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The Power of Position in Poker

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by on 05-30-2019 at 05:06 PM (5871 Views)
It's commonly said that being "in position" is one of the biggest advantages a player can have at the poker table. So what exactly does it mean to be "in position" and why is it so advantageous?

In Position = Acting Last

Imagine a heads up game of poker. The player who acts last on each betting round is said to be "in position". The player who acts first on each betting round is said to be "out of position".

The position changes from hand to hand and in many poker games it is defined by the position of the "button" (but not always). The button is a small plastic disk that moves clockwise around the table after each hand is played. This way, all players at the table get equal opportunities to play in position. In other poker variants such as Stud, position is defined by the strength of each players visible cards (which also changes from round to round).

For a full description on how the different positions at a poker table work, check out this guide to position.

So now that we know the basics of what it means to be "in position", let's see why position is so important in poker

Why is Position so Important in Poker?

There are two key reasons why being in position is so powerful in poker.

1. We get to see what our opponent does before we need to act.

We get to see whether our opponent checks or bets, giving us an indication of the potential strength of his hand. We can hence make a more informed and higher quality decision when acting last.

2. We can control the action more easily when in position.

It's easier to control the size of the pot when in position. If our opponent checks, we have the ability to instantly move on to the next betting round by checking back. If he bets, we can move the hand on to the next betting round by calling. Our opponent on the other hand does not know whether we will bet or check when he checks to us; it's hence harder for him to keep control over the size of the pot.

Example - Playing Out of Position on the River

Here is a quick example from No Limit Hold'em that helps us to conceptualize the importance of position. Imagine we hold the nut flush-draw on the turn and are facing a second barrel from our opponent. We call and hit on the river. Let's see how the implications of this scenario change depending on our position.

In Position

Being in position allows us to play perfectly here. If our opponent checks, we'll bet. If our opponent bets, we'll raise. We don't need to worry about missing value here - our best play will be made clear to us after seeing what our opponent does.

Out of Position

Being out of position leaves us with unknown variables that make the correct solution unclear.

For example, we might think about checking, but this allows villain to check back with his mid strength made hands. We'll miss value since our opponent may have called if we had decided to bet.

On the other hand we could think about betting (known as donk betting). This allows us to get called by our opponents mid strength hands but it shuts down our opponent's ability to bluff. He now has an easy fold if he has garbage and yet he may have tried to bluff the river if we had checked to him.

The solution? Unfortunately, there isn't a decent solution in most cases. This is simply a disadvantage of being out of position.

Strategy Implications

How can we use the above information to make good decisions at the table? There is a common saying in poker 

Out of position = Out of the action

The idea behind the saying is that we'll need to proceed more cautiously when out of position and continue only with stronger holdings. When in position however, we'll be able to continue profitably with a wider range of hands and should look to exert additional pressure on our out of position opponent.

We should always be aware of our position at the table and how we can leverage our position to increase our earnings.

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