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September 8th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: The Power of Position
Author: Bill Edler
When beginning poker players are describing a hand they’ve played, they usually start by saying what their hole cards were before moving on to talk about the betting. A professional player, however, would never describe the dynamics of a hand without first talking about his position at the table because in games like Hold ’em and Omaha, position can be even more important than the cards in your hand.
Simply put, you want to play more hands in late position than you do in early position. By doing so, you’re going to make more money over the long haul. Why? Because in late position you will have much more information to work with than you would if you were in early position. You will be able to see who folds and who raises, and if someone raises you will have a much better sense of how much it’s going to cost you to play your hand. When you have to act first, you have none of this information to work with.
There are three simple reasons why playing a hand in late position will be more profitable in the long run than playing the same hand in early position. First, you will end up folding some winning hands in early position that you wouldn’t have folded in late position. Secondly, when you have a winning hand in late position you’re going to make more money from it than you would with the same hand in early position. Finally, when you have a losing hand in late position you will lose significantly less than you would with the same hand in early position.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. You pick up pocket Jacks in middle position and raise four times the size of the big blind. The button calls, and the flop comes Q-7-2. You make a continuation bet two-thirds the size of the pot. Your opponent calls. A blank comes on the turn. Now what are you going to do?
Because you don’t have position over your opponent, you’re now in a very difficult situation. If you check and your opponent bets and you call, you could end up losing a big pot on the river. If you opt to fold, you could be folding the best hand. Even if you call the turn bet and you and your opponent check it down on the river and you win the hand, you’re going to make far less than you would have if you had been last to act. Whenever you play a hand out of position, there is a much greater chance that you will have your profits minimized or your losses maximized or that you will get bluffed out of a pot.
Having poor position is such a disadvantage that if I’m sitting under the gun at a full table I will often fold a hand as strong as A-Q before the flop. With so many players yet to act behind me, one of them could easily pick up a hand that has me dominated, like A-K, Aces, Kings, or Queens. Even if my A-Q is the best hand at the table I won’t make very much money off it in this position, and if it is second best I could end up losing a very big pot.
It’s the exact opposite when you’re in late position. Now you’re going to want to play as many hands as possible because getting to act last on all the betting rounds is such a huge advantage. If everyone folds to you on the button, you should often raise with any two cards. If the blinds fold, you win the hand. If they call, you still have two ways to beat them after the flop, by continuing to show strength if they show weakness or by showing down the best hand. Team Full Tilt member Andy Bloch says you might play fewer than 10 percent of all the hands dealt to you under the gun, but you should play more than 50 percent of the hands dealt to you on the button.
Having favorable position is just as important after the flop. Not only can you take pots away from players who show weakness, you can also control the size of the pot. Smart poker players want to play big pots when they have big hands and small pots when they have small hands, and having position on your opponents allows you to do that. If you flop top pair with a weak kicker, bet, and get called, it’s often a good idea to check the turn in order to keep the pot small.
The power of position in poker cannot be overstated. Whenever you’re dealt a hand, you should take into account your position at the table even before you evaluate the strength of your cards. Even in the most basic limit games, you’re going to make far more money when you have position over your opponents than when you don’t.
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