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Poker Strategy:Position

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Poker writer Lee Jones called position the element of the game most underrated by the novice player. While a previous column on the subject deals with the implications of position, we'll discuss it briefly here, especially where it pertains to your first few sessions at the low-limit tables.

What Jones was suggesting was that the novice player doesn't include position as one of the several elements considered before making a decision. The fact is that position plays a very important role in Texas Hold 'Em in how one should play one's hand.

One reason why position is so important in Hold 'Em is because it is a poker game of fixed position. What that means is that the betting round will always begin to the left of the dealer on every round. This differs from a game like Stud, where the best hand showing opens each betting round, which can change from round to round. In Hold 'Em, you know your position from the outset based on where you're sitting relative to the dealer.

While we'll discuss the implications of position on all betting rounds, discussion will focus mostly on the first pre-flop betting round and the second betting round after the flop. The reason for this is that position will be most relevant in two spots: i) deciding whether to call the blinds, raise the blinds, or fold to the blinds, and ii) deciding how to play one's hand after seeing the flop.

The Blinds

One interesting point in the discussion of position are the blinds. Because they have opened the first betting round with forced bets, they are actually last to act on the first betting round. In playing their hands however, they need to bear in mind that they will be the first to act on all subsequent betting rounds.

Therefore when in the blinds, you want to bear in mind that you're actually in early position. As we will see, this limits the number of hands you can play aggressively. However, this is balanced by the fact that as one of the blinds, you've already invested part or all of the cost of the betting round.

If nobody raises into the big blind, he obviously plays for free (but of course, has the option to raise).

If nobody raises into the small blind, then he only owes the difference between the two blind bets. Although he will be first to act on all betting rounds, he likely only has to put in $1 or $2 to call (at a 3-6 table). What this means is that if a hand is playable (or even semi-playable), it's worth seeing the blind bet if it only costs you one or two bucks. If however, you're sitting in the small blind with absolute trash, or if somebody has raised the blind bet and your hand is only mediocre, remember that you're first to act on all subsequent betting rounds. You have to fold some of those mediocre hands.

The question often arises of when to raise in the blinds. This should be done rarely, and only when warranted by the right conditions. By raising in the blinds, you give your hand away. What's more, if the flop falls and you catch none of it (meaning the flop doesn't help your hand at all), then you'll have to check and be fairly obvious that the flop didn't help your once-powerful hand. This only encourages another player who did catch part or all of the flop to bet into you. With a strong hand like AA or KK, you may choose to raise in the blinds or you may choose to hide the strength of your hand by not raising.

An important point to consider when raising in the blinds is that you won't likely fold anybody. Since you're last to act, anybody who has called the blind bet will also likely call your raise (per a previous column that discusses two individual bets versus the double-bet). Therefore, when you know your raise won't fold anybody, then you're raising to build money in the pot and not to thin the herd. When you're raising to build money in the pot, be sure you're doing it with the right hand. There's no sense building money in a pot that you're not the favourite to win.

Your Position

To discern what we mean by early, middle, and late position, we'll break it up as follows, based on a ten-player game. Early position is comprised of both blinds and the two next players after the blinds. Middle position is comprised of the three players after early position. Late position is comprised of the last three players after middle position. The breakdown then would be 4/3/3.

While this standard is certainly arguable, it's good enough for our discussion here.

Early Position Disadvantages

For the first betting round, we've already covered the importance of the blinds. On that same betting round, the two players seated after the blinds can also be considered in early position. For discussion related to the second, third, and fourth betting rounds, we include the blinds as being in early position.

Early position is the worst position to be in and it has few benefits. In early position, you want to play less hands and tread much more carefully with your hands. You are giving up an advantage to those players in late position, which weighs against you inevitably on each betting round. When you have the best hand, that's all you need to win. But before you do (or when you're unsure), remember that positional disadvantage is a disadvantage as valid as a mathematical or psychological disadvantage.

In early position, you're forced to act without the benefit of knowing how players behind you are going to act. Note that to deal with this disadvantage in some Guts games, we employ either the 'chip declare' (so everybody acts together instead of in clockwise order) or the 'kitty' (so players making a decision in late position still have to contend with at least one more hand). Either way, the disadvantage of early position has been noted over time and dealt with in home games, but it's a factor that escapes many players anyway.

When you have to act in early position, you don't know if there will be a raise behind you. A hand with which you would call one bet may not be a hand with which you're willing to call two bets. With no knowledge of the action to come behind you, you're forced to fold more mediocre hands. At an aggressive table with much betting and raising, you would certainly have to fold more hands in early position for fear of a raise behind you.

Another disadvantage of early position is not knowing where your hand stands relative to the others at the table. If, for example, you're holding A6-suited and an Ace falls on the flop, it is a difficult decision in early position to know how strong your hand is. Having a pair of Aces is nothing to sneeze at, but anybody else who has Aces and anything higher than a Six beats you. To bet out in early position is subject to a possible raise from a player with a better kicker. In other words, to have a hand that is good-but-not-great in early position is tough to handle because the other players in the pot have yet to act. Somebody may have a better hand and will raise, or it's possible that nobody has a better hand and you've just given everybody a free card by not betting. It's tough to know one way or the other because of your position.

Early Position Advantages

While the disadvantages of being in early position outweigh the advantages, there are some benefits.

Check-raising is much easier in early position than any other. To check-raise successfully, you need to know that somebody behind you is going to bet, the bet that you intend to raise. In late position, there are fewer players behind you to act, giving less assurance that you'll get the bet that you need. In early position (especially in an aggressive game), you can check with much more assurance of the bet behind you.

Effective only when the table is right, a bet out of early position normally signals more strength and will fold more players out of the pot. This is a 'psychological' use of early position. If the game is loose, then it won't likely fold enough players to make it worthwhile. If the table is tight or tightens up, then an early position bet can knock more players out. If you try this and it doesn't work, then the conditions aren't likely right to make this move repeatedly.

Late Position

This is the best place to be in Hold 'Em. When your position is fixed and you know you will be in late position for every betting round, you possess a positional advantage that allows you to play differently, perhaps more loosely and more aggressively.

Before the flop, you're free to play more hands in late position when there hasn't been a raise. With less players to act behind you, there's less risk in there being a raise after you call the blinds. This allows you to call the blinds with more marginal hands like small pairs, small suited connectors, or medium non-suited connectors. These are hands you might fold in early position for fear of a raise behind you. You would also play more hands in late position because you know that your positional advantage will hold for every betting round the length of the hand.

On all betting rounds, you've had a chance to see how other players have acted in terms of the cards they've been dealt as well as the community cards in the center of the table. If nobody indicates strength, you may be more inclined to bet with a mediocre hand. If somebody in middle position bets, you may be inclined to fold your mediocre hand (depending on the bettor and number of other players in the pot, of course). These advantages are denied to you in early position, where you are effectively playing 'blind' to what the action will be behind you. In late position, you've seen most or all of the action and can play based on it.

One move that benefits the player in late position (preferably the very last position) is the positional bet or raise. If you are in last position and the flop gives you a strong drawing hand (four cards to a straight or flush), you can bet or raise in last position. The point of this (assuming you don't get raised/reraised) is that when the turn card falls, it's quite possible that everybody will check to you since you showed aggression on the previous round. This takes advantage of that old adage to always "check to the raiser". If that turn card doesn't give you the straight or flush, then you yourself check and go to the river for free. Because the fixed betting amount doubles on the turn, it is cheaper for you to have bet or raised on the flop than to have a call somebody else's bet on the turn. Of course, if the turn gives you your straight or flush, you can bet again.

Middle Position

Middle position falls in the middle both litterally and figuratively. It enjoys less of the benefits of late position, but not entirely the downfalls of early position.

Because you are in-between, you are free to play a few more hands than you would in early position before the flop, but certainly not as many as you would in late position. On subsequent betting rounds, you enjoy the benefit of half of the players having already acted, but must consider the half that hasn't acted yet.

One 'advantage' of sorts in middle position is the ability to improve your position by folding players after you. If nobody before you has suggested great strength, you can chance making a bet in the hopes of folding players behind you. With each one that you fold, you improve your position. If you fold everybody after you, you've just 'bought' last position. Obviously, you need some kind of a hand to make this move. A strong drawing hand (four to a straight or flush), middle pair with an overcard kicker, or maybe even a couple overcards qualify for this move.


The importance of position cannot be overstated in Texas Hold 'Em, a game with fixed positioning that allows you to evaluate your positional advantage or disadvantage. With the exception of the blinds (in a way), your position remains the same on all four betting rounds, a fact that you know from the start of each hand.

In early position, you are unable to play as many hands for fear of the action behind you. In late position, you are able to play more hands since you've seen the moves of more players at the table. You also know you will retain this positional advantage for the length of the hand. Middle position comes in-between where you can play a few more hands than if in early position.

In the blinds, you need to remember that you're first or second to act on subsequent betting rounds. This early position status would normally force you to fold more hands, but the fact is that you have already invested part or all of the total bet. Therefore, being charged a smaller amount of money to win the same pot that everybody else is paying full amount to win allows you to play more hands than somebody in early position. When you're one of the blinds and there's been a raise, you have to release many of the mediocre hands since the positional disadvantage will be with you for the length of the hand.

At most low-limit tables, you'll be one of the few players using position as a consideration. Most low-limit players simply decide if their hand is playable or raise-worthy in a general sense, and then hope to catch something either on the flop or beyond. Position is an important consideration in how you play your hand, and you'll possess at least one advantage over your opponents by always keeping this consideration in mind.

Table Climate - Position - Starting Hands - Playing Pairs
- Drawing Hands - Psychology - Playing Big Cards

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