Positional Play: Advanced Poker Strategy
Most players eventually come to realise the importance of position when they’re playing a game of no-limit Hold ‘Em, but understanding how it can impact your success at a table off the bat ensures that you start reaping the rewards right away.
The advantage of acting last in a round of poker is pretty obvious – you get to see how your opponents act before you do, allowing you to use their decisions to influence your own – but it is how you use this to your advantage that will make all of the difference.
When it comes to position advantage in a game of poker, you’ll find that you can divide this into two parts: the preflop and postflop position advantage. Get to know how to manipulate each section to your will and you might walk away from your next game with heavier pockets.
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The Preflop Advantage
The preflop position advantage is arguably the easiest one to take advantage of because it allows you to see everyone around the table (barring two) act before it’s your turn over your cards. Some might feel that playing from the blinds is an even bigger advantage because it gives you the chance to see everyone play before you make your decision, but this leaves you out of position during the postflop.
When it’s you against the table, you’ll want to make sure that you are in a good position postflop, and this could potentially mean having to “buy the button”. This is essentially accomplished when a player posts both the small and big blind after they have missed the big blind and the button has moved, allowing them to “steal” position. This is not something that is offered by every casino, however, but it has its benefits and has become a more popular option with many establishments around the world.
The Postflop Advantage
During the postflop, the best position to have is the button. Even a player who is UTG+1 (Under the Gun) will find that they have an advantage over the UTG from this angle. Having position gives players a lot of insight into their competitors, including their cards and their intentions.
A player who is UTG, for example, during the postflop, will likely be very aware that they do not have position and so from this angle, a player who checks will likely be trying to check-raise the competition out of their hand. This tends to be a mandatory bet for players who are in position.
Players who are UTG who bet small, on the other hand, are likely probing the rest of the table. This is an action designed to determine what sort of hands their competitors have before they choose whether or not to commit a higher bet to the pot. In some instances, however, a player with a strong hand is simply luring players into a larger pot by bluffing and this is why it is so important to consider more than just this one factor when playing a game of poker. Knowing your competition (as much as is possible), including how they have played in the past should hold sway in every decision.
A big better who is UTG could be potentially attempting to avoid having to continue to play without having position. It’s up to you to decide whether their hand is weak or strong. If you feel it’s weak, go in big, but keep in mind that your position will last for the turn and the river too.
Playing from Out of Position
Playing from position allows you to have a lot of information to base your actions on, but this isn’t the case when you’re playing out of position. In this case, you are basing your decisions based on information from a previous round, body language or intuition, and that is not always helpful. Because of this, it’s always better to play a tighter game when you have an early position.
When you’re choosing your seat at a poker table, it’s generally better to watch out for the aggressive opponent before taking a seat to their left, as it then maximises the amount of time that you will be in position against that player during the later rounds of the game. Known as the “Jesus Seat”, some people have described the power a player has over the players to their right as being able to “walk on water”.
Playing the Position you’re Dealt
You can’t always choose your position in poker – sometimes, you just have to play the position you are dealt and the better you play it, the better off you’ll be.
When you are in one of the Early Positions (the positions immediately to the left of the dealer), it means that you have to act first and so the other players get to base their decisions based on the decisions you’ve made. If you call or bet, it might indicate that you are confident in your hand. Checking could indicate you aren’t, or that you are a more passive player. Being in an Early Position early on in a game isn’t a bad thing as it usually means that you’ll have a better position for most of the game, but it could impact how the rest of your strategy unfolds as the game progresses.
It is usually advised that players in this position play more choice hands only – this means at least solid pairs. Check whenever you can as you can raise in the following postflop rounds when you have a better understanding of how your opponents are playing.
When playing from the Middle Position (between 2 and 4 players sitting to the dealer’s left), you should have the same approach to the game. In this position, you will have some information to act on based on the players who have already acted, but there are still players who haven’t acted, so you’ll want to continue to be cautious. In this position, you can play a little more loose, but you will also want to be aware of the “squeeze”.
The “squeeze” is the position a player might find themselves in when they have called the bet of a player who has already acted, only to find themselves facing a raise of a player in a later position. It’s advised that you don’t bet with anything less than a 10. By ensuring that you stick to stronger hands, you can minimize the chances that you will make a bad call.
The Late Position is by far the best position to be in and luckily everyone gets the chance to be in this position eventually. It is in this position where bluffing can be the most rewarding, however, that is not the only way to play it.
Poker isn’t just about the hand you are dealt – it is so much more than that. To a novice, an empty seat at a poker table is an invitation to join the game, but to a professional, the position is a starting point and could influence every aspect of their strategy. You don’t have to be a professional to make your position work for you, however, as long as you understand how it influences the game.