s a fundamental strategic truth of all poker variants, and especially true of no-limit hold’em. With position, we get to act with the knowledge of our opponents’ action, and as a result have more information available to us than when we have to act first.
There are certain mistakes many no-limit hold’em players make time and time again when playing from out of position. Becoming familiar with these mistakes can both help us avoid making them and perhaps help reinforce the lesson that it is better to play in position than from out of position.
What follows are five common mistakes no-limit hold’em players make when playing from out of position. These mistakes occur often both in cash games and in tournaments, and can be detrimental to the players making them in both.
Mistake #1: Playing Too Many Hands
First and foremost, as a general rule you should be looking to play more hands from later positions (the hijack seat, the cutoff, and the button) and fewer hands from under the gun and UTG+1.
That doesn’t mean you should never be opening pots from early position, whether with strong starting hands or even occasionally with medium or weak holdings (to balance your preflop raising range). But some players overdo it, and as a result set themselves up for further mistakes when stuck having to play from out of position after the flop.
Mistake #2: Calling Too Many Three-Bets
Sticking with preflop problems, some players who are willing to open-raise from early-to-mid position with non-premium starting hands subsequently have difficulty folding to reraises coming from players in the later positions.
For instance, it folds to a player in middle position with who notices three tight players to his left decides to open with a raise. But the player in the cutoff then three-bets and it folds back to the original raiser. Letting such a hand go is perfectly fine to do, and in fact can affect your image in a useful way when you later raise with a legitimately strong starting hand from early-to-mid position and get reraised again.
Depending on the opponent doing the three-betting, folding hands as strong as or middle pairs can be acceptable as well. Even calling a three-bet with pocket jacks from out of position is not going to be a play that makes you money in the long run. Don’t be stubborn when calling three-bets from out of position with hands that become difficult to navigate without having hit a perfect flop.
(File the mistake of “calling too much from the blinds” under this entry, too, as the problems are similar.)
Mistake #3: Playing Overly Passive
Moving to postflop mistakes, it is natural (and even correct in many cases) when playing from out of position to become passive — that is, doing a lot of checking and calling in an effort control the pot and prevent getting raised out of hands. But too often players having to act first on the flop grow accustomed to such passivity and fail to recognize when it is right to make more aggressive plays like leading with bets (or “donk betting”).
Playing a lot of hands “OOP” might even cause some players to begin playing a more passive game in other spots, too, including in hands when the player has position on an opponent. Often when out of position it is necessary to play a “defensive” style, but if that becomes your default mode you’ll find it difficult ever to pressure opponents as you’d like to be doing.
Mistake #4: Not Check-Raising
This mistake could be regarded as a variety of the previous one — that is, letting your passive play from out of position rule out the idea of check-raising in spots when doing so would be profitable.
Whether done with a strong hand (like two pair, a set, or better) or as a bluff, check-raising is a show of strength that puts an opponent on the defensive. Say your opponent opened from the button with , you called from the blinds, then check-raised following a flop. It doesn’t matter if you have it or not, your opponent who missed is going to have a hard time staying after your aggressive play.
However, players who play lots of hands from OOP are often also not aware of other fundamentals, like how check-raising can be a powerful way of grabbing the initiative away from an opponent who has position on you, enabling you to take charge of a hand postflop. The fact is, if you’re going to play hands from OOP, you have to be comfortable with check-raising and be able to recognize when you should employ the move.
Mistake #5: Check-Raising Too Much
Finally — and on the other end of the aggression spectrum — is the player who check-raises too frequently when playing from out of position, thinking it’s the only way to manage a hand postflop when OOP.
In some cases, check-raising a lot is just an extension of the loose (or reckless) mindset that encourages someone to play a lot of hands from out of position. Occasionally those with a limit hold’em background might check-raise more than they should in NLHE given that it is a more commonly seen move in LHE.
In any event, check-raising all the time can become a very exploitable pattern, with opponents knowing they can check back to get free cards or bet big hands knowing you’ll be helping them bloat the pot.
Sometimes you haven’t much choice when it comes to playing postflop from out of position, such as when you raise preflop and someone calls you from the cutoff or button, or when getting involved from the blinds. But be wary about getting involved in hands too often from out of position, and when you are playing from OOP remain mindful of other common mistakes players make to hurt their bottom line.