Play like a pro: Eugene Katchalov and the power of position

Do you want to play like a pro? Top Ukrainian pro, Eugene Katchalov, reveals the value of position and why you can’t ignore it

‘Location, location, location’ is the first law when buying property, but in poker strategy the mantra is ‘position, position, position’. To help enlighten us on this crucial aspect of the game, we’ve recruited top pro Eugene Katchalov, who has won close to $8.5m in the live arena. Ever mindful of position, PokerPlayer took a seat to his left and let him do the talking…

Why position is key

Every decision in poker is easier if you are in position, because you have more information. You get to act last, so you get to see what your opponents do before you have to reveal your action. Position is important in every form of poker, but it’s more important in a game like PLO than no-limit hold’em, as the board texture changes so much from street to street in PLO. In hold’em the hand values don’t always change that much from the flop to the turn, but in PLO the nuts can change completely.

Stacks of information

  • Stack size goes hand in hand with position. If stacks are shallow and I raise on the button, the big blind could move all-in and take away my positional advantage by making position irrelevant. If stacks are deeper he can’t do that.
  • The deeper the stacks the tougher your decisions become when out of position. With deeper stacks there’s often play down the streets, and many complicated things can happen, so if you have position on every street it’s a huge advantage.
  • I would say cash game players (who are used to playing with deeper stacks) have a better awareness of position than most tournament players. What I find in tournaments is that play is not usually that deep. Perhaps 30-60 big blinds is the average stack throughout most of the tournament.
  • In cash games, especially live, you can be 300-500BB deep, which is a different form of poker. There’s more wiggle room down the streets which you just don’t get in tournaments. Practice will always do you good, and if you just play tournaments it’s a good idea to play some cash to practise position while 100 big blinds deep.

Player dependent

  • I don’t think having a default range of hands you play from each position (depending on stack size) is necessarily a bad thing, but you should always be ready to adjust it based on what is happening at the table. So if people are folding a lot you can raise more, or if you’re getting three-bet often you can tighten up a bit.
  • As with most things in poker it depends on your opponent, so there are hands I would fold out of position to some players and not others, depending on my history with him, the position he’s raised from and other variables.
  • It’s not as simple as saying that calling out of position against aggressive players is unprofitable, as it depends how you handle aggression. There are ways you can take advantage of it, maybe slow-play some hands and take advantage of their aggression and use it against them.

Blind defence

  • The standard opening raise size in tournaments has gotten smaller in the last few years, so if you’re in the blinds you’re getting great immediate odds, despite being out of position for the rest of the hand. Some say people are calling too much out of position because of this and that it’s a big leak, but it’s not that simple. It really depends on each person: some people fold too much and some people call too much.
  • It also depends on who the big blind is and against whom you’re defending. If you’re calling from the big blind, consider how aggressive the raiser is and how many problems he’s going to cause you postflop. If he’s quite passive postflop then you can call more. It shouldn’t be an automatic decision based on pot odds.
  • Just because it’s a min-raise and you have a certain hand, it doesn’t mean you should call – there are more factors to consider. Playing out of position against good aggressive players is going to cause problems, so maybe I won’t defend as much as normal unless there are other reasons.
  • Against really good players I’d give it up more, whereas against players who are more predictable postflop I can play, because if I flop a marginal hand I’ll know how much pressure they’ll apply and I can take it from there.
  • If there are weaker players in the blinds you should be raising wider in position. Any time you feel you have a good chance to steal the blinds you should definitely be raising more.

Short-handed play

  • As play gets short-handed you’re going to be in the blinds a higher percentage of the time and find yourself playing out of position more often, but as it’s short-handed you have to play more hands.
  • Experience helps: if you play a lot of sit-and-gos you learn how to do this as you move from nine or six-handed to shorthanded, and you are forced to play more hands. Playing short-handed cash games will also help.
  • When you get heads-up you’re out of position for 50% of the hands. If you’re facing someone you think is better than you, one possibility is to make your raises bigger (depending on stack size) so that your opponent has less room to outplay you. Also, when you are deeper I think it is correct to raise a little bit more, especially if they’re a good player and they’re defending their big blind all the time if you just min-raise.
  • I think it’s always a good idea to keep adjusting and keep your opponent guessing. You don’t want to fall into the trap of always doing the same thing.

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