Poker Table Position
If you could see everyone's cards it would be easier to bet intelligently. The reason is that the more information you have about your opponent's hand, the less likely you will be to play your hand incorrectly. Obviously, position doesn't let you see other cards, but it does offer some information about the hands of the players who must act before you. Thus, the player who is last to act has information about more of his or her opponents than anyone else. The player who is first to act has none. From the general cliché, "Knowledge is Power" comes the poker expression, "Position is Power."
Names of Positions
Because position is so important in poker, it is not surprising that there is a good bit of poker jargon around the subject.
Button. The "Dealer Button" may have been a button, a chip or a buck knife, even a pistol in the old days. It indicates who has the deal. In modern casinos it is usually a large disc of white plastic, sometimes pearlized. The dealer always has the best position in most games, since the action has to start with the person next to the dealer (Draw games and post-flop Hold'em) or with the blinds to the left of the dealer (pre-flop Hold'em). In stud poker the action starts with the low door card (or high door card in lowball games), so position is not determined by the rotation of the button, but rather by the deal of the cards.
Under the Gun. The person "under the gun" is the first to act. Historically, in draw games of the Old West, if a six-shooter was used to mark the deal, the person "under the gun" would be the player at whom the dealer's gun was aimed (for right-handed dealers), or the player to the dealer's immediate left. In Hold'em, the first person to act is also said to be "under the gun," but it is the player to the immediate left of the Big Blind. In any case, it is the worst position at the table. Often it is abbreviated as "UTG."
Small Blind. In Hold'em and other games using blind bets, this is the person to the Dealer's left. It is next-to-last position pre-flop in Hold'em, but first in the later rounds, and it coughs up a one-half forced bet at the start of the game. In heads-up play, the Dealer (the player "on the button") is the small blind.
Big Blind. In Hold'em, it is the person two to the left of the dealer, and the last person to act pre-flop. It is second to act post-flop, which is a poor position, and it has to place a bet in the dark before the cards are dealt. In heads-up play, the player opposite the button is the big blind.
Note that there are no laws that say you have just two blinds or that they must be in the two slots to the dealer's left. This is the tradition and the norm, but a table might agree to some other arrangement. Additionally, there is a possible voluntary, preemptive blind from the person under the gun in ring games of Hold'em. This is called a "live straddle" and buys last position pre-flop for double the big blind bet. It can be raised by the straddler and it also can be re-raised (re-straddled) by the person to the straddler's left.
Cutoff. "Cutoff" is the name of the spot to the dealer's right. In Hold'em, if the table folds around, the "cutoff" player can bet and thus thwart (i.e., cut off) the dealer's ability to steal the blinds.
Generic Positions. The first three or four players to act are said to be in "Early Position" (abbreviated "EP") - the worst situation from a strategy point of view. "Late Position" (abbreviated "LP") refers to the Cutoff seat, plus the player to the right and the player to the left (the Dealer). "Middle Position" (or "MP") is obviously in between. More precision is obtained by referring to a seat as "Gun plus two" or "Right of the Cutoff." A vaguer term for a non-descript position is "junk position."
How Much Does Position Matter?
Position is important in almost any game because of the point about having information before you bet. In No Limit Hold'em, position is very important, as compared to Limit games. When the amounts of bets and raises are limited, it is harder to exploit the added advantage that position brings. The "extra" information is only useful in the current betting round, as that data become available to everyone for purposes of a subsequent betting round.
If a person at a full Hold'em table is in first position ("under the gun") with a queen/jack unsuited, it would be risky to play. Why? Because anyone with an ace, king or pair would have a better shot at winning. If the were able to spot that - and they well might - then they would raise the opener. Even if everyone else folds, the opener either has to fold or go to the flop with the worst of it. To make things bleaker, the disadvantageous position would carry over into the next betting rounds.
If the same person and the same hand were on the button, and everyone folded around, a bet would be in order. If everybody folds, it was a successful steal of the blinds. If someone bets or even raises, at least going into the flop the advantageous position will continue.
It should be evident that a strong hand in late position is stronger than the same hand in early position. Likewise, a hand that might be worth playing in late position should probably be thrown away in early position.
The problem, of course, is that a strong hand in early position - one that merits a raise rather than a call - will be interpreted by the other players as really strong because it warranted an early position raise. This will shoo other players away, making the pot hardly worth going after. If there is an early position raise pre-flop, the later players will have to call two bets to stay in the game (the big blind and the early raiser). This may discourage them further.
On the other hand, when a person in late position raises, the other players may have already called one raise, and have something of a stake in the pot. They might find it psychologically easier to call two raises separately than to call two at once. Thus, a player in late position with a strong hand has more options for slow play to fatten the pot, or fast play to scare away the competition.
Many experienced players in a live casino will just watch the tables for a while. They are sizing up the players - who's loose, who's new, who's skilled, and so forth. They might even be calculating the win per hour of the player or players at a given table with a clear advantage over the others. One element of reviewing the tables before choosing a place is to figure out where the best position is. This is not the position relative to the dealer button, as described above, but the position in terms of the players to the right and to the left of the chair.
The Average Player
The average player wants an aggressive and loose player to the right. This is because anticipating a loose or aggressive player is sometimes hard, and it is better to be able to react to them rather than predict. With strong cards in hand and a raise from the loose or aggressive player on the right, there will be a choice of slow playing (calling) or fast playing (re-raising). A second raise may make the hand too risky for many of the other players yet to act, or it might convert intended re-raises to plain old calls. Likewise, having a tight and passive player to the left is beneficial: They have positional advantage, so it is helpful that at least they are predictable. It may be possible to bluff a little more often - to get to the next card for cheap -- or to steal blinds. When they call, it probably is a sincere move. The only disadvantage is that the loose player to the right might be bluffing, and someone should call the bluff, but it will not be the tight player to the left, for sure. So it means that the player in the middle gets to call bluffs quite a bit.
The Aggressive Player
The risk-taking, aggressive player may have just the reverse logic - preferring the tight player to the left and the loose player to the right. If the tight player to the right raises pre-flop, it is a sure sign to fold with so-so cards. That saves money. Or, on the other hand, re-raise and appear to everyone at the table as if you have a nut hand!
With a strong hand it is good to have a loose player on the left, as he or she may even re-raise, fattening the pot and maybe even narrowing the play down to just two contenders. A predictably loose player in positional advantage is not all that bad, as it is possible to project when slow play or check-raises might work. The point is that the person to the left needs to be predictable. Good players will seldom want to sit at the right hand of a newcomer. In fact, the best place for a newcomer is across the table altogether! Other people then need to cope with positional predictability, and you get to read the tells.
w, suppose instead that one or two players are aggressively raising with cards that represent pairs or possible trips. Maybe someone has two pair. Their draw to a full house by the River is half as likely as your draw to a straight (assuming all outs are live). The pot odds may clearly warrant a call, and possibly even a raise out of your four-to-a-double-outside-straight. The raise tactic is still dangerous, as it will surely give away your hand (assuming no distracting high card possibilities). Perhaps the best move is to let the gamecocks fight it out on the way to Fifth Street, humbly calling their bets, enjoying the good pot odds, and hoping to pounce in the next betting round or two.
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