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Poker Positional Play 101
There are many different forms of poker that you can play, but they all have one thing in common - position is power. Good players in one form of poker can still dominate in a brand new type of poker, even if they don't understand the nuances of the new game, just by maximizing the effect of position.
What is Position?
If you are relatively new to the game, position is something you're going to hear a lot more about in the future. What it refers to is how close to the dealer's button you are during a hand and what side you are on.
The dealer's button - the 'button' - is the best position on the table. The position directly clockwise to the button is the small blind and the next position over is the big blind. The two blind positions require special strategy and are covered in other strategy posts on this site. Other forms of poker are typically set-up in a similar manner.
Here are a few terms you will need to know before we continue:
Early position:This refers to the first few seats to the left of the big blind. While you don't have to put in any money involuntarily, you have to act early on in each round of betting.
Late position: This refers exclusively to the button and the seat one to his right. A player in late position will be the last to act in most situations.
Middle position: All the seats between early and late position. It's not the worst spot to be in, but not the best either.
The Advantages of Position
By now you probably get the feeling that position is one of the most important concepts in the game, but you might not be sure exactly why. If you looked at a breakdown of your past playing stats, you would find that you win far more in late positions like the button than you do in early position. Here are three key aspects of late position that make it so powerful:
1. You Have the Most Information
Poker is a game of information, the more you know about your opponent's hand, the better you can play against it. At the start of a hand, everyone is on a level playing field, but as players in early and middle position are forced to act, they reveal information about their hand. This occurs in every round of betting, meaning that position is just as important on the river as it is before the flop.
2. Let's You Control Pot Size
When you are in late position, you are the last to act, which gives you the choice of closing off betting for the round.
Scenario: Pretend you have a medium-strength hand, like a medium pair on the flop, consider what you would do in different positions.
If you are in early position, you have to make the tough choice of betting to get value out of weaker hands and not giving draws a free card or to check and try to induce a bluff. If you bet, you give away information about your hand and also risk being raised and often being forced to fold, even if you might have the best hand.
On the other hand, if you are in late position, you can keep the pot small with your medium-strength hand. You can either bet small if checked to or check behind if you want to try and get to a showdown. If someone has made a bet before you, you can then decide if you want to commit that amount or fold your hand. In this scenario, you didn't have to waste a bet to find out you didn't have the best hand.
3. It's Easier to Bluff or Value Bet
You will find yourself in many pots where a round of betting is checked around to you in late position. If you wanted to bluff at the pot in any other position, you would have to make a normal sized bet, but in this case everyone has already shown weakness. In many cases you can make a bet that is smaller than normal and get everyone to fold. On the other hand, if you have a great hand, knowing that your opponents likely have weak hands means you can value bet a bit smaller as well and get called more often.
That might seem like a contradiction, but it isn't. A smaller bet in general will get called more often, but even if you get called when you are bluffing, you lose less and overall will profit more.
Taking Advantage of Position While Playing
While all of this sounds great, it would have no purpose if you couldn't use it to play better poker.
Beginner players who are trying to learn start off by using a hand chart that lists all the top hands to play. When put into practice this means that they play the same amount of hands from each position. If you want to use the power of position, you need to limit how many hands you play in early position while expanding the amount of hands you play in position.
While the exact range of hands you should play in different positions will vary based on table conditions and your ever-changing skill level, you should have a general trend that leads to you playing the most hands on the button. Experiment with the range of hands that you play in each position and keep track of your results in order to see what is part of an optimal strategy.
Position is a concept that will constantly influence your results. This is a part of the game that you should spend a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with.
UTG Under the Gun (first to bet)
BB Big Blind
SB Small Blind
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