Position: The Key to Poker Profits
Position is an often ignored, yet incredibly important, part of poker, and it is crucial you understand all about it if you want to become a consistent winner at the table. Where you sit might not seem crucial, but when you consider the implications, it soon becomes clear that a specific position at the table has its very own set of advantages and disadvantages. This article will explore many of the important aspects of position, in a bid to ensure that readers of this article use position in the future to their advantage…
What Are the Positions?
In poker, you’ll often hear different positions described in different ways, so we thought we’d make a little glossary (to support our main poker glossary) so you don’t get confused when hearing them. What’s more, these terms will be used throughout this article, so it’s important you understand them. Here they are:
- Button. This is the player with the dealer button, and the last person to act after the flop. It’s the most powerful position.
- Small Blind. The person to the left of the dealer, who places the small blind into the pot before the cards are dealt.
- Big Blind. The next person to the left, who places the big blind into the pot before the hand begins.
- Under the Gun. The first player to act once the cards are dealt, sitting directly to the left of the big blind.
- Under the Gun +1. The next player to the left of Under the Gun.
- Middle Position. The next player to the left.
- Middle Position +1. Yep, you’ve guessed it – the player to the left of Middle Position.
- Hijack. The player sitting two places to the left of the Button. Called hijack because they can hijack the cutoff’s attempt at stealing the pot.
- Cutoff. The player to the right of the button, who can cut off the Button’s attempt at stealing the pot.
Got that? Probably not. But don’t worry – it will all become clear. Just refer back to the above whenever you need some reminding about the positions.
Why is Position Important?
There are various reasons for position being important but, in order to keep this article reasonably simple, we are going to focus on the three big ones. These are:
- Getting information on other hands
- Making effective bluffs
- Playing weaker hands
So, let’s start with the first point first, as that just seems logical…
Let’s start with the absolute basic rule: the later you come after the button, the better your position is (with the button being the best of all). This is because the first player to act has absolutely no information regarding what other players could have. They haven’t been able to assess any bets, look at other players’ reactions when they bet, and therefore can’t usually know whether they have the best hand (especially after the flop). Information is power, and the later you play, the more info you have collected.
Let’s take a quick example to illustrate this. Imagine you are sitting there with Q-Q in the Under the Gun position, and the flop brings A-7-2. Now how could you possibly know whether any other player has the ace, therefore making your hand weaker? Now compare this to the same situation when you are on the button. You’ve been able to see how players bet; how many callers there have been; and therefore what the odds are that you’ve still got the best hand. One player left means you have a good chance; five players still left means that your pair of queens now looks pretty weak. If you don’t gain information, you are essentially playing blind, and other players could have anything…
What is a bluff? It is a considered decision to play cards you know are not good enough, in an attempt to make others fold a better set of cards. And how can you possibly do this if you have no information about other players (we’re back to information now). The best way of showing how a bluff is made easier by position is by once again using an example…
So, you’ve been dealt 7-7 this time, and the board is showing 3-8-10. If the other player has a 10, they are the definite favourite, but there’s a good chance they haven’t. You are Under the Gun and therefore playing first, with the other player to your left. If you bluff now, they could call and lose you lots of money. So you check, they bet and you have no option but to fold, as they could have that 10 and it isn’t worth the risk. Their bet could even have been a bluff, but unless you’ve check-trapped them, they know that they are probably going to get away with it.
Now let’s swap the positions. They check first and show no interest. Now you can be more sure (let’s face it, you can never be 100% sure), that they do not have the 10. They might have the 8, which would beat you, but your bet can now represent the 10 and scare them off. You bet, with the knowledge that they aren’t that strong, and get them to fold. All because you had the correct position and used it well.
Before we finish this section, it is just worth reminded you of one thing: bluffing is not something to do lightly. Only bluff when you are happy with your chances of success and when the board is suitable for it. It might be off topic, but it is so important we thought we’d mention it here.
Deciding How to Play Weaker Hands
For beginner players, who have no idea about position, average hands can be really tough to play. When you get 10-9, for example, it is often tough to decide whether it’s worth playing or not – they aren’t terrible, but they certainly aren’t premium hands either. But there is one thing that makes this decision easier – you guessed it, position.
The later you are, the more comfortable you can be playing these hands. So, if you are playing near the end, and nobody has made a strong move, you can be more confident in the knowledge that others don’t have a premium hand either. If you’re at the beginning though, how do you know if the next two players don’t have A-A and K-K? You could risk playing and make a bet, only to find the next player raising and then you having to fold, wasting your money. If only you’d known about position…
So, position is incredibly important. It is important to remember that this is an introduction for beginners, and that positional play really runs much deeper than this. If you take one thing from this article though it is this: the later you are to act after the flop, the better your position is. So, play those cards in late position, but only play premium hands when in early position. Also, check out our step-by-step guide to playing mobile poker.
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