UTG; Laying it Down, Picking it Up! No Limit
Playing UTG (under the gun) is clearly one of the finer arts in poker. UTG preflop and post flop are different animals. Lets first take a look at preflop and early position. Hand selection preflop is only part of the story. Betting and table image are also major elements in the UTG story. Table image can be either tight or loose. Tight players get more credit for a strong hand when they play a hand in early positiion Combine that with betting 3-5X BB and you have the basic elements to limit the number of players to see a flop. A goal of all tight players is to have only one other person in a pot postflop. On the other hand the player who plays alot of hands has difficulty getting credit for preflop quality with regaurd to thier holding. They don't mind because thier philosiphy in part is to accumulate alot of chips and are willing to play less controlled hands to play bigger pots and achieve a larger chip stack early, mid and late in a tournament. They also like the disguise factor that comes from thier opponents having a very difficult time putting them on thier big hands. They know thier going to bust out early sometimes but are willing to do this as a by-product of accumulating alot of chips early and often.
Preflop hand selection is extremely important part of playing UTG well. Premium hands, top ten ranking, that are raised 3-5 X BB will keep many players out of the pot. You don't want 4 or 5 other players going to the flop with you if you have pocket aces. The odds
of you winning the hand go way down. An establish table image and your bet allow you to play preflop without position. Position as a concept in poker is the desire to be last to act; ie. make a decision; during the playing of any hand. When you simply call the big blind, limping into a pot you know you are likely to get multiple callers. Then why do folks do it at all. Lets say you get Jh Qh UTG. Why not still raise this drawing hand up to 3X BB? Instinctively players limp for a very logical reason. Weaker hands win less often. Thus you need more chips in the pot, which ofcourse means more players, at a cheap cost to see a flop to have a net return on investment over time. It's really unspoken common sense. Risk less for a larger reward on a hand the wins less often. JQ is very rarely the best hand preflop, but has terrific drawing potential. Suited you have both straight and flush possibilities. So why not lmp everytime with mid suited connectors? The reason is simple! The players left to act all know what you know. A good hand acting behind you will raise to keep you from seeing a pot cheaply. Now that changes the whole cheap flop/ many callers concept you are using to justify playing this hand in the first place. That's one of the first keys to playing UTG with regaurd to hand selection. Limping is fine as long as you are willing to call the 3X BB raise if and when it happens. What I'm saying is it's ok to play mid suited connectors every so often to mix your hand selection up. But know what your going to do when the raise comes before you initially limp in. A key part of this is watching the table and know it's tendencies. Tables are either passive; very few raises; or aggressive with players betting 3-5X BB and all ins on a frequant bases. The truth is most tables are a mix. The tough tables are ones where on your UTG the button is a tight player who generally raises rather than limps. They could have a real hand or be trying to steal the blinds and your bet aswell. There using there postflop position to thier advantage by raising preflop knowing they are last to act after the flop. Passive tables are much more condusive to limping UTG. Getting the lay of a table and wether individual players are loose or tight and noting thier position relative to yours is an important factor in deciding to play in early position for a limp in. What other hand is worthy of a limp in. The obvious is the small pocket pair. You may actually have the best preflop hand but there are likely to be multiple over cards after the flop.Your willing to let more players see the flop for the reward if you hit the set. The hidden small set is one of the best returns on investment in poker.Unlike the made straight or flush where board reading generally can alert opponents to keep pot size small. A small pocket pair that's hidden and makes a set can bring you alot of chips in a single pot. Many good players, myself included have a philosiphy of paying off the made set for it's infrequency combined with the inabilty to put a player on one unless there is a paired board. For the reasons above I only like to limp UTG with the small pair and fold suited connectors. Believing that suited connectors are better to play in mid to late position.
So if we are not going to limp much and play very few hands what should be our normal play UTG. We should be playing premium hands and for a raise. Big pocket pairs and big aces being the norm. Raising 3X BB with a big ace and 4-5X BB with the big pocket pair. We want to limit the number of callers for post flop play and are going to have to act early in each subsequaint round and first if the blinds aren't in the hand. The whole concept of position has been developed over time based on the desire to have fewer players make decisions after you. Thus cutting down the chances of having a better hand than yours playing. An example would be playing A J UTG and having one of the other 8 players at a full table having pocket kings and reraisng you or even putting you all in. The more folds before you act the better. That is the weakness of ealy position. Single raises are a very bad thing period, but particularily in early position. One of the most common mistakes I see in poker. A single raise screams POT BUILDER and I HAVE A MONSTER to a good player. You want to play big hands but betting 3X BB which normally says big ace based on your table image to slightly disgiuse pocket aces is far more effective in building pots with a controled number of callers. Folding minimum raise hands is rather easy for a good player. ex. You have Q J suited on the button. This is playable as part of mixing it up stategy once in awhile. I'll fold this in a minute if I read that UTG min. raise to be K's or A's. If the hand plays out and the hole cards are revealed I'm rarely wrong. You want to tell the table certain things with your bets to a range of hands only as part of achieving the goal of limited callers. Screaming the PREFLOP NUTS is not part of that strategy. Lastly the all in UTG preflop. This should be very rarely used and only short stacked. An example would be you have 5 BB's left and get pocket jacks. Top 5 preflop hand. You are going to play but raising 3X BB's leaves you pot commited so push making it more expensive for drawing hands like 8h 9h to see a flop. If you just limp and the flop comes 7d 6h Ah you just created a huge problem for yourself. They have a flush and straight draw and two streets to catch it, 15 outs twice. You went from 75% to win to about 50-50 by letting them see a flop for a call or free to the big blind. Same flop and you limped and the big blind had Ac 3d and your now behind. Thats why you don't limp with big pocket pairs. Cheap flops usually lead to losing results.
Post flop UTG is a slightly different animal. You place a premium on board reading skills, understanding of betting theory and your ability to read opponents once you act. Lets 1st work through the concepts as a raiser (3X BB) UTG who got one caller and the blinds folded holding As Ks. The flop was Qd 7s 6s. Here we only have ace high, but we do have a nut flush draw and runner/runner to an ace high straight. That's pretty straight forward. But that's not the board reading skill I'm talking about. It's what's a possible made and/or drawing hand post flop that the opponent holds? The fact they called our raise helps putting them on probable hands or draws. If the caller was in late p0sition or splashed in alot of pots a straight draw using the 6 7 off the board may be in play. They could have a pair already for thier call. Mid pocket pairs generally don't reraise 3X BB raises preflop. Prefering to see a good flop before acting. Thier other standard option being reraise all in. And remember they have postflop position in our example. So do we check or bet? We never check in this situation and these cards. This is where betting theory enters the mix. First we bet for information. Because we raised preflop we should never bet less postflop. I like the phychology of small incremental raises. It says i got better and I'm not going away. This absolutely works. So in our example we have 7 1/2 BB's in the pot. we bet 3 originally, thus 4 minimum should be bet. I personally also switch to betting as is porportional to the pot if I had improved to a hand like top pair and kicker. But here we use a 4X BB bet into our opponent. This is also utilizing another betting theory, the continuation bet. Wether you hit your flop or not being the raiser preflop showed strength and your continueing with a follow up bet. Continuation bets are a powerful pot winning tool. If they missed the flop they'll usually fold. That pocket pair facing over cards has a hard time calling. Let alone raising when you act first by betting out postflop. Checking here can have nothing but negative consequences. Lets say the opponent calls. Now you have the nut flush draw and ace high. What read do you get from the bad guy's call? Here the two most likely choices are a pair or the straight draw, generally open ended and not a gutshot. They could have a set if they played pocket 7's for example. I presume that at this point when they call I'm likely behind. Giving them credit for a pair atleast. The turn will be any none spade that didn't pair the board in this example. Your first to act and still have ace high. You bet out postflop and believe your behind so lets check right? If we check we have decided to lat down the hand. The bad guy will raise with any hand pair or better. Should raise with any hand actually using position to get you to fold. So don't expect a free card. The only check behind from the bad guy your going to get is the unmade straight draw. So your making a decision to give up on the hand by checking, but betting may have a very positive outcome. We raised 4 BB's on the flop, 5-6 X BB may get that middle pair to fold if we fire a second bullet. Top pair will generally reraise/ all in to force you to fold on a draw. I haven't given a specific card on the turn. A miss is a miss. But one factor that would influence me to shut it down and check is if a card like a 5 hit on 4th street. We already give them credit for being ahead, but if they were on a straight draw they may of just hit. Leaving no overcards pairing as outs and only the 9 flush card making outs left on the river. Your using those board reading skills again to rationalize the likely risk/reward of firing another bullet. The made straight would move all in as to not give you the right pot odds
to chase that flush draw to the river. This brings about one of my most trusted beliefs about poker. It is also true in business. "You have to spend money to make money." Some will look at this betting patern and believe we are throwing chips away. Those are the folks that play only made hands post flop. But we all miss many more flops than we hit. Good players try to get those chips in the pot even without a made hade. Playing without good cards/made hands is a skill that can take years to develop but a joy when mastered that can last a life time and be very profitable. The hand we just played out employs one of my cherished theories in poker. I call it "driving the bus". Using 1st to act as an advantage rather than a weakness. We are attempting to control the hand by betting. We give the potential better hand chips for information, but also hope they only call and not raise so we see another card at our price hoping to hit that nut flush draw coming good with another spade. Many a player misses board reading and the potential reasons players acting first may bet out. Continuation bets are obvious for experienced players. But adding setting the price for a draw is often overlooked or simply not thought of. Thier happy to let you build thier pot not realizing that you may be building a pot for yourself.
Playing the made hand UTG has some chalenges of it's own. we are talking risk/reward 101. You hit top par and kicker with a good ace raised correctly preflop. There is no imediate flush or straight draw on the board. Time to trap by checking. Are you nuts? First of checking post flop screams monster! Even if you had a pair that hit the set you have to bet as you would normally. Your not getting paid off unless they got part of the flop anyway. And they expect the continuation bet if they're an experienced player. Don't worry about losing out on a big pot as it was never there postflop to begin with unless they got part of it. Hands like top pair can still get out drawn. You wouldn't want the turn to bring a card that made possible straight and flush draws to your opponent for free. Only with a monster flop like quads would you allow a free card after the flop UTG. If last to act checking and slow playing sets is common and can be quite profitable on rainbow boards. But UTG none limped you gotta bet out almost exclusively. Always remember that while your studyng betting paterns and hand selection of your opponents so are they. All in with the made hand should generally only be done with a short stack, and preferably against a huge stacked opponent when UTG. The all in is designed to allow an opponent to think your stealing and call. Betting incrementally with a big hand usually gets more chips in the middle. The made hand with opponents holding draws is generally played the same most times. Your 1st to act and the goal is to get them to fold, period. We don't want that flush draw to hit on the turn or river cheaply. Let's say we have top set and the temporary nuts. Many players see 2 suited cards and still only bet/check with the thought of traping. If you make a standard continuation bet that's called post flop with you holding top set is overwhelmingly a draw. A reraise would be smaller set or 2 pair trying to protect thier hand thinking they're ahead. Your all in here gets thier money in anyway. So why bet standard giving them the right pot odds to call on a 9 outer and 2 streets if they hold a flush draw instead of the smaller set or 2 pair. All in protects the made hand taking away pot odds to call. Remember we discussed earlier that a likely caller of a 3X BB UTG raise would include those suited connectors that many love to play. 2 suited cards and perhaps even an added straight draw of some sort in the mix on the flop and you gotta get them to fold. Slow playing can lead to very bad results. This is another reason you very rarely give free cards. Many so called "suckouts" are actually nothing more than YOU allowing an opponent to see more cards to cheaply or at all. Lastly playing the made hand agianst a potential better hand based on the flop. An example could be you hold 10d 10s and raised it UTG 4X BB. The flop is 10h Jh 7h. Boy do we hate this, sorta. We have second set but there is a possible made straight or flush on the board. Here again you gotta suck it up and spend some chips. There is only two hands we don't have a draw on and that's a set of jacks or the made straight flush. The bad guy expects that continuation bet. We will oblidge him. Part of this bet is for information as per the norm, but also it is partially defensive. We are defending against an obvious bluff/semi-bluff senario. A player holding Ah Jc is going to raise hard on that flop if you check. Remember your second set is ahead at the moment. You just gave control of the hand over to the bad guy. Betting out the bad guy calls on these cards, but almost never reraises waiting for the forth heart and the nuts incase you held 2 hearts in your hand. Fold the set or chase the boat/quads on 7/47, 10/46 draws. Your continuation bet in this senario garuntees a decision on the turn for your chips. The nut flush may reraise leaving you a decision now; protecting against a paired board on future streets. The straightis actually deciding if they're drawing dead to a hand like A K hearts that you payed UTG for a raise preflop, ect. Your betting out post flop controls the hand and the reraise gives you the info you need to gamble against an opponent who is ahead. Often if you check in this situation showing weakness the bad guy will actually try to steal the pot on a missed flop themselves. Thow shalt not check postflop!
As you can see my belief is you should play UTG for a raise preflop or fold it unless you hold a small pocket pair. Always develop table image at every table your at from the first hand dealt. It's a key to controling hands you play UTG or in any position. Being 1st to act postflop can be very benificial if you bet correctly. And very rarely should you check UTG postflop. There is a poker saying that I believe is very true and I'll finish with it. "First one into the pot usually wins".