playing poker

Tip 2 Game position

In poker, position refers to when a player must act on his hand relative to the other players in the pot.  When a player is one of the first to act, he is early position.  When a player is last or nearly last, he is in late position.  Similarly, players with several opponents on either side of them are in middle position.  These terms appear frequently in this book, which provides a clue about the significance of considering position in your hold’em decisions.

Late Position Advantage

As you begin to play hold’em, you quickly become aware of the numerous advantages of having late position in a hand.
  One of the most important advantages is that you generally have a decent idea of what kind of strength you are up against.  For example, suppose you are holding 8-8.  This looks like a good hand, and in absolute terms, it is just that.  It is not, however, a great hand, and it is often unclear how (or whether) to proceed with it.

  If you are in late position with your pocket eights, the actions of the other players influence how you play.  Suppose everyone has folded to you, and only blinds are yet to act.  It is highly probable that you have the best hand, so you should choose to play it aggressively by raising the pot.  Assuming the blinds call your raise you now hold a positional advantage over them for the remainder of the hand.  This means that on the flop, turn, and river, they must act before you, giving you the advantage of making your decisions with more information about your opponents’ cards than they have about yours.

  Let’s look at a different scenario in which you hold 8-8 in late position.  This time, however, a tight player has raised and an even tighter one has reraised before the action has reached you.  Once again, the useful information gained due to your positional advantage can be used.  Clearly, your two eights are not the best hand here, and this knowledge, combined with the high price of entering the pot, allows you safely fold your hand.

Early Position Disadvantage

Contrast this with holding the same hand in early position.  Poker is a game o incomplete information, and the earlier your position, the more incomplete the information.  Now, you don’t have the benefit of knowing what your opponents are going to do.  You must make a poorly informed decision, and in poker these kinds of decisions are often wrong.  In the case of the 8-8, sometimes it is the best hand (or at least playable), and other times it is way behind.  Thus, the earlier your position, the less likely you are to know which one is the case.

  But the problems with early position don’t stop there.  Once you decide to enter a pot by opening early (or decide to look at the flop from a blind position), you act before your middle and late position opponents for the remainder of the hand.  This will cost you, in terms of both bets and pots.  Because you must act first, you will at times be unsure as to whether a card helped your opponents’ hands.  For example, you may check, when in fact had you bet your hand one or more opponents might have called with inferior hands.  Your poor position has cost you one or more bets in this case.

  Worse yet, your apprehension about whether the development of the board has helped your opponents may cause you to check, when betting would have induced everyone else to fold.  Now, suppose everyone checks behind you, and the next card comes.  An opponent who would have folded for a bet on the previous betting round now improve his hand and wins the pot.  For example, suppose you are first to act with 8-8, and the flop is K-9-7.  If you are first, with three or four players behind you, you would probably choose (correctly) to check, as this flop is likely to have helped one or more of your opponents.  However, suppose nobody can beat your pair of eights, and the hand gets checked around.  Now, an ace comes, giving one of your opponents holding A-5 a better hand.  Since this player would probably have folded on the flop had you bet, your check has cost you the pot.  If you had the same hand in last position, however, it would have been correct for you to bet the flop once it was checked around to you, likely making you the winner of the pot.

Playing Position

Clearly, it is to your benefit to try to play most of your hands from late position.  As a result, you should enter the pot only with premium hands when you are one of the first players to act.  When you play only big pairs and big cards such as A-K from early position, your post flop positional disadvantage is partially offset by your hand being fairly easy to play after the flop.  If you have a big pair, you stay aggressive on the flop in nearly all cases (the main exception being fairly easy to play after the flop.  If you have a big pair, you stay aggressive on the flop in nearly all cases (the main exception being when your pair is smaller than aces, an ace flops, and several players are in the pot).  If you have big cards, such as A-K, you tend to bet when you flop a pair, and check when you don’t (tempered by much guesswork; thus, postflop performance does not suffer as much from poor position as do more marginal holdings like small and middle pairs.
  Because you have the benefit of observing the actions of all your opponents, you can be much more liberal with your starting requirements when you are in late position.  Don’t misinterpret “liberal” as “loose” or “sloppy,” though.  Some hands are not profitable to play in any situation.  Nevertheless, acting last allows you, first, to see how your hand figures to stack up against your opponents before the flop, and, then, to make well-informed decisions about how to proceed after the flop.
  Do not underestimate the value of position.  It should be a consideration in nearly every decision you make in the game.