Position Strategy in Poker


Position Strategy in Poker

Even the most inexperienced poker player soon realizes that betting later in a round is strategically better than betting early in the round. This is simply because the later bettors have more information to go on when deciding what to do.

There are poker games, such as Texas Hold-em and Omaha, where your position doesn't change throughout the game. Players betting early fold much more often than players betting later. The role of dealer rotates around the table. This gives everyone both favorable and unfavorable position at some time in the rotation.

There are other games where the high hand showing bets first. While it's often better to have the high hand showing, the player to the right of the first better has a clear advantage. They know their own hand and can judge by the bets made before them if it is wise to stay in the game or to fold.

Many new poker players delay learning about pot odds. If you want to become more proficient at poker and to take advantage of favorable position, you need to learn as much as you can about pot odds.

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Poker Table Definitions

You need to be completely familiar with several terms.  Here we will focus on pre-flop and post-flop position play in Hold 'em. Here are the basic betting positions:

  • Dealer or Button: In a game at home the dealer moves around the table. In a poker room, the house provides the dealer so a disk or "button" moves around with each new deal to indicate who is in the dealer's betting position.
  • The Blinds: After the flop these are the players who bet first. They "ante" money before the hole cards are dealt. The big blind "antes" twice the small blind.
  • Small Blind: After the flop this is the worst position to be in. You are to the immediate left of the button so are the first to bet.
  • Big Blind: After the flop this is the second worst position to be in. It is to the left of the small blind.
  • Under-the Gun (Early Position): This is the player to the left of the big blind. This player bets first pre-flop but bets after the blinds post-flop.
  • Middle Position: These players bet after the blinds and under-the-gun post-flop but bet early pre-flop.
  • Late position: These are the button and the two players to the right of the button.

Four Betting Rounds:

Next are the four betting rounds in Hold 'em:.

  • Before the Flop: This is after every player has received their two hole cards. The blinds bet last before the flop but first after the flop.
  • After the Flop: The flop is a three-card deal to the center of the table. Every player can use any or all of the flopped cards. Obviously, every player's hand changes based on the flop.
  • After the Turn: This is a one-card deal to the center. The card is available to all players still in the game.
  • After the River: This is the last card played. It is also available to all players still in the game.

Type of Players

Next we must consider the type of players we are facing in this game.

  • Tight players play very few hands: They follow "the book" on hands to play before the flop. When a tight player bets, you can be pretty sure that they have a good hand.
  • Loose players are the opposite: They play far too many hands. They don't follow any sound betting system. Their only strategy is to bet. These players are very hard to bluff.
  • Aggressive players make wildly excessive bets: Usually they have little to justify betting so high. You can win quickly against such players but you still have to be aware of the other players at the table.
  • Passive players are afraid to raise or bluff: If they are playing according to the book, they may call any raises until the book tells them to get out of the hand.

Positions and Strategy

Pre –flop all players must at least call the big blind.  This gives the big blind a huge advantage.  The big blind also bets last pre-flop so s/he can "steal" a hand simply by being in the best position pre-flop. Position play in Hold 'em

Under-the Gun (Early Position)
You are to the left of the big blind and are first to bet pre-flop.   Players are encouraged to play very tight in this position. 

Middle Position
Pre-flop you bet early.  Pre-flop it is dangerous to play loose in this position.  Post-flop you could see how players bet before you.  This makes it possible to bluff with weaker hands.

Late Position
You have the advantage of betting late but pre-flop you must at least match the big blind to stay in.  Since you don't have any money in the pot yet, it is often good strategy to fold unless you have a genuinely strong hand.

Button or Dealer
After the flop this is prime bluffing position.  Players can be scared out of the pot by aggressive betting .

Small Blind
Before the flop you bet next-to-last but after the flop you are the first to bet.  So you have a great incentive to bet aggressively pre-flop.  You will be at a decided disadvantage after the flop.   

Big Blind
The advice for the small blind applies to the big blind as well with one major difference:  the big blind can pass before the flop.  Since the big blind has already put money into the pot, everyone must call the big blind to continue in the hand.  Sometimes a big blind wins a hand because no one calls their bet.

Poker Table Positions

Poker Table Positions

Position Play in Games with a Flop

By definition, games with a flop have community cards. The flop is the first time you will see the community cards; and you see three cards on the flop. Many players stay in with poor hands hoping to improve into winners on the flop. While this does happen sometimes, it is extremely poor strategy as it fails to work much more often. In community card games, play very tight when you have poor position.

Players betting later in the round have the chance to bluff and win a pot even with a poor hand. This works especially when everyone else has checked ahead of you.

In games with community cards, there are also blinds. Depending on the table stakes, the blinds could be high enough to entice players to stay in for one round. This is where understanding pot odds comes in. You have to match the big blind to see the flop. It often is economically poor play to call the blind even in late position. But the blinds already have money in the pot. They may stay in with a poor hand to protect their investment.

Position Play in Stud

This variation of poker allows you to see the most cards. In 7-card stud you could see half the deck. The player with the best hand showing opens the betting so your position could change from round to round. Nevertheless, position does affect play. In the first round of betting you can bluff in late position with a marginal hand that you would fold in early position. It is easiest to "steal" a hand in the first round because players who haven't folded by the later rounds usually have decent hands. If you also have a decent hand you are no longer betting to steal the hand.

If you stayed in with a marginal hand and you are again in late position, you see all the hands before you and can use your judgment when it's your turn to bet.

Position Play in Draw

Draw poker presents a different kind of challenge to the player. S/he never sees their opponents' cards. Therefore, they must use other signals to help determine their course of play.

The clearest action by an opponent is the number of cards drawn. If an opponent draws only one card, it usually means drawing four to a flush or to an open-ended straight. It sometimes means drawing with two pair. If the hand you receive from your draw doesn't beat at least a straight or a flush you should not open if you are betting in early position.

If an opponent draws three cards it means s/he has either a pair or high cards. If you have a high pair or better you can chance a strong bet in early position.

Summary

Your position at the table is one of many factors that will determine how you play any particular hand. Keep in mind that every player's betting strategy changes as their position rotates after every hand. Hands that you wouldn't dream of playing in early position can become strong hands in late position especially if you have a read on the others' hands.

Of course, if you hope to play poker professionally or for relatively high stakes in pot limit or no limit games, then a thorough knowledge of position play is vital to your success.

Posted by CCJ Team