Don't Be a Poker Sucker: Play in Position

Having position is important in poker just like having legs is important for walking. Position is the single most important factor in the game.

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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 playing in position in poker, everything is simplified. You get to play by your own rules and you can impose your will on the other player. Let's talk about playing position in poker.

What Does "Playing in Position" Mean in Poker?

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. Because 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.

Poker is a Simple Game in Position

Phil Ivey

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. Because 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 someone, it's like you can walk on water. When you have position on someone you control the game more.

Essentially it's You who has the last say on what the bet is. And it's You who decides 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.

So you can use this to your advantage. Representing a wider range of hands and forcing your opponent to fold and pick up dead money. All those antes and blinds build up your stack in the long run.

Most pros and poker experts will advocate playing position in poker - as well as Phil Ivey on the left here. You can catch his Masterclass too where he grinds on about this at the very start.

Let's Take a Couple of Playing Position Examples

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

You're playing a $1/$2 No-Limit game online. Effective stacks are $200. You're dealt 77 under the gun and you raise to $8. A player on the button calls and the board comes down 10J2. 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're now out of position against a player who has just called your flop bet and you have no information. Your opponent can have a jack, a ten, a straight draw, or just overcards. You have no idea.

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 Q9 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 10J2. 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 they decide to check the turn, you can bet and win the hand that way.

You can raise; and if they call, 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 get 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!

Another Example of Playing Position

Again $1/$2 No-Limit online. Effective stacks $200. You get dealt AK under the gun. You raise to $8 and the button calls. The flop comes down K36. 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 AK on the button. An early position player limps and you raise to $8. He calls. The flop comes down K36. 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?

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!

Playing Position in Poker FAQs

  • What is playing position in poker?

    If you're unfamiliar with the term, position simply means you are the last to act in the hand. Meaning you have the dealer button, or the players acting after you have folded. The worst places, position-wise, are typically the blinds. Because after the first round of betting the whole table acts after you for the rest of the hand.

    Regardless of your skill level, or the hand, playing in position always gives you more information than any of your opponents. In the world of Texas Hold'em, hand and player information is the most valuable commodity there is.
  • How does poker position work?

    Having position in poker means you're last to act. So if you're the button/dealer you're in position, or if you're the cut-off (acting right before the button) you're also in late position.

    Poker position works well for players since you can gain more information from opponents when acting last. It also gives them a chance for free cards. For example, they can play drawing hands, like suited connectors in position. Because they can check behind a player in position. Playing this hand Under the Gun (first to act) means you may have to face a raise from an opponent if you don't hit.

    You can control the betting action and pot size more when in position. And you can play more hands so it induces more action. And if you end up being weak or don't hit anything, there are more bluffing opportunities - because your opponent puts you on a wider range of combinations. Inversely, you can narrow down your opponent's range more when they're in position, because most of the time they're playing tight with premium hands.
  • How to play poker in position?

    To maximize while playing in position, open with a wider range of hands - around 40-50% of starting hands. Including drawing hands like suited connectors (56 spades example). In general, you should raise more often than call. And use the information you gain from other players when in play.
  • What are the poker positions?

    You can split poker playing positions at the table into three:

    Early positions: The small and big blind players and the player sitting at the Big Blind's left - Under the Gun (UTG) player . Plus the one next to that player - the UTG+1.
    Middle positions: The absolute middle position (MP) and the next player - the Hijack (HJ).
    Late positions: The Button (BTN / dealer) and the player on their right - the Cutoff (CO).
  • What is HJ in poker positions?

    The hijack player sits between the cutoff (button's right-hand) and middle position players. It's considered a middle/late position where you can play more hands than in early position. And thus can be a more profitable position.
  • What is late position in poker?

    The late positions in poker are the button (BTN) player - who is dealer of that round. And the player on their right - the Cutoff (CO). These positions are the last to act. Making them the most powerful positions because they have the most information on players. This position lets you control the game more. And you can play a wider range of hands - perhaps even over 50% of starting hands.
  • Poker: Why is position important?

    Position will always ensure you gain a lot of player information by the time you have to act. Playing position also gives you a lot of "bluff equity" - meaning simple, cheap and effective bluffing opportunities. Plus, having position in a poker hand lets you control the final pot size and make more accurate value bets.

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Nicolas Sandvik
2017-02-08 21:58:31

“Gratuitous Phil Ivey shot.” love it

Maurice Gosby
2016-07-09 18:15:59

this article did a good job of just telling you what to do out of position

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?

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 🙂

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