The Importance of Position in Texas Hold'em
While starting hand selection, bet sizing and post-flop hand reading are all essential for long term profitable play – none are more fundamental to the game than the concept of position. Each hand sees a sequence of bets, with where you sit in relation to the dealer button (and blinds) dictating who goes first and who goes last. Experienced players know that being last to act conveys a huge advantage over time. They will make sure that they play more often when ‘in position’ (acting last) than out of position (acting first).
The concept of position has several implications. The first is what starting hands you can profitably play, based on your position before the flop. This is covered first below. After that I have covered how position affects your strategy after the flop – introducing the concept of relative position. Finally, as with most aspects of poker strategy, you’ll need to account for the tendencies of your opponents. This is covered last below.
Position Before the Flop
In a standard Texas Holdem game, position is determined by the dealer button. To the left of the dealer are the two ‘blinds’, the small blind to the immediate left and then the big blind. After everyone has been dealt hole cards before the flop, the player to the left of the big blind is the first player to act. This position is known as ‘under the gun’ (abbreviated UTG)
At a typical 9 handed table, there are 8 unknown hands behind this player. Any of these could reraise, which means entering the pot with speculative hands could be expensive. The same applies to the next positions at the table. Since you do not know whether you will be able to see a flop with your small pair or suited connector (or must fold after the betting gets big), they can’t be played profitably.
The further around the table you get, the more players you have seen act and the fewer players have still to take action. This means you can be looser with your starting hand requirements, or adjust according to bets ahead of you. For example, if the UTG player already bet, you might assume they have a strong hand and fold some of the mid-strength holdings you might otherwise have raised with.
As you approach the button, the spots at the table have special names. The player 2 to the right of the button is known as the ‘hijack’, and the next player the ‘cut-off’ – these are prime spots for stealing the blinds and antes from!
Before the flop, the big blind and the small blind act last. The big blind might even get to see a free flop if the hand is limped. This advantage is short-lived, as after the flop the player left of the dealer button is the first to act – and remains first for all 3 of the flop, turn and river betting rounds. After the flop, the player closest to the dealer button acts last, and that player is said to be ‘in position’.
Position After the Flop
Before the flop, position is set by the dealer button. After the flop position is both absolute (set by the dealer button) and relative to whichever player raised last before the flop came down. The reason that relative position is important is that players tend to check a hand to whoever raised once the flop came down – giving them the chance to continue their aggression. There is nothing that says players must do this, though it will happen the majority of the time.
What can happen is that you end up sandwiched between the initial raiser and another player – losing your advantage.
Imagine a limp UTG, a raise from a middle position player and then you call from the button. Here you have position (you will act last) after the flop. However, when the UTG player calls that bet, he will usually check after the flop. Now the middle position player bets and you must act without knowing what the UTG player intends to do. While you ‘officially’ have position in this hand, relatively you do not – in fact you are in the middle.
Opponent Tendencies and Position
It does not matter how good or bad your opponents are, playing more hands when last to act will improve your profits over time. When you act last you have extra information to go on. You will be able to see whether your opponent checked or fold your hand if there is a bet and a raise in front of you. Had you been first to act, you might have bet before you received this information that your opponents had super-strong hands.