The Importance Of Position In Poker

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Regardless of whether playing tournament poker or grinding it out on the cash tables, understanding the importance of position is an essential concept that every poker player should know. The later we are to act in a hand, the more we know about the other players holdings. The more we know about what the other players hold, the more likely we will be able to make profitable poker decisions. Utilizing relative and absolute position in poker is imperative to the long-term success of a winning poker player. Failing to understand position properly can be the difference between being a winning and losing player as even someone as skilled as Phil Ivey would find it hard to win if he had to play every hand out of position.

Absolute Position In Poker

When I speak of absolute position in poker, I am referring to where one is sitting at the poker table, relative to the button or the dealer. In a poker hand, absolute position remains unchanged. If we are on the button, we remain on the button. The blinds are the blinds throughout the hold em hand and so on…

The poker table works in a clockwise manner. The person to the immediate left of the dealer is the first to receive cards while the person to the right of the dealer is the last to receives cards. The two individuals to the immediate left of the dealer are known as the blinds. They are forced to place bets, with the small blind typically placing a half bet, and the big blind placing one big bet on the table. As As they have essentially both made forced bets, they are the last to act in a betting round before the flop comes.

They benefit in a sense, as they get to observe how everyone else views their hand before making their own decision. For weaker players however, this benefit works against them, as they already have money on the table and therefore, often feel compelled to call a raise. This logic is of course flawed. In poker, we prefer to make informed decisions, leaving the guesswork to the rookies. The blinds are the first to act after the flop. They will act before everyone else for the remainder of the hand and will not have the luxury of first seeing everyone else’s actions once the flop comes. Over time, calling too much from the small blind or indeed from the big blind will show a big loss even for the best players in the world.

First To Act In Poker

The earlier position we are at the table, the better our hand should be and the higher our standards must be. With that in mind, when we are under the gun or under the gun+1 (first and second positions respectively), we should be raising a much stronger range of hands, generally pairs and AQ/AK. As we get into later position, we can relax our raising standards, as there are less players left to act behind us, thus the chances of a strong hand being out are much lower.

For example, imagine we are playing .25/.50 no limit Texas Hold em online. We are second to act preflop and are dealt 8-7 of hearts. While I love this hand from later position, when employing a tight aggressive strategy, we should generally fold the hand, as there are too many players left to act behind us. These players have absolute position on us, acting later than we do. They can make it really expensive if we limp into the hand. Additionally, should we choose to raise, we face the chance of being 3bet and if reraised we would have to bin our hand. Because we do not have any information on the strength of several hands at the table, we are best off folding the hand.

Playing From Late Position

When playing from the cutoff or on the button (referred to as late position), we have the luxury of seeing everyone play before us. In a sense, we have been granted the opportunity to watch the game play out from an outsider’s perspective before we are asked to join the game in progress. We are able to process the information before acting. As a result, we make better, more informed and thus more profitable decisions when acting last in a hand. For these reasons and more, playing from the button is the most profitable position in poker.

When playing poker, we want to play far more hands in late position than we do in early position. This gives us the opportunity to act last on every street and also enables us to manipulate the size of the pot as we like. Conversely, playing out of position forces us to act first on every street, often leaving us with tough decisions and not being able to control the size of the pot. Thus, it is alway recommended to play extremely tight when in the blinds and early position. This is because by playing a tighter (stronger) range out of position, we can somewhat counteract our positional disadvantage.

Let’s take the same 8-7 suited that we played from early position at and play it from the button. We can now watch most everyone else act first. We observe two weaker players limping into the pot. These players typically raise with quality hands and often try to limp for cheap flops with their lesser holdings. They are not terribly tricky in their play. We interpret their limping into the pot as weakness. Remember, we have absolute position on them, which is a massive advantage in this poker hand. Putting in a standard raise here is completely fine, as we can isolate the bad players and play the rest of the hand in position. What will happen in the majority of cases is the blinds fold, one of the two limpers call. The flop is dealt and the limper checks because the flop missed him. We put out a continuation bet, causing the player to fold. This is a very simple example of using position to your advantage in poker.

Relative Position in Poker

In poker, relative position is expressed as where you sit, in relation to the preflop raiser player. If the big blind bets out on the flop, when sitting under the gun, I am first to act in relation to the player taking the lead.

Just like with players holding early position from an absolute standpoint, one must proceed with caution when in early position from a relative standpoint. If the cutoff bets out, even though I am on the button I know there are four people left to act. I cannot always call with the confidence I would like. There are four other people who may put in a costly raise behind me yet to act.

To demonstrate this concept, let’s play this hand from the button at a standard $1-$2 no limit table. We have pocket fives. 4 players limp into the pot, and the player acting immediately before us (the player before the button is in the cutoff position) raises to $10. If you remember from a minute ago, we have the best absolute position, because we are on the button. However, the player acting right before us raised. He is the “player with the lead.” We act; then the four players who limped into the pot are left to act – as are the blinds. Because there’s so many players left to act behind us, we are concerned that they might either reraise when we call, or too many of the players may fold, thus not really giving us the most ideal of pot odds or conditions to play (we like playing small pocket pairs in multi-way pots). Because of this uncertainty, we fold.

This concept is known as poor realtive position as although we have position on the raising player, our positional advantage is lost due to the fact that there are so many players left to act after us.

Relative Position When Playing From Late Position

If the raiser is to my immediate left, I hold the most favorable position, relative to the acting player. As a result, I can benefit from everyone else acting before me, and thus I am able to make the most informed decision of all. Let’s replay the same hand from a $1-2 NL game. This time, imagine the small blind raises preflop.

We have pocket fives on the button, 3 players limp into the pot, as does the cutoff player. We also limp, in hopes of seeing a cheap flop. The small blind raises to $10. 4 players call the small blinds preflop raise. It is our turn to act. The price, in relation to the pot is right, so we decide we can play. In this instance, we will obviously call and take the cheap flop as playing a small pair in position in a multiway single raised pot is exactly what you want with small pairs. We also have the have the luxury of both relative and absolute position in this hand getting to see everyone else’s action before we decide what to do.

Using Relative Position to your Advantage

Often, one can use relative position to their advantage. If there is a player who likes to take the lead when he is checked to, it makes sense to check to him so that he will bet and you can act accordingly (raise, fold, or call). At an aggressive table, the check is useful in gaining relative position. By checking, you are coaxing the later acting aggressor to take the lead presenting you with the opportunity to check raise or check call depending on the situation.

Using Absolute and Relative Position

Over time, properly embracing the concept of relative position can ice a live table, as players acting later than you (absolutely speaking) will begin fearing a check raise. As a result, they are playing scared and forfeiting their advantage of late position play. In turn, this allows you to come in with weaker hands than you would normally play. Additionally, you will establish control of the table when you use relative position to your advantage.

Putting It All Together

When holding absolute position, play aggressively. This is the position at the table at which every poker player makes the most money, so we should be calling and raising with a much higher frequency when playing in later positions. Call with more suited connectors, 3bet lighter and steal the blinds more often. Learning to use position correctly is a crucial skill. if you can master the art of position, there’s no doubt you will be well on your way to becoming a successful player!