We’re sitting in a cash game in the cut-off position, with our opponents in the Big Blind, Middle position, and on the Button. It’s checked around to us after the Flop came 2 7 Q, thus missing the JT suited that we limped in with. It would be nice to pick up the chips in the middle, but we have nothing, there’s an overcard, the Big Blind could have anything, and there’s still the button to follow us. So we check, the Button bets, the other two fold, we – out of position – fold, the Button adds a few more chips to their stack, and on to another hand. That’s a totally typical scenario that is played out literally thousands of times in online poker, all day, every day, 365 times a year. And yet it’s a perfect example of an opportunity missed.
Steal, Steal, Steal…
Whenever there are chips in an uncontested pot we should always be on the lookout for opportunities to take them for ourselves. That is, after all, the whole point of the game – we sit down to play with the sole intention of seeing our own stack grow at the expense of everyone else.
In the situation above, returning to when it was our turn to act after it was initially folded round to us, let’s say that this time we got in the first bet rather than kindly giving that chance to the Button. Under these circumstances, the Button, having most likely not connected with the flop, and not holding a pair, needs to justify staying involved in the hand. However, apart from our bet, there’s the Big Blind and the other player to factor in, too. The Button folds, immediately followed by the Big Blind, and the remaining player insta folds. We see the chips float across the virtual baize to be added to our stack, and all is well with the world.
Note that our cards made no contribution to our decision, rather we weighed up position, the information afforded us by two players not betting, and the cards in the middle. This is a classic steal scenario. By betting we were helping our quest to win the pot in two ways. First, as happened, we denied the Button the opportunity to execute a simple steal with a mere bet and, once we got them out of the way, the other two followed suit. However, had we ended up facing just the Big Blind, for example, we would have position on them for the remaining two streets, and still be in the driving seat to take home the booty.
Clearly, the position is indeed an important element here. If we swapped places with the Middle position player, tried the same tactic and found ourselves heads-up with either them or the Button, then we’d subsequently be first to act as the hand continued, which isn’t the kind of problem we want to (voluntarily) burden ourselves with.
Exploit modern habits
One of the attractions of online poker is the sheer volume of hands we can get through compared with the snail’s pace experienced at a bricks and mortar card room. Even at a single table it’s quite feasible to rattle through dozens of hands per hour. The fashionable fast-fold tables, where players pre-folding are immediately transported through the ether to a new table and a brand-new hand, provide an even quicker turnover. In other words, players can quite naturally adopt a tighter approach by simply folding poor, average and even potentially interesting speculative hands quickly and moving on to greener pastures.
This is where we come in, primed and ready to steal… Knowing that so many players immediately switch off when dealt a hand they deem not strong enough in which to invest any more chips, we simply keep our eyes peeled for those spots where the appropriate factors are in our favour. Then, we throw in the first bet and, in many cases, snaffle those chips. It doesn’t matter that the Flop might have missed us altogether – if we can get away with these easy steals, we’ll keep doing it. Remember – the chips are going to end up added to someone’s stack, so it might as well be ours.
With this in mind, in a fast-fold game, for instance, instead of following the vast majority of players who can’t wait to leave the table quickly enough, we should at least hang around long enough to give ourselves the chance to pull off a steal. Most of the time we’ll ‘only’ be picking up the blinds, but it all adds up. It’s not unusual for the only players seeing the Flop to be a late position would-be thief and the Big Blind, who had to wait around anyway and might wish to defend against aggression. Again, should that be the case, we have position on them for the rest of the hand.
Remember that our opponents need a reason to continue their involvement in a hand, so any lack of commitment from them could present us with an opportunity to steal. Furthermore, even average holdings shouldn’t seem strong enough to bother with for most players, especially when the pot is only modest in size. We need to ruthlessly exploit this kind of negative mentality and keep in mind that it’s often possible to steal a pot without much – or any! – resistance.