The Importance of Position Play

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The Importance of Position Play


Knowing which hands to play and how to play them according to where you are sitting at the table in relation to the dealer button is one of the characteristics that distinguish a professional poker player from an amateur as well as your success in the long run. It's important to remember that positions change between when the cards are dealt and when the flop is dealt. Being in the big blind pre-flop has a positional advantage but once the flop comes you now find yourself in early position.

Pre-Flop

While you only need to make post flop decisions on average 1 in 4 rounds, you will need to make pre-flop decision every time you are dealt a hand making this the most important aspect of the game, and your position at the table will invariably affect your starting hand requirements.

First to act, or 'under the gun' as it's commonly referred to is the toughest spot to be in pre-flop. At this point in the round you have no information as to what the other players will do. If you check or limp players to your left will interpret this as weakness and will quickly raise. If you bet out a large amount there is still a chance you will be raised. This is why it's recommended to only play premium hands while you are under the gun, such as pocket pairs or A-K, A-Q.

There is a case to be made about raising in early position and that is to push as many opponents off their hands in an attempt to steal the pot on the flop with a strong continuation bet. This is a strategy that requires you have a good read on the other players at the table, otherwise you could very well lose a huge chunk of your stack.

You have K♣ 9♥ under the gun. The blinds are at $50/$100 and you make it $400 to go. Both blinds fold, two players call and the flop comes

Q♠ 3♥ 5♠

The flop missed you completely, but being first to act gives you control of the betting. You know that player 4 is a loose player and could have called pre-flop with just about anything, but player 5 is very tight and wouldn't have called a $400 raise without either a pocket pair or an Ace. You fire a barrel of $1,200 which is almost the size of the pot. By making the continuation bet under the gun you are sending a clear message to your opponents that you hit the flop big time, and they'll most likely put you on A-Q and fold leaving you with a $950 profit.

Middle and late positions have the added benefit of seeing how the players before them act. If you are sitting in middle position and 5 players in front of you check, depending on the the three players left to act behind you this is an excellent spot to make a raise and steal the blinds. In these positions you can loosen up your starting hand requirements to include strong suited connectors, as well as A-x.

Being in the small blind is a dangerous spot for most players. For one having paid half the big blind is an invitation to pay the other half and see a discounted flop with any two random cards. If you wouldn't have played the hand without paying half the blind then you should simply not play it. Additionally you still have the big blind left to act behind you who will try to defend his blind, so if you are going to play the hand, don't limp, raise and steal the blinds.

The big blind enjoys the ultimate positional advantage of acting last. Although once the flop comes you'll find yourself in early position and that's why it's important to either steal the blinds before the flop drops or to make a significant raise to announce you have a strong hand and follow through on the flop.

To reiterate, the key to playing early position pre-flop is to take control of the betting, and of course follow through on the flop. Contrastingly playing late position is about taking away control from an early raiser in a bid to steal the blinds.

Post Flop

On the flop suddenly the SB is first to act, the BB is second and the dealer is last. Obviously the positions also change depending on how many players called pre-flop.

Once the flop comes, it's important to follow through with your pre-flop action. If you raised in early position pre-flop and now you bet the minimum, players will interpret this as you having missed the flop and will be quick to raise. If you were in late position you have more options depending on how the players before you act. How you play here will of course depend on the players involved in the pot, but generally your best course of action if to try and steal the pot. If you flopped the best possible hand then you're at an advantage to slow play by calling any bet without giving away any real information about your hand.

You are holding A♥ 7♥ in the dealer position. The blinds are at $200/$400, and the pot stands at $1,600.

The flop comes Q♥ 5♥ 10♥

The SB makes it $1200 to go, the BB calls and the 3 player folds.
You've flopped the nut flush draw and you call. Because you weren't the first to act, the players have no idea that you are holding the nuts. Had you been first to act and slow played by checking and then calling a raise it would have raised some suspicion.

Turn K♠, the SB checks possibly slow playing a lower flush or drawing to a flush. The BB checks and you check in turn.

River 3♥. The SB bets $1,600, you re-raise him all-in and he calls.

Being last to act allowed you to conceal the strength of your hand and thus letting your opponent dig his own grave.

Position playing is a very basic concept in texas hold 'em poker, but executing it properly is a much more difficult task that requires excellent reading skills and an understanding of how to bet.


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