Poker is a game of incomplete information. You don’t know what your opponents’ cards are, you have no idea what cards the dealer will surface on the flop, turn and river, and you can’t be sure how the other players will react to the ever-changing nuances of a poker hand.
But like in blackjack, another game of incomplete information, there are some things you can do to mitigate your risk of losing a hand.
Of course, poker strategy can be as simple or complicated as you like. A deeper strategy requires more effort but is likely to bring richer rewards. Basic strategy should at least mean you don’t make silly mistakes.
Position in poker is one of the fundamental concepts you should understand right at the start of your poker-playing journey. Like learning the poker hand rankings, knowing not to play too many hands and getting a basic read on your opponent, playing in position is hugely advantageous.
What is position in poker?
Poker hands play clockwise around the table, starting with the players to the left of the dealer button.
Therefore, those to the left of the button have to make their decisions first, and the player on the button – or the last one remaining in a hand closest to the button – gets to play last on every street.
Why does this matter? Remember what we said at the outset of this article: poker is a game of incomplete information, and one missing piece of the jigsaw is knowing how other players will act. The beauty of being in position in poker is that you get to see how the other active players act before you have to make a decision.
If the player in seat three bets, and seat five re-raises, you can easily decide to fold your Q-10 offsuit. It’s because you now have some useful information that seat three has a hand worth opening with (quite probably better than Q-10), and seat five likely has something even better.
Conversely, in this example, the player in seat three was playing out of position. The disadvantage for them was that they had to risk some poker chips to find out the information that you got for free – that someone believed they had a better hand or was willing to play aggressively regardless.
Let’s say you had pocket tens in this hand example and elected to call precisely because you had the advantage of position in poker. With position, you are in a far better place to understand what the other players might hold as the hand plays out or to take advantage if you manage to make a set.
Other basic position concepts
It follows that the later your position in poker, fewer people remain to act after you. With this logic, the risk of someone calling or playing back at you diminishes.
Let’s say you’re in a nine-handed game and sit in the cut-off, one before the button. Pre-flop, it’s folded around to you. You can widen your opening range with only the button and the blinds to act after you. Where you might bin A-5 in early position, you can be confident open-raising here. Where you might muck low suited connectors in early position, these look distinctly handsome if you get to open the action from a later position.
Of course, while you learn the importance of position in poker, you’ll realise that other players will employ the “I know that you know” tactic. By that, we mean if you’re open raising with less than premium hands in late position, the small or big blind might three bet light, knowing there’s a high chance you’ll fold.
Position in poker variety
As with so many concepts in basic poker strategy, use position in poker wisely but mix it up. Playing the same way all the time opens you up to being exploited by others. If you never open from early position but raise out of the blue, your hand screams premium strength. Either others will fold, and you win the minimum, or better players might call and hope to land two pairs or better, knowing they could take your stack.
And if you routinely play aggressively in late position, open-raising for fun or making a continuation bet each time, others will begin to pick you off with check-raises and other betting strategies.
This article is by no means a detailed strategy guide for position in poker. Instead, it introduces you to the importance of position at the poker table in various poker games.
You can now think about improving your play and betting strategies with position in poker and without it. In a game of incomplete information, it’s one easy-to-grasp tactic that will begin to shift the balance of power in your favour.