On Being Last to Act

Dear reader: This is an excerpt from Waiting for Straighters. You can read the whole thing here.


Waiting for Straighters and Being Last to Act


“Acting last is like taking a drink of water. We don’t have to understand why it’s good for us to know that it is. And the benefits are unaffected by our understanding of them.” Elements of Poker

 “There are only two postflop positions: last to act, and other.” Elements of Poker

Being last to act is about losing the least when you’re beat, and winning the most when you’re not. Only as last to act can you check behind. Only as last to act can you bet when checked to. Only as last to act can you be bet into when you have a monster. Only as last to act can you plan the hand as last to act. This is why money flows to the button.

Waiting for straighters does not mean playing straighters out of position just because you have a straighter. Waiting for straighters combines two kinds of waiting. Waiting for cards. And waiting for last to act.

Reminder: It’s a short wait from the blinds to the button.

The button makes all hands better, but not equally. Drawing hands gain the most. The difference in value between 9-8 in the small blind and 9-8 on the button is greater than the difference in value between A-A in the small blind and A-A on the button. I happen to think it’s a lot greater. I fold 9-8 (suited or not) from the blinds and early seats. And I play 9-8 (suited or not) on the button (if the bet-size to stack-size ratios are right).

You have A♣ Q♣ in the big blind. It’s folded to the button. He gives lots of action. He opens to 5x. The small blind folds and you 3-bet. The button calls. The flop is J♣ 3♣ 2♦.

Nice flop, right?

Please take a moment to recall the tinge of tension you feel on each street, in your core, as first to act. I’ll wait.

Now compare that discomfort to the luxurious feeling of flopping the nut flush draw with overcards, and acting last. The reason you feel safe and profitable is because you get to see what they do first, on the flop, on the turn, and on the river. You’ll never have it so good with nothing.

If you’ve played a lot of poker, you subconsciously know that every time you’re in a headsup pot, you are always either in the very best position in poker, or the very worst. You either have the advantage, or you don’t, on every street.

Here’s my approach to playing NLHE and PLO. I know from experience that if I act last on way more streets than the opposition, I’ll make enough money to live on. So I fold a lot preflop from the blinds and the early seats, and after the flop, I give up sooner than most when I’m first to act and I whiff. The result is that I am last to act on about 80% of the streets I play. It’s such a huge edge that sometimes it feels unfair.

I take the same approach with straighters. My objective is lopsidedness. I want to start with straighters more often than my opponents do, and I accomplish this by folding non-straighters more often than they do.

Being last to act is a power that should be abused, right up to the point when it shouldn’t. Pro players swing like a pendulum around that point. We tighten up, and that generates power that we then abuse appropriately and profitably, for a while, until we abuse it too much, which causes losing, and the pain of losing makes us tighten back up, which turns the power back on, and the winning resumes.

The cycle I just described is a fractal. It can play out over a span of months, weeks, or hours. I have used WFS to end the power cycle permanently on all time scales. WFS keeps me from over-abusing the power, and poof, no more pendulum.



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