If you’re new to Texas hold’em strategy, you might be wondering what all this talk of “position” relates to. I ignored the importance of position in Texas hold’em for years, and my game suffered greatly from this. My best poker buddy, in fact, says I still fail to account well enough for my position at the table.
Here’s what the poker writers are talking about when they discuss position:
It’s the order in which you act at the Texas hold’em table.
If you’re one of the first three players to act, you’re in “early position.” If you’re one of the last three players to act, you’re in “late position.” And, of course, if you’re in the middle, you’re in “middle position.”
In Texas hold’em, you get to act in clockwise order, so everyone knows when they’re going to act during a hand. This affects your strategy decisions—or it should, if you’re smart.
This post includes 7 tips related to position as it applies to the game of Texas hold’em.
1- Late Position Is Better Than Early Position
The later you act, the more of an advantage you have over the other players. Every decision the other players make in front of you gives you more data to use when deciding what to do with your hand. If you’re the first person to act, you have no way of knowing what your opponents are liable to do.
If you’re in late position, and earlier players have checked, you might bet and/or raise with a much weaker hand than you would if you were in early position. That’s because with fewer opponents, the likelihood that your hand is the best goes up. There are also blinds in action that you can often win just by betting and raising from position. (The players who posted the small and big blind can literally have anything.)
You’re dealt jack 10 suited preflop. This is a playable hand if you can get into the pot with five or more players who just want to limp in, but it’s a lousy hand to play if there have been bets and raises with only two or three players in the pot.
If you’re first to act and limp in with that speculative hand, you might face a bet, a raise, and a re-raise. When it comes back to you, there’s no real choice to make other than folding. The probability that you’re dominated by at least one of these other three players is just too great.
On the other hand, if you’re in late position, and these players do the same thing—bet, raise, and re-raise—you can just fold, saving yourself a bet. If you’re one of the last players to act, and everyone limps in, you know you can get a lot of money out of the pot when you do hit because so many players are contributing.
I think in early position, you must be willing to save bets by folding speculative hands that are playable or even worth a raise from late position. Master this tactic and mindset, and Texas hold’em strategy gets a lot easier.
2- The Blinds Are the Worst Position at the Table
The worst position to be in is the blinds. You’re required to bet, for one thing, regardless of what cards you have. You get to act last preflop, which is an advantage, but that advantage is more than compensated for by the forced bet. After the flop, though, you must act first on all the later betting rounds, which is a huge disadvantage.
New Texas hold’em players sometimes get confused about this and have a lot of trouble playing from the blinds. The blinds are tricky, too, because you don’t want to give them up without a fight on every hand. On the other hand, you don’t need to defend your blinds every time, either.
One approach to playing from the blinds is to pay close attention to what the other players do before you act—even closer attention than you would from another position. If you’re only facing a single player who’s trying to steal the blinds, it can be worth it to play back at him once in a while. On the other hand, if you have multiple players betting and raising into the pot, it makes sense to fold from the blinds.
3- Position Is Possibly Even More Important Than the Cards You’re Holding
This sounds like it might be overstating the importance of position. After all, how could position be more important than which cards you’re holding?
But Annette Obrestad has demonstrated the importance of position by winning a 180-player poker tournament while only looking at her cards once.
It might sound impossible to play in a poker tournament without looking at your cards. It would certainly seem impossible to win a tournament without looking at the cards.
She paid attention to her position, her opponents’ positions, stack sizes, and betting patterns. In this kind of situation, during the early stages, you can get away with just doing a lot of folding. The blinds are so small in the early stages of a tournament that they don’t matter much.
Once the blinds get big enough, it’s time to start stealing blinds and making moves. It’s simple enough to do, too. You just wait until it gets folded to you in late position and enter with a big raise. If someone calls, it’s common for a continuation bet to take down the pot.
A lot of your opponents, especially in an online poker tournament, won’t even be paying enough attention to realize that you’re playing purely based on positional aggression.
So, yes, position can be at least as important as your cards—maybe more so.
But if Annette Obrestad could win a 180-person tournament without looking at her cards, imagine how well you can do if you play position AND look at your cards.
4- It’s Harder to Bluff When You’re Out of Position
If you want to win a hand with a bluff, you’re really looking to deal with only one or two opponents. The more opponents you’re trying to bluff, the less likely you are to succeed.
Let’s assume you’re playing at a table with eight other players, and all those other players—everything else being equal—have a 50% probability of folding in the face of a bluff.
If you know you’re only dealing with one other player, you have a 50/50 probability of winning the pot just by betting into it.
If you’re dealing with two players, you have a 25% probability of winning the pot. (50% x 50% is the formula.)
The more players you’re trying to bluff, the less likely you are to succeed. When you compare the size of the pot with the probability of winning it in a bluff, you can see that it’s easier to get a positive expectation by bluffing fewer opponents.
With a 50/50 probability of winning a bluff, you can be profitable as long as there’s at least even money odds from the pot.
With a 25% probability of winning a bluff, you need at least three times as much money in the pot as you’re betting to make it profitable.
The size of the pot necessary for a profitable bluff keeps going up as you get more players, so it’s most profitable if you’re only trying to bluff one or two players.
And the only way to know how many players you’re going to need to bluff is to be in late position.
5- When You’re in Position, You Can Sometimes See Free Cards
If you’re in late position, and no one bets or raises in front of you, you have the option of checking and seeing a card without having to pay for it. This has obvious advantages.
If you’re in early position, you might also have this opportunity, but it’s not as likely.
Another advantage to being in late position is that you can prevent all those other players in front of you from seeing a free card if you want to. All you have to do is bet.
They’ve already shown weakness by not betting into you in the first place.
Of course, they might be waiting for an opportunity to check-raise, but if you’ve been paying attention to their tendencies, you’ll have an idea of how likely that is.
6- Position Can Help You Decide Where to Sit
Generally, money flows to your left at the poker table. If you’ve identified an especially weak player, it’s better to have that player sitting on your right so that he’s giving his money to you instead of to your opponents. Since you have position on that player, you can isolate him or play more pots with him—your choice.
Also, if you’re good at identifying players by category, you can look for the maniacs and the experts and get them on your left. You don’t want to face their aggression constantly when they play in front of you.
When a player gets up and leaves the table, it’s a good idea to take his seat. You don’t know what the next player is like. Regardless of whether he’s better than you or not, it’s better to be in later position against him. If you don’t take that seat, you might wind up with someone on your left that you’d prefer be on your right.
7- If You’re in the Blinds, You KNOW You Must Play Tight, Tight, Tight
Playing from the blinds is harder than playing from other positions, and it also has a bigger effect on your win or loss rate than any other position. In fact, you’re almost certainly going to lose money from the blinds no matter how well you play. The trick is to minimize those losses.
Think about it. You’re going to be putting 1.5 big blinds into the pot every six or nine hands, depending on how many players are at the table. This is regardless of whether you’re getting good cards when you’re in the blinds are not. The blinds are forced bets.
If you play well from this position, though, you can minimize how much money you lose in the blinds.
The easiest way to lose less money from any position is to tighten up and play fewer hands. This is the opposite of how most people play from the blinds, because they figure they already have some money in the pot, so they might as well call that raise.
True, you do have to defend your blinds some of the time.
But most players overdo it.
Once the flop comes around, it gets even tougher because you’ll be out of position on all the other rounds. It’s easier to just play tight from the blinds in the first place.
You might forgive new Texas hold’em players for not understanding how important position is in the game of Texas hold’em.
But now that you’ve read this post, you’re better informed than most new poker players.
It’s a simple concept, though—the later you act in Texas hold’em, the more information you have.
As a result, you should play tighter from early position and loosen up from late position.
How has your understanding of position as it relates to Texas hold’em strategy changed because of this post?