The Importance of Position
BY Zachary Young
Position plays an important role in every poker variant, but is especially important in so called “big bet” forms of the game, such as no limit hold’em and pot limit omaha. This is because the pot can grow exponentially from one street to the next. The deeper the stacks, the more value the player in position will gain. The player will be able to both extract more from his opponent when he has the best hand and minimize his losses when he does not.
What is Position?
What is meant by position is the ability to act last. A player who is under the gun (UTG) and must act first is said to be in bad position. Whereas the button, who gets to act last, is in good position. The blinds are a special case, since they are in good position before the flop, acting after even the button. But, in bad position after the flop, acting before even the player who is UTG. The blinds pre-flop positional advantage can be substantial, especially if you have a strong hand like AA, because you may be able to capitalize with a large punishing re-raise if your opponents have already committed a substantial amount of money in front of you. Most of the time, however, the blinds will be at a substantial disadvantage because they will act first after the flop.
Capitalize on Position
A player who is in position can capitalize on this fact in a number of ways. If you flop a big hand, your opponents will have to act first before you reveal this fact with a large bet or raise. They may flop a decent hand themselves and commit to the pot before it is your turn, or they might try a bluff or semi-bluff with a not so stellar holding. If you have a weaker holding or a draw, then you will be able to check after your opponents have already checked, not giving away your weakness until it is time for the turn. This may save you the pot if you get a fortunate card on the next street.
Another advantage to being in position, is that you will often see situations where a protection/value bet is profitable, which you would not see if you were acting earlier in the hand. For example, you have TT and end up over calling pre-flop. The flop comes J82 and both the pre-flop raiser and the other player check, so you bet half of the pot and take it down. If you had to act first, you would probably check to the raiser to see what he did, because he had represented strength before the flop. But, because you are acting last, you have the additional information that he checked and is weak so you can bet and win the pot.
The Big Hand
Another aspect of position which informs your pre-flop decisions is the probability of running into a big hand. If you are the first player to act before the flop (UTG) in a nine handed game, there are eight other players all of whom might wake up with a big hand. Even though the probability of someone picking up a big hand is say 2.5%, the cumulative probability of any of the eight players behind you picking up an absolute rock crusher (a hand like AA, KK, QQ or JJ) is 20% and chance that they pick up something pretty good is much higher. For this reason, it is important to be very selective UTG, playing only the strongest of hands, because of the danger not only of running into a superior hand, but of doing so while out of position. However, as you approach the button, you can be more liberal in your hand selection, because your opponents will have already told you by their actions whether they have a strong or weak hand, and you will be more likely to have a post flop positional advantage.
In poker it pays to remember the adage of author Tommy Angelo “he who acts last, lasts.”