Playing from the Button

The button is the most profitable position to play from in poker. It gives you the advantage of position, which is huge. If you keep meticulous records or use a poker tracking program, you have probably already noticed that the button is where you make most of your money in poker.

The greatest advantage of acting from the button is that you get to see what your opponents do before you have to act. This gives you a surplus of information that opponents in earlier positions do not have at the time of action. By virtue of your having more information than your opponents, you’ve got a huge advantage and can manipulate the way the hand plays.

There are three basic rules you should follow in order to maximize your profit from the button:

  • Maintain an open range preflop
  • Practice aggression
  • Punish poor players

Maintain an Open Range Preflop

That might sound complicated, but all it really means is this: play lots of hands.

You should play much looser from the button than you do in other positions. Where in the big blind it’s profitable to play about 10-15% of your hands, on the button that number becomes 30-40%–possibly even higher depending on the game you’re in.

The logic behind this is that since you’re in control of the betting action, your relative hand value goes up; since you’re last to act postflop, you give away no information in terms of betting patterns. Since your opponents will have to guess what you’re holding on every street before they act, they will tend to play more conservatively. That means you can abuse them regardless of whether or not you actually make your hands.

Your range on the button should look something like this:

  • 22+
  • All suited Kings, all suited Queens
  • J8s+
  • Suited two gappers 96+
  • Suited gappers 86+
  • Suited connectors 34+
  • A8o+
  • K9o,Q9o,J9o,T9o+

Of course, this range will vary depending on the situation and on how comfortable you are playing the button generally. But the main point here is that you should play lots of cards from this position.

Practice Aggression

Playing a wide range of hands is only going to work as long as you keep up the aggression. What do I mean by this? Simple: bet, bet, and then bet some more.

Don’t flat-call when there is an opportunity to raise, and punish the opponents who do limp. The only time I would recommend limping in to unraised pots from the button is when you have a small, drawing hand and want to play a large, multi-way pot. In most cases, though, you are best served by raising it up and playing your hand hard.

Why play so aggressively? Because you want to encourage your opponents to make mistakes. There are tons of mistakes you can induce through aggression: causing opponents to draw without odds, causing opponents to call light, and inducing tilt are just a few examples.

It’s so easy to induce mistakes from your opponents in late position because they never know what you’re going to do. Their lack of information is your profit. At the same time, aggression gives you more ways to win the pot. With the right amount of aggression, you can win pots by either hitting legitimate hands or simply by betting everyone out of the pot.

Imagine a player in middle position holding a marginal hand like ATo. He wants to try and get lucky, but he doesn’t know quite how far he should take it. Thus you’ll often be able to extract two streets of value by betting, while he calls (unprofitably) waiting for a lucky strike.

Punish Poor Players

Aggression ties in with the notion of punishment: you want bad players to pay for their badness. There are all sorts of players you want to harass from the button, but the most common is the limper.

The limper loves to flat-call preflop raises with crappy hands. Often these guys are calling stations. A limper’s goal is to see as many cards as possible while paying the least amount of money to do so. Thus your goal on the button is to charge these players as much as possible to draw, punishing them for playing crappy poker.

After a few orbits at a table, you’ll get to know who the limpers are. You should aim to play pots with these guys alone when you’ve got position. Since their range is weighted towards marginal and straight up bad hands, you will often be ahead to start; and whatever advantage you lack in hand strength you will make up for by knowing how to win via aggressive play.

Make sure you practice a little caution when punishing poor players. If you find yourself up against a true calling station, you do not want to bluff. Against weak players, your best bet is to put in a preflop raise with any hand that beats their likely calling range. Then play a straightforward game after the flop. This prevents you from wasting money by bluffing unbluffable players. It also extracts the most money when you have legitimate hands.

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