The ability to assess the effect of your table position and your opponent’s table position on the value of bets will improve the outcome of your poker play. You’ll make a more accurate assessment of the value of your hand and you’ll also have a much better sense of what your opponents are playing with.
Poker has four different table positions, regardless of how many people are playing in the game: there’s the dealer’s position, the early position, the middle position, and the late or end position.
Players in early positions should avoid playing marginal hands and should limit themselves to playing only strong to very strong hands. The middle position players should assess how the early players have acted. If the early players haven’t raised the stake, then the middle position player can raise with a marginal to strong hand.
For obvious reasons, those in the end position know the most about their opponents and can play aggressively. Last position players can bet with a wide variety of starting hands, even relatively weak hands, if their opponents have not acted. They can decide to call a bet knowing that no one is going to raise, thereby reducing your risk.
In a full game with ten players, as an early player or EP, you are one of the first three players to act. The person immediately to the left of the big blind is said to be “Under the Gun” or UTG. They are under the most pressure to act, to start the action with a raise.
Middle position usually begins at the fourth player in sequence; the fourth player left of the dealer or the button, as is sometimes the situation in online poker. Like early positioned players, middle position players or MP players still have relatively few advantages and considerable drawbacks relating to their position in the game.
As an MP player, you are at risk of “squeeze” plays. A squeeze play, as the name suggests, is about being forced to act, generally to call a bet by an early position player, when you know you’re likely to get raised. On the other hand, in the middle position, you have an advantage over early position players and you can make a strong assessment of their cards. Particularly if you have a strong hand, you can bet and play aggressively in the middle position, and you should. If your hand is marginal, you have to consider the likelihood that the last position players will take a stand.
The end position or late position players, called LP players for short, have the strongest position at the table because they are the last people to act. The cut-off player, called the CO for short, is the player in the second to last position. LP player have the strongest position because they can make a strategic play, a steal or bluff, to win the pot if no one else has made a move. In Texas Hold’em, the last player’s position-based advantage is the strongest and their opportunity to make a steal bluff is the strongest.
On the other hand, if EP or MP players have raised, as an LP player, you need to determine whether they’re bluffing or playing with a strong hand. If you make the wrong assessment, drawing on what you know about the cards and your opponents’ styles of play, it can be costly so weigh the information you have carefully.
Another situation that the LP player experiences almost exclusively is the semi-bluff, which involves raising an EP or MP player who made a bet. To make a semi-bluff, you need to have a fairly strong hand, such as a straight or a flush. You can raise to scare your opponents, encouraging them to fold. The semi-bluff also encourages your opponents to consider you and what you might have before they make their next move if they are considering a raise on the second round.
To make the most of position strategy, you need to be aware of your position all the time. It sounds easy but it’s not; getting caught up in your hand leaves you oblivious, so you need to practice focusing on your position for each individual hand at each individual turn.
The general rule to keep in mind goes something like this: play strong hands in early positions; the later your position, the better your chance of making a winning play with a marginal hand, such as a flush or a straight.