Poker Strategy - 3/8 - Position
This is the third part of an eight-part guide to the basics of poker strategy. If you have already read this tutorial, then you can access the fourth part here. If you missed the previous part, "Implied Odds", then you'll find it here.
The number one mistake that poker rookies make is playing each hand as it comes (and too many hands at that). Poker is a mostly game of incomplete information. If you are playing Texas Hold'em poker or Omaha poker, then you do not know your opponents' hole cards, or the cards that have not been dealt, or the cards that will be revealed on the flop, turn or river. In some cases, this information is never revealled! Decent poker players know when to make decisions, and they weigh up those decisions based upon how much information they know or can at least gauge with a fair degree of accuracy.
The way you play a hand at poker is very dependent upon how close you are to the dealer - and this doesn't mean you're bosom buddies or you're trying to sneak a peak at the cards as they are being dealt! Of course, when you're playing poker at a casino or online the "dealer" is not the dealer who actually deals the cards - they're the player marked by the dealer button (which is why the dealer position is often known as "On The Button") and how each player plays during a hand depends very heavily on how close to the button they are.
Where Am I?
At the start of a hand of poker, there are a number of positions:
ON THE BUTTON (OTB) - The dealer themselves.
THE SMALL BLIND (SB) - The person immediately to the dealer's left.
THE BIG BLIND (BB) - The person immediately to the small blind's left.
UNDER THE GUN (UTG) - The person immediately to the big blind's left.
MIDDLE POSITION - The players between UTG and the cut-off position.
CUT OFF (CO) - The person immediately to the dealer's right.
Obviously, there can be any number (usually between two and ten) in a game of poker, so sometimes all these terms do not apply. The important positions are usually OTB, SB, BB, UTG and CO.
Position at the deal is only important when deciding on whether to play hole cards. As the hand progresses, position becomes more important when a few players have folded. Position then becomes "relative position" which means the position a player is in is relative to those who remain in the hand:
There are three relative positions:
IN POSITION - you are in position in relation to the players who act before you in the hand.
OUT OF POSITION - you are out of position in relation to the players who act after you in the hand.
SANDWICH - you are in position to one or more players and out of position to one or more players - an uncomfortable place to be in!
Being In Position is better than being Out of Position
When it comes to controlling the hand, you are in a far better place when you are in position than when you are out of position. If you are in position, you have more information about the state of the hand at your disposal, and you can therefore make better decisions. The best position to be in is being the last person to act.
Being On The Button is the best spot on the table. After the flop, you will always be the last person to act. The worst position is The Small Blind as after the flop you will always be the first person to act, therefore you will be the person who has the least information about the hand.
When you are in position post-flop, the other players have to make their decisions - check, bet, call or raise - without having any idea about the strength of your hand other than it is a most probably a starting hand that's worth playing. You can sit there whilst other players make their moves, gaining important information, whilst deciding what to do with your cards, and all for free! You could be sitting there with the nuts, whilst your fellow table-dwellers load up the pot ready for your taking.
When you're In Position you can play more hands
When you decide to play a starting hand, there are four main factors that influence that choice:
- The strength of your hand
- The amount in the pot
- The chance that a player behind you has a stronger hand
- The chance that you will be in position after the flop
The later you are in the deal, then the less likelihood there is of a player behind you having a stronger hand, and the better there is the chance that you will be in position once the flop has been dealt.
There is one exception to this rule - The Small Blind. The Small Blind is the last-but-one player to act before the flop (meaning there's only the Big Blind to worry about) but after the flop the Small Blind is always out of position.
You want to be In Position relative to weaker players
The micro-to-medium stakes tables at Texas Hold'em are often full of weaker players, who are known as "fishes". They are easy to spot as they see too many flops, and play poor hole cards no matter whether they are in position or not. You can boost your bankroll by stripping the chips from such fishes if you have position on them.
The closer you are to a fish on your right, the more often you will be in position over them after the flop. The closer you are to a fish on your left, the more often you will be out of position to them after the flop. If you do spot a fish flapping at your table, it pays to sit as close to their left as possible.
This concludes the third lesson in an eight-part series on the basics of poker strategy. To view the next article, click here.