To say position is an important factor in poker strategy is an understatement. Experienced pros know that the extra information you gain by acting after your opponents makes a huge difference to your profits. Seeing what others do before you make your own decision allows you to win more when you are ahead, and to lose fewer chips when you are behind. Adjusting your strategy to allow for position starts before the flop, where this advantage really gets felt is in post-flop play.
This article starts with a look at position in pre-flop betting, showing how you can work out where in the betting you will be post-flop from early in the hand. After this you will find 2 examples of positional play. The first shows how you can make more money using the advantage of acting last. The second shows how you can get away from a 2nd best hand cheaply when in position. Finally, you’ll see how to spot situations where your positional advantage is not as good as it seems.
When you are one of the first players to act at a table of 9 or 10 people, you need to be more cautious with your starting hand selection than you would be acting last. Mid-strength hands, small pairs and speculative hands like suited connectors are difficult to play profitably from early position. The reason is that you do not yet know whether there will be raises and re-raises from around the table. With 8 opponents there is a good chance someone will put in a raise. You will then be first to act after the flop, and you will mostly not have a monster hand.
Compare this with being one of the last players to act before the flop. Most people have already decided what to do, and you can see if there are raises and re-raises already at the table. This means you can ditch your weaker hands when there is heavy action, or play speculative hands without too much risk of a raise when things look calmer.
Your positional advantage lets you act with more information than when acting first. Good players have different starting hand criteria for early, middle and later positions at the table.
If you are on the button before the flop, then you will be last in the betting on the flop, turn and river. This has a built in advantage, especially when your chip-stacks are deep enough for betting on all 3 rounds. Conversely, the players in the blinds will act first after the flop, which means acting without clear information on what your opponents intend to do.
In Texas Holdem, most hands miss most flops. If you are last to act after the flop, and everyone checks to you – indicating weakness – then you can often pick up pots without too much of a fight. Taking a stab at the pot is very effective when your opponents are straight-forward (less likely to check-raise) and when you showed strength before the flop.
You can also use position to manage the pot-size when you have a strong hand, building the pot over several streets to maximize your profits. This will depend on the number of opponents and the likelihood of them calling your bets.
If instead of seeing your opponents check to you, there is a raise and a re-raise ahead before you act – then you can get away from weaker hands cheaply. Say you had middle pair or a weak top pair and were first to act instead. Checking induces bets that you usually do not want to call, and betting out would have gotten re-raised in two places. Acting last has allowed you to get away from a weak hand with the minimum of damage, and the chips you save will add up over time.
Sometimes you will find yourself in situations where you are acting last, but the order of betting before the flop means you are in a risky situation. If an early position player calls (limps), a player in middle position raises, you call that raise from the button and the early position player also calls. Here, acting last is not as big an advantage as before. It is natural for the early position player to ‘check to the raiser’. This means you will need to call any bet from the pre-flop raiser without really knowing the true intentions of the early position player. While you are acting last in the betting, you are actually sandwiched between the other two players. This is known as ‘relative position’ and can be a dangerous situation for players who are not aware of it.
Acting last whenever possible is an important component of poker strategy. By having stricter starting hand requirements from early position than for later position, you will avoid many difficult situations. Position really comes into its own after the flop. By acting last you will be able to get away from bad hands cheaply and maximize your winnings with good hands – as long as you avoid the trap of having bad position relative to the betting action