Pay attention to preflop “configuration”. You can represent a very strong range when you open from the blinds vs a button straddle.
In Los Angeles, where I play 99% of my cash game No Limit hours, some casinos allow a straddle on the button, known as a Mississippi straddle. Different rooms have different rules about where the action starts from with a Mississippi straddle but here the action moves from the left of the straddle. This means, if you are at a table where the button straddle is on, the small blind is first to act preflop creating even more of a positional disadvantage.
I am not a huge fan of the button straddle is I feel that it forces the blinds to play correctly and fold out way too many hands. It sort of kills the action in NLHE and I much prefer tables where the straddle is from under the gun. But we must adapt to different rules and situations. With the small blind acting first versus a button straddle the small blind becomes almost the “super” under the gun. If you are only playing 15% of your hands from the UTG position a case could be made that you should play half of those hands when acting first from the small blind. If you think a player is opening with the right type of frequencies then when they raise out of the small blind first to act their range is very strong.
I was able to use this concept to my advantage in a recent hand that I played at the Bicycle Casino. The game was $5-$10-$20 and on this particular hand the double straddle of $40 was on the button. The table was full and I looked down at J♠T♠ from the small blind. First to act, I raised to $150, my standard opening raise in a double straddled pot. It should be mentioned that J♠T♠ is probably the bottom of my range of opening from the small blind when first to act and I probably raise 99+ AQ+, and suited broadways with the exception of KTs and QTs. This is tighter than my normal opening range of 77+, AJ+ 89s+ and suited broadways from under the gun. MP1, who was a serious recreational player that played somewhat aggressively preflop called my raise and we took the flop headsup.
The flop came out A♠ K♥ 5♣ giving me a gutshot straight draw and a backdoor flush draw. This board really hits a tight opening range from the “super” under the gun (sb). I think it is also important to note that when you are in the field, like the MP1 player, AK, especially offsuit, is absolutely NOT a mandatory three bet preflop. In fact, most of the preflop studying that I have done leads me to conclude that against an opening range of 7-8% that AKos should be flatted more than reraised. However, this particular villain was rather aggressive preflop and I thought that he WOULD three-bet with AK, along with AA and KK. So in reality the only strong hands that he could have with this flop would be a set of fives or A5s. I immediately recognized my range advantage and knew right off the bat that unless something changed on the board that I was going to be taking this hand for a three-barrel bluff. I started with a continuation bet on the flop of about half the pot, $150. The MP1 took a few seconds and called.
The turn was a 6♠ giving me a backdoor flush draw and additional equity. I also noticed that the A on the flop was a spade making the nut flush draw with top pair impossible to have. This time, on the turn I decided to fire larger, $500. Now a case could be made that I could actually overbet this spot, say a bet of $1000 as it would put maximum pressure on my opponent. The theory behind that line is that if he called again I would give up on the river. The issue that I had, however, with overbetting here was that our effective stacks were rather short (100BBs) with the double straddle and I wanted to see how he reacted to a normal sized bet. I thought that he would raise off the turn most of the time with a set of 5s so if he did in fact just call his range would truly be “capped” if he was not balancing calling with some strong hands correctly. Again he thought about it for a few seconds and called.
The river came out the J♦ giving me a pair. At this point some people would give up thinking that they now had a pair and some showdown value. But if we examine this spot more closely could this ever be the case? What type of hand does JT beat versus the MP1 after he calls the flop and turn bets? I mean we even lose to QJ (which he should never have BTW as we have the Js in our hand, making a backdoor flush draw impossible). What the J does, however, is make it more unlikely that the MP1 player has AJ for two pair as the board and our holding block half of the combinations. So I actually thought that this was a good card for us as our opponent was facing a very high, connected board and a preflop range that really smacks the hell out of it. With the pot being about $1640, I chose to fire a third barrel of $1400. Again, looking at the flop distribution of suits, it is very unlikely that our opponent could have KJ as we hold the Js in our hand (assuming he would only call a king on the turn that contained a backdoor flush draw). So in reality if he raises off a lot of his pocket 5s on the turn he really could have only some strong hands like A5s-A6s and some AJ by the river. This time my opponent tanked and tanked. He pulled out what looked like calling chips, fiddled with them for probably two to three minutes and finally said “I just can’t think of a hand that I can beat here” and folded A♥ T♥ face up allowing me to scoop over a thousand dollar pot.
This situation just goes to show you the power of paying attention to your position preflop. Over at my training site CrushLivePoker we call this “configuration”. Whenever you are facing a tough decision on any street within a hand think about the configuration preflop. Where did my opponent open from? How many hands does he open from in that position? If there was a three-bet in the hand think about the three bettors position and how many hands he would reraise versus the openers’ position. An under the gun raise vs and under the gun+1 three bet will yield a much stronger range than a cutoff open and a button three bet. If we were under the gun and opened AJos it would be an easy fold to an under the gun +1 three bet but if we were in the cutoff and the button three bet us, against most people that are paying attention, AJos becomes a slam-dunk call given the pot odds.
This really is one of the simplest concepts in poker but one that is very commonly over looked. Pay attention to configuration, as it will make you a much better player and hand reader.