Position in Poker: Understanding the Power of Position

If I had a nickel for every time I read about the importance of position in poker, I would be rich.

Perhaps all those nickels would even exceed my total poker winnings. Well, maybe not. But the point stands: position is talked about a LOT in poker.

Why is position so important in poker? And how can you best use it to your advantage? Let's dive right in and find out what position in poker is really about.

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I remember the first time when I looked in my Holdem Manager database and compared my winnings relative to table position. Holy mackerel! I couldn't believe my eyes. Sure, I knew that position was important, but the numbers still baffled me.

The button truly looked like poker heaven, considering how many chips I made from that position. The blinds and Under The Gun, the worst positions at the table, were a completely different story: I was bleeding a lot of chips from those positions.

If you have Holdem Manager or a similar tracking program, I invite you to filter your winnings according to position. It's a real eye-opener and a good way to really drive home the importance of position in poker.

First, let's take a look what position in poker means. It's actually quite simple:

You are in position against opponents who act before you. You are out of position against opponents who act after you.

Why is position so important in poker?

Poker is a game of incomplete information, because you can't see the other players' cards.

If you are last to act in the hand, you always get to see what your opponents do first. You gather the most information on the strength of your opponents' hands, which gives you a massive advantage. This is why playing in position is so profitable and playing out of position is not.

Positions on a poker table

The image below illustrates the positions on a 9-handed poker table.

Early Position

  • Small Blind (SB)
  • Big Blind (BB)
  • Under The Gun 1 (UTG1)
  • Under The Gun 2 (UTG2)

Middle Position

  • Middle Position 1 (MP1)
  • Middle Position 2 (MP2)
  • Middle Position 3 (MP3)

Late Position

  • Cutoff (CO)
  • Button (BTN)

The action on a poker table moves clockwise, away from the dealer.

  • Pre-flop, Under The Gun 1 is first to act and the Big Blind is last to act.
  • Post-flop, the Small Blind is first to act and the Button is last to act.

The button has the best position on the table. He is last to act on all post-flop rounds.

How to use position in poker

Considering how profitable it is to play in position, we should open up our hand range the closer we come to the button. In other words: from early position we should play tight and only raise with our strong hands. With every seat we come closer to the button, we should open our hand range and play more hands.

A good way to explain this, is by looking at two crucial questions we should ask ourselves when deciding whether we're going to play our hand or not:

  1. What is the chance that someone behind me has a strong hand?
  2. What is the chance that I will be in position after the flop?

The answer to these questions depends heavily on your position at the poker table.

Suppose you make a raise from UTG1. Now:

  1. There are 8 players still left to act behind you. This means there is a significant chance that one or more of them have a strong hand.
  2. There are 6 players behind you who have position on you after the flop. There is a good chance one or more of those 6 players will play in which case you will be out of position post-flop.

Now suppose you are on the Button and everybody folds to you. This situation is entirely different:

  1. There are only 2 players still left to act behind you in the blinds. This reduces the chance that one of them has a strong hand.
  2. On the button you are last to act on every post-flop round so you always have position.

The later your position at the poker table, the smaller the chance that someone behind you has a strong hand, and the higher the chance that you will have position after the flop.

From early position, you should only play your stronger hands. The closer you are to the button, the more you should open up and play more hands.

Summary

  • Position is a critical concept in poker. Playing in position is very profitable, while playing out of position is not.
  • If you are in position, it means that you are last to act so you can see what your opponents do first. If you are out of position, you are first to act, which puts you at a disadvantage.
  • From early position, you should play with a tight hand range. The closer you are to the button, the more hands you should play.
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