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Smokin' Poker - The ABC of 2NL

Helping newbies to bubble up from the bottom of the fishtank
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Those of you that have been paying attention are aware that your position in relation to the button has a great affect on the way you play each particular hand, or indeed whether to play it at all. You know that being in late position is good, and being first to act is usually neither fun or profitable. Since the dealer button is moved clockwise round the table after every hand, everyone will be on the button the same number of times if an infinite number of hands are played, so theoretically there is no long term advantage to being in any particular seat. However, this is not quite the case in reality. There are significant advantages gained by being placed next to particular player types at the table. Take a look at the table layout below, and imagine that the positions marked A, B and C are empty seats. The villains are colour-coded and labelled according to the scheme I used in my previous blog. Which seat appeals most to you? For me, the answer is emphatic, and I'll explain why below, but see if you can get the correct answer. If you could sit in any of the white positions, would you choose seat A, B, or C?

The ABC of Seat-selection

I'm not going to give you the correct answer immediately. I'll give you some more clues first.
When you have a seat at a table, you will mostly be playing pots with the guys in the two seats to your left and the two seats to your right. The reason for this is that ranges are widest in late position and in the blinds. If the action is folded to you on the button, you'll be opening the pot about a third of the time, but the only players that can interact with you are the guys in the two seats to your left, as they will be in the blinds. So when you want to go stealing, it's those two guys that you are targeting. The flip-side of this coin is that when you are in the blinds, you'll most often be facing a steal by the guys in the two seats to your right. Whether you play back at them will depend on their tendencies. (Pro-tip: When I'm in a tournament against "unknowns", I'm usually looking up the results of the guys to my immediate left and right before anyone else, and trying to get reads on them as soon as possible). You'll play very few pots against someone on the opposite side of the table, because when you're in late position, they will be in early position. If their EP range is narrow (which it should be) then it figures that they won't be involved very often when you're on the button.
Since there are four particular players with whom you'll be frequently contesting pots, you'd prefer to be sandwiched between four players whom you know you can exploit. The logical follow on from this is that you want to be as far away as possible from players that are better than you. If Phil Ivey sat at your 2NL table (unlikely I know), you do not want him to be on your left, as he'll be defending his blinds from your steal attempts, and 3-betting your opens very often. If Ivey is on your left, he'll have position on you for every hand except when you have the button and he is in the small blind. You don't want Phil having position on you for eight hands in every nine! (As an aside, Ivey once quipped that his grandma could beat him heads up if she was allowed to have the button on every hand. Statistics for heads up games have shown that the player on the button wins about 60% of pots).
As explained in previous articles, being first to act makes it hard to get paid, but when you're in position, you can control the pot size. It's said that on the poker tables, money travels clockwise, and it's all because of the power of position. The inference to take from this is that you want “donators” on your right. Indeed, you should try and sit on a table with the weakest player (you main target) directly to your right. Have you decided whether seat A, B, or C is best yet? If not, read on.
If a player is looser than you, his range is weaker than yours. You'd like to play pots with him, especially if you have position, because your stronger range coupled with the positional advantage should enable you to maximise your profit.
It should be clear that you want loose players on your right. So who do you want on your left? Well, the guys on your left are the guys who will be in the blinds when you're in late position. Since you want to play a wide range in late position, you want to be able to steal blinds often. For this reason, you want the players to your left to be weak-tight. You don't want them 3-betting every time you try stealing. You don't even want them calling, because you'll end up seeing flops with weak hands like 33 and 65s. You want the guys on your left to be FOLDing to your steals. It should be obvious now that, ideally, the players on your direct left will be nits.

I'll now go through the pros and cons of each of the 3 seats you were offered at the start of this article.

Seat A
This doesn't seem so bad at first. You have immediate position on the TAG reg. Since he is likely to be your equal in terms of skill and hand-strength, it's beneficial to have position on him for 8 hands per orbit at this table. Two seats to the right of seat A is the LAG. Having position on him is quite good too, as you can call with a wide range when he opens the pot, as you will have pretty good equity against him. Then again, he'll be opening the pot so often (he's loose and aggressive) that he'll usually have the betting lead if and when you see a flop. Unfortunately, you'll be in the BB whenever this LAG has the button, and he'll surely be trying to steal. You'll have to 3-bet light quite often to prevent him from stealing your blinds constantly, and you'd rather not have to do that, as that will take you out of your ABC gameplan (betting/raising for value, seldom bluffing).
When you have the button in seat A, and it's folded to you in that position (which is unlikely with a LAG and a TAG acting prior) you might try stealing the blinds, but look at the guys to your left! The semi-loose passive and the loose passive calling station aren't going to let you take their blinds easily. Those guys want to see a flop, so you can't open with total trash. You'll need a value hand that flops well.
On balance, seat A is not a good one. You won't have many opportunities to be first in to the pot with a raise, and when you try stealing, the loose passives will be calling too often for you to be able to win pots uncontested.

Seat B
I don't like this seat for a number of reasons. The LAG has immediate position on you, and if he folds, then the TAG is right behind. You don't want to be playing many hands post-flop when these guys will have the positional advantage. Indeed, these guys will make life hell for you when you see a flop. Both are capable of floating your c-bets, and taking pots away with semi-bluffs and airballs. You'll be forced to only bet for value when OOP against these guys, or to take a tricky check-call line to induce bluffs; a "trappy" line that often misses value. Pre-flop will be tough too. Both the LAG and the TAG are capable of 3-betting when you try stealing their blinds.
To the right of seat B are a pair of nits. These guys won't be stealing your blinds with junk, but they won't be leaking too many chips either. Short of flopping a set and stacking a nit's overpair, you won't make much money when you see a flop with these guys. They won't often pay you when you make a hand, as your raises will frighten them off. You'd much rather be playing pots with the SLP and LP, but they are on the opposite side of the table. It's not going to be very profitable to sit in this seat, as the ATMs are too far away.

Seat C
This isn't just a good seat, it's perfect. This position is the so-called “Jesus seat”. In seat C, you have immediate position on both of the loose passive players. Directly to your right is the table's biggest donator, a calling station. You know his tendencies. He limps into pots, you raise it up to isolate him, everyone else folds and you are heads up in position with a massive donator who most likely has a weak hand. This is how you make most of your money: isolating a fish before anyone else gets the chance, and then value-betting him to death. The loose passives won't be trying to steal your blinds very often. If they raise pre-flop, you know they have a real hand, so there's no need to get fancy and try 3-betting to defend your blind. You can give it away when you're beat, and only play when you're much more likely to have the best hand.
The second great thing about this seat is that you have two nits on your left. You can steal these guys' blinds almost every single time. When you're on the button, the ubernit will be in the big blind. He's so tight (playing something like 8/4) that you can min-raise 32o and he'll give you 2c when he folds a hand like KT. Your weakest hands are suddenly profitable in this spot. Since the nits are only playing about 10% hands in total, you can give them a lot of credit if they just call your steals, let alone re-raise. When a nit calls in the blinds, you can put him squarely on a pocket pair or QJ+ almost always. If I try stealing with 65s and the nit in the big blind calls, I usually won't even bother c-betting unless I flop a big draw, because these guys are always calling at least two streets with underpairs like 77 on K92.
The third reason Seat C is by far the best option on this table is that it places you as far away as possible from the TAG and LAG; the two guys that are likely to cause you problems post-flop, because of their ability to semi-bluff. If the LAG and the reg are on the other side of the table, you won't be playing many pots with them. There will be no button vs blind reg wars here, because the LAG and TAG will never be in the blinds when you're on the button, and vice versa.

OK, we've concluded that Seat C is the best one to choose on this table, for the reasons detailed above. How does that affect our decisions? Firstly, if you find a table with more than one empty seat, choose the one that is likely to lead to more profit and/or easier decisions. Try and sit directly to the left of the loosest player on a table if possible, and choose a seat to the right of tight players if that's an option. If there are several empty seats, and you only recognise LAGs and TAGs at the table, then sit as far away from them as possible, or indeed choose another table. Which leads me to the next point.

How to tell when a table has gone bad.
I'm sure you've been in this situation before. You're quietly breaking even on a table where a loose player has been donating his chips to everyone, you've stolen a few blinds from nits and tags, but haven't won any big pots. You're dying to pick up aces, because the fish on your right appears to be tilted by a bad beat and you think he'll spew off his whole stack... but then he sits out. And then he leaves the table completely. You think “Oh well, I guess I'll stick around and see if another fish shows up”. Then you pick up AA, but get no action whatsoever, because the rest of the table is fairly tight and playing ABC. The loose player's vacated seat is taken by a nitty short-stacker who arrives with 80c. Look around at the table. Where is your profit? The ATM has left the building! The waiting list is probably full of nits and TAGs that saw your table had a high VPIP in the lobby, so they were lining up to come and stack the fish. But the fish has gone... and there isn't another one on the way. If your table looks like the picture below, it's time to leave and find a better one.

Bad table

There's only one target on this table, and he's two seats to your left. How will you isolate the SLP if he's acting after you most of the time? The nits and short-stacks won't be a great source of profit either, and there's a LAG on your immediate left. I doubt I'd even stay on this table if I could switch places with the TAG that has position on the SLP. With only one “mark”, this table is simply not +EV. Closing the table and finding another is a bit of a hassle, but do you want to make easy money, or do you want to sit on a table full of “solid regs” and shorties whom you have no edge over? If you're staying on this table, the only big pots you'll be playing will be coolers. You don't win money from regs and you don't win money from coolers (unless you run way above EV). You win money by having position on exploitable players, so go and find them!
Beginners should also note that staying on a table that has three or more empty seats is not recommended (especially if your main target just quit) as you're then effectively playing a 6-max game. Short-handed play requires you to widen your ranges and play more aggressively, because the blinds come round more often. Being out of your full ring comfort zone could lead to rushed decisions, so it's often best to quit if 6-max is new to you.
Get back to the lobby, find a fish on one of the other 200 tables and grab the Jesus seat while you have the chance. Those five minutes of table-selection will greatly increase your winrate and should lead to a much more pleasurable experience. (I don't know about you, but I have fun taking calling stations to Valuetown, but get stressed when I have to 3-bet light against a frequent blind-stealer).
If you're not going to take seat/table-selection seriously, then you may as well play Zoom. You may have noticed in the lobby that Zoom tables have a lower average VPIP than almost all the regular tables. Because Zoom is full of nitboxes with HUDs  - a 2+2 wag amusingly described Zoom as "Nitzkrieg" before it was even launched - it's not recommended for total beginners. Playing Zoom, you might randomly get seated with position on a fish for one lucky hand, but with careful selection from the regular tables, you can sit beside an ATM for however many hands it takes until he's busto! Make the most of this opportunity and hunt down the best seats on the best tables.

With table-selection in the bag, and our pre-flop raising hands already chosen, I think we're finally ready to try and hit some flops. The next blog in this series will be on continuation betting. Book your seats now!

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome as usual. Please post in my blog thread on the forum. Till the next time, keep chipping up!

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