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Bad Position, Decent Cards
Howard Lederer
April 3, 2006

In the middle and later stages of tournaments, there are often times when you're forced to make a pretty big commitment on a relatively weak holding. These are uncomfortable spots because you never want to risk a large percentage of your chips with a mediocre hand. Things get even more difficult when you're playing from the blinds and out of position.

For example, say you're playing late in a tournament. The blinds are $500 and $1,000, and there's a $100 ante. You're in the small blind with $18,000. It's folded around to the button, an aggressive player who raises frequently in late position. He has $30,000 in his stack and he raises to $3,500. You look at your cards and see Ad-9s.

You know that A-9 isn't a great hand, but you can't ignore it in this situation. First off, given your opponent's history, he may very well be raising with a hand that is far worse than yours. In fact, in this spot, he could very well have two rags. Another consideration is that there are a lot of chips in play. Between the blinds, antes, and your opponent's raise, you stand to pick up over $5,000 in chips if you can take down this pot, which would be a nice addition to your short stack.

So, you're probably going to want to play this hand. But what's the best action?

At first, it might seem that calling is a reasonable course, as it would keep you from getting overly committed on this marginal hand. But calling has some pretty big downsides. With a hand like A-9, you're usually not going to like the flop very much. In fact, you'll fail to make as much as a pair about two-thirds of the time. If you do flop a pair of 9s, how are you going to proceed if the flop also has an over card? Even on an Ace-high flop, you'll have a tough time knowing if your hand is good.

What's more, if you miss the flop completely, you leave yourself vulnerable to being outplayed. It's going to be very hard to bet if the flop contains three cards that don't help your hand. If you check, your opponent will likely make a continuation bet, and you'll be hard-pressed to continue, even though Ace-high might be good.

In spots like this, your best move is to press an edge while you have it - before the flop. Re-raise all-in pre-flop. Your opponent probably won't have a hand that he can call with and, if he does, you'll have plenty of outs. You still have about a 25% chance against AK, for example. Not good, but not dead.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, in the later stages of a tournament, you don't want to make many decisions after the flop when you have a medium-strength hand like Ace-middle kicker or middle pocket pair, and you're playing out of position. Put your chips in while you think you have the best of it, and hope for the best. If you let these marginal but good situations pass you by, you might regret it later when your stack has been whittled down even further.

Howard Lederer
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