The Importance Of Position

Jack Wilcox (Hoodlincs) Profile Photo

By Jack Wilcox

6 Nov, 2011

In poker, players must act in a specific order on each betting round.

The person to the immediate left of the dealer button is always the first to act. The person left of them acts second, and so on around the table. The person on the dealer button is always the last to act.

  • The person acting first on each round is considered to be out of position.
  • The person acting last on each round is considered to be in position.

I will expand on the importance of position throughout this article.

Why is position important?

Poker is a game of incomplete information. We can never know what our opponent holds for sure until we get to showdown. However, if we have just seen the flop, there are still three more betting rounds to get through before the showdown (the flop, the turn, and the river).

Our goal as a poker player is to try and work out what our opponent's most likely hand is. In turn, this will tell us what our relative hand strength is.

If our opponent has to act before us on every hand (they are playing out of position), we can gain a lot of information about their hand. And when we are playing in position (acting last), they gain relatively little information about our hand, and any information they do gain comes after we have gained information about theirs.

How can you use position to win more money?

Let's assume we are playing 5c/10c NLHE.

We open raise to 40c, and get one caller. Going to the flop the pot is 90c. Now, if we make a typical bet size of 2/3 pot on all three betting rounds and get called all the way, the pot grows like so:

90c + 60c + 60c       = pot going to the turn of $2.10
$2.10 + $1.40 + $1.40  = pot going to the river of $3.90
$3.90 + $2.60 + $2.60  = final pot of $9.10

This creates a final pot of over 10 times the size of the pot on the flop.

Alternatively, let's assume the same situation as before, but this time we check the turn rather than bet:

90c + 60c + 60c     = pot going to the turn of $2.10
check              = pot going to the river of $2.10
$2.10 + 1.40 + 1.40  = final pot of $3.90

By removing a single betting round, the final pot size is under half what it would be if we had bet all three streets.

If we want to create a big pot, we have to make sure that a bet goes in on all three streets.

This is something we can only do in position, because we can make the bet ourselves.

If we don't want to create a big pot, we have to make sure that a bet doesn't go in on at least one round, which is also something we can do only if we have position. But when we are out of position, we have to check and hope that our opponent checks too.

An example of playing out of position.

We are in the cutoff and raise with 7h 7c

The button calls and everyone else folds.

Flop: 5h 5c 3h

We bet and our opponent calls.

Turn: As

If we bet here, we don't get our opponent to call with a worse hand. They should just fold 66, 44, and non-nut flush draws. Also, we don't get them to fold a better hand either, because if they called on the flop with A high, they won't fold now they have made a pair.

Therefore, betting doesn't achieve anything because:

  • If they fold, we had the best hand.
  • If they call, we have by the worst hand by far. We have only 2 outs to improve, and one card left to try and hit it.
  • The pot is getting big rapidly.

However, if we check we represent a hand that is scared of the ace. Therefore, they can bluff effectively, because with two betting rounds left (turn, river), they can fire two big bets, giving us a bad price to call them down and catch a bluff.

So by being out of position, we have two bad options:

  1. Bet and hope they fold, even though they will only be folding worse hands.
  2. Check and hope they do not bet.

We would have a much easier route to try and get to showdown if we were in position. We would be able to check back the turn — essentially removing a betting round — and see the final card for free in a spot where the pot size is smaller and more manageable.

Final thoughts on position.

The pot gets very big very quickly when a bet is made on each round, and the person in position has the choice to create a big pot or not.

We only ever want to bet for one of two reasons:

  1. As a value bet. We think we have the best hand, and we think we can get called by a worse hand.
  2. As a bluff. We think we have the worst hand, but we think we can get our opponent to fold a better hand.

The more information we can get about how much our opponent likes their hand, the easier it is to determine the relative strength of our own hand. If we can do this well, we can value bet perfectly, and bluff effectively.

Our sole aim in a poker hand is to work out what cards our opponent holds, and position is the single most important factor in helping us to do this.


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