Poker isn’t an easy game to play, especially if you’re a beginner. The rules are easy enough, but the other things like knowing what hands to play, how much to bet, the right times to bluff or when to push all in can be complicated; overwhelming to say the least.
However, what many beginners don’t seem to know or understand is that there are ways to create simple edges for themselves without having to be the next Phil Ivey.
One of the edges that any beginner can push is table position.
What is (Table) Position?
Table position is one of the most fundamental concepts in poker. All players should understand and utilize position. There are two ways to look at it.
The first is your position in relation to the dealer button. The closer you are to the left of the dealer button, the earlier your position. For example, if you’re in the small blind, you will be in the earliest position on the flop, turn and river. The closer you are to the dealer button, the later your position. The dealer button is the latest position at the table, and it’s also the best. Your position will change every hand as the dealer button moves one seat to the left.
The second way to view table position is in relation to your opponents. Say you’re up against one opponent– if you’re on his right, you are out of position. If you’re on his left, you’re in position or have position on him.
Your position in relation to your opponent is much more important than your table position. For example, the player under-the-gun (3rd to the left of the dealer button) isn’t that great of a position to be in. However, it’s the best seat at the house if the only other player involved in the hand is the small blind.
Overall, your goal should be to be in (or have) position on your opponents whenever possible.
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Why is Being In Position Important?
The reason why being in position is important is because you will be the last player to act on all subsequent rounds.
Being the last person to act gives you a significant advantage. You are able to see what the other players do before you have to act. You can use this information to make the best (and most profitable) action possible.
Lets look at some examples.
How to Use Position to Your Advantage
There are a number of ways to use your position to your benefit.
Your position won’t dictate the exact hands you play, since hand selection is dynamic. It does play a role though.
For example, say that you have a hand like A6o and you’re under the gun (at a nine handed table). You have 8 players left to act after you. Before you come in for a raise, ask yourself one question; what is the likelihood that one of those players will have a better hand than I do?
Pretty high, right?
Granted, if your opponents were taking the GAP concept into consideration, they wouldn’t play hands like A7o or K2s. But they’ll still play hands like AT or AK, both of which dominate you.
So from early position it would make more sense to muck this hand preflop.
Now take the same hand, but say that you’re in the hijack and everyone folded to you. Ask yourself the same question. It’s not nearly as likely, right? Not only that, but there are only two players that can call that will have position on you — the other two (the blinds) will be out of position, so your hand is technically even better (and some would say irrelevant).
Like I said, position won’t tell you what hands to play. But it’ll help you to make more optimal choices when you combine position with your opponents playing styles (TAG, LAG, etc) and their ranges.
Your Opponents Ranges
Pretty simple concept — just like how you used your position to help determine what hands you should play, you can use position to more accurately pinpoint your opponents’ ranges.
For example, say you have a thinking opponent that came in for a raise from UTG+1. If he understands position, then you could make the assumption that his range only consists of hands like pocket pairs, KJs+ and AT+. After assessing his range, you can then determine if you should get involved in the hand or not, and whether or not having position will make a difference.
This can get even easier (or complicated, depending on how you look at it). Say that same opponent opens for a raise and you’re on the button with AKs. The player in the hijack decides to 3-bet all in. Think about how position affects everyone’s decision:
- The player UTG+1 is a TAG, so his range from that position is narrow.
- Knowing this, the player in the hijack 3-bets anyway.
- In addition, the player in the hijack 3-bets while there are still 4 players to his left waiting to act.
Since you’re on the button you can see all of this unfold (see — the power of position). Knowing that the player in the hijack would have to be pretty strong to 3-bet a tag in early position (EP) while having 4 players left to act after him, you could make the decision that AK is probably marginal in this spot and dump it.
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Position = Bluff Equity
Have you ever been involved in a multi-way pot where everyone checked it to the guy in the cutoff or on the button, he threw out a small bet and everyone folded?
Chances are that he didn’t even have a hand, or at least the best hand. But he was the last player to act, and after seeing that no one else had any interest in the board, he bet and won.
That’s bluff equity.
And even if someone decided to check/call, they still have to play future streets out of position. They don’t know for sure whether or not the guy in late position (LP) has a hand, so they’re playing a guessing game. Especially if they check it and he bets again.
This isn’t only in multi-way pots either — it’s just a common scenario. It works in heads up pots too. If you’re out of position, even with a (weak) made hand, you’re hesitant to take a stab at the pot because you don’t know if you’ll be re-popped or not. When you don’t make a bet, the other guy senses weakness and takes a chance.
Control the Size of the Pot
Having position gives you the ability to control the size of the pot. You’re the last to act, so you get to decide whether or not you just want to check, call or raise. If you have a small hand, then you can just check or call, whereas out of position you’d never know for sure if you’ll be able to see the next street for an affordable price.
Take a Card, A Free Card
Last, having position on your opponent also gives you the opportunity to check behind if you want to take a free card, which is especially helpful if you have ace high or are on a draw. The best part is that your opponent won’t be able to pinpoint your range as easily, so even if you hit your draw you should still be able to manage to extract some value.
Overall, position is one edge that you want to push whenever possible. You’re all but guaranteed to make more money in position compared to out of position, so do all that you can to put yourself in those spots and you’ll be pumping your bankroll full of cash in no time.