Every Hold 'em strategy guide talks about the importance of positional advantage. The standard thinking is that the player who acts last has more information than his opponents, so he'll have a better sense of where he stands in a hand and can, therefore, make better decisions. There's no doubt that this is true, but it's important to understand that the power that comes with position is often granted to the late-position poker player by the early-position player.
To see what I mean, consider a pretty typical No-Limit hold 'em hand. Say that I'm in the big blind with 7s-8s – a nice, flop-worthy hand. The player on the button raises to three times the big blind and I decide to call. Many players would check the flop under almost any circumstances. But, by checking, you give control to the late-position player. He can bet whether or not he has a hand, putting you in a tough spot if you don't get a piece of the flop.
In a hand like this, I believe it's best to look at the flop and ask, “Is it likely that these cards helped my opponent?” Once I have an answer to that question, I can decide how to proceed.
If the flop is Ah-Kd-9c, I'd probably just check and fold to a bet, as my opponent was likely raising with big cards and caught a piece of the flop. However, if the flop is 9c-5h-2d, I'd probably be more skeptical. I know that in Hold 'em, two unpaired hole cards will fail to make a pair on the flop about 66 percent of the time, and this seems to be a flop that the pre-flop raiser might have missed.
If I suspect my opponent didn't connect, I'm going to take the initiative and bet out about half the size of the pot. Betting here with my gutshot draw offers several advantages. First, I might take the pot down right here, and I'm always happy when a semi-bluff forces a fold. But even if I get a call from my opponent, I've forced him to react. That gives me a chance to pick up a read. If my opponent seems uneasy, I might continue with my semi-bluff on the turn and try again to pick up the pot. Or, if I feel my opponent is strong, I can check and fold to any bet on the turn if I fail to make my hand.
Stabbing at pots when out of position can be very lucrative. In tournaments, I'll open-raise out of position fairly frequently because I think there's a lot of power in being the first one to fire at the pot on the flop. I pick up a lot of small pots that way.
As you work on your Hold 'em game, remember that you don't have to give the advantage in the hand to the player in late position. Look for opportunities to bet out and seize the initiative.