Don't Be a Sucker: Play in Position

Final Table
Want to make everything tougher than it needs to be? Play out of position.

To say position is important in poker is like saying having legs is important to walking - a gross understatement.

Position is the single most important factor in the game.

Playing out of position is like walking through a dark cave with no flashlight. You never know what might lurk behind that next corner.

Conversely, when you're in position everything is simplified. You get to play by your own rules and you can impose your will on the other player.

When you are said to be "playing in position" it means you're last to act. You get to see everyone's actions before it's your turn, and this gives you valuable information about how you should play your hand.

For example, if you take a flop three-handed and it's checked to you, you know the first two players didn't want to bet their hands.

If, however, you're out of position in that same hand, you have none of this information and you have to be worried about the two players acting behind you.

When you first start out learning to play winning poker you learn to play tight. You learn that when you play only strong hands your decisions after the flop are simplified.

For this same reason you should play even tighter from early position. Playing out of position is an uphill battle. By playing even tighter from early position you minimize the amount of time played out of position and you make decisions on later streets much easier.

Phil Ivey
Gratuitous Phil Ivey shot.

When you're in position, poker seems like a simple game. If you're new to a table and there is a seat open to the left of a player you know to be a bad and/or aggressive opponent, you should always try to grab it.

This maximizes the amount of time you'll be in position against that opponent.

The in-position chair is known as the "Jesus Seat." It's aptly named because when you have position on a guy it's like you can walk on water. When you have position on someone you control them.

You have the last say on what the bet is. You decide whether to give a free card or not. You are in complete control. Your opponent is forced to play scared poker, always anxious about what's to come.

Let's look at a couple of examples:

You're playing a $1/$2 No-Limit game online. Effective stacks are $200. You're dealt 7 7 under the gun and you raise to $8. A player on the button calls and the board comes down T J 2. You make a continuation bet of $13 and the button calls.

The turn card comes the 3.

Now what do you do? You raised pre-flop and you bet the flop with two overcards and were called. You are now out of position against a player who has just called your flop bet and you have no information.

He could have a jack, he could have a ten, he could just have a straight draw, he could just have overcards. You have no idea.

the field
Out of position? Like playing catch in the fog.

You could bet again but you risk getting raised. If you bet again and he just calls what do you do on the river? If you check, any decent player will bet almost all of his range, usually forcing you to fold what may be the best hand.

As you can see, playing out of position is like playing catch in the fog. At night. You might be able to catch that baseball a few times, but the majority of the time it's gonna hit you in the face.

Now let's look at the flip side:

Same game, $1/$2 No-Limit online. Effective stacks $200. You're dealt Q 9 on the button. An early position player makes it $8 to go and you call on the button. (Note I don't necessarily advocate a call here; this is just an example of how you can play looser on the button.)

The flop comes down T J 2. The early position player bets $13.

Now you have a number of options. You can obviously just call. This gives you a chance to win if you hit your straight on the turn, or if he decides to check the turn, you can bet and win the hand that way.

Vince Vaughn
Out of position? Like starring in Fred Claus.

You can raise; if he calls you can win by hitting a straight or you could fire another barrel on the turn. Alternatively, you can use the raise as a free-card play on the turn.

When you raise the flop and are called, usually the caller will then check to you on the turn. At this point you can decide whether to fire again or you can check and take a free card to your straight!

Now let's look at another example:

Again $1/$2 No-Limit online. Effective stacks $200. You get dealt A K under the gun. You raise to $8 and the button calls. The flop comes down K 3 6. You bet $15 and the button calls. Turn comes down 5. You bet $32 and he calls.

River comes down Q.

What do you do? Well as you can see this now becomes very difficult to play. If we bet and are raised then we probably have to fold after putting in almost half of our stack.

If we check then there is a good chance the button will fire with a large portion of his range. Do we then call and hope to catch a bluff? Or are we actually getting value bet? You never know. But none of your options are good.

Now the in-position example:

$1/$2 No-Limit online, effective stacks $200. You get A K on the button. An early position player limps and you raise to $8. He calls. The flop comes down K 3 6. The limper checks and you bet $15. He calls.

The turn comes down 5. The limper checks and you bet $32. He calls. The river comes down Q. The limper checks. You?

Paris Hilton
In position? Like having the world handed to you on a giant diamond encrusted pony.

In position this hand becomes a little easier. A player has check-called twice and now a dangerous card comes. A lot of players really like to try and check-raise in this position. Plus, your opponent has played his hand like a draw, so now you just get to check in position and take the free showdown.

This again is the beauty of position. It allows you to bet when you want, raise when you want, and also take a free card or showdown when you want!

In these examples I tried to show what it's like playing from out of position. It feels like you're always guessing. No decisions are ever easy and sometimes no matter what you do your options suck.

This is why you should avoid playing from out of position. Always be aware of where the raise is coming from and where you will act after the flop.

If you play most of your hands in position, you're already on your way to becoming a winning poker player. If you continue to play trash hands from out of position, you're just setting money on fire.

So don't be a sucker - stop playing out of position and start dominating your opponents!

More strategy articles by Dan Skolovy:

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About Daniel Skolovy

Daniel Skolovy started out in the gaming industry as a lowly dealer, spending countless graveyard shifts dealing blackjack, pai gow, carribean stud, baccarat, etc. He quickly became bored dealing games that were so obviously weighted in the house's favor.

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Paul 2012-08-10 14:30:56

Do you guys have any articles on playing out of position? I know it's better to play in position but sometimes when you open the pot you end up getting called by someone in position. What do you do than?

joey 2010-01-19 19:25:33

thanks, i have been playing awhile and knew about position playing, but this was a good reminder.

thanks again

Kirk Anderson 2010-01-02 21:25:00

Great article. I have only been playing poker for 2 months, and this article definitely improved my poker since I read it last week. I was pretty clueless about position before then :)