How To Play Position in Poker
One of the first things that any aspiring player should attempt to understand is the lesson of playing poker in position. This lesson alone can make the difference between being a winning player and a losing player and it is something that can be relatively easy to learn, but much more complex to master. The simplest lesson of position to learn is that every hand gains value the later in position you are playing. Certainly hands like aces, kings, ace-king, or queens are going to have a playable value no matter where you are on the table, but many other hands become playable or unplayable simply because of the position that you have been dealt them in.
In a nine player table position is often broken up into four different sections, early, middle and late position along with the blinds. The traditional rule is that the earlier in position that you are going to open the pot, the stronger your hand must be in doing so. The logic behind this is that if you open a pot in first position, known as under the gun, there is a potential that eight other hands are stronger than yours is. However as players fold in front of you, your hand becomes incrementally stronger as you know now there are a fewer number of potential players that can beat your hand as you open the pot. There are numerous materials online which can show the differences one should look for when opening a pot in terms of position at the poker table. However the simplest rule is that, your hands should be progressively stronger if you’re opening earlier in position and they can become progressively weaker as you are later in position. This does not necessarily mean you should be raising with deuce-seven every time on the button, but you will be more likely to succeed if you raise that hand on the button than you would be in early or middle position.
Another element of position that is important to understand is the necessary strength of your hand to call a raise from a hand depending on your position. If someone raises in early position, your hand needs to be strong to call their raise if you are the first caller, as it is more likely they are raising with a strong hand rather than a weaker one. Also, if you are in early position you want to have a stronger hand because it is possible that someone in a later spot may raise with their hand and they will have the benefit of acting after you do for the rest of the hand. Before moving on to this aspect of poker, its important to add that if players in front of you are entering the pot in a large number having position over everyone is a huge advantage and you will be able to play a much larger variety of hands.
Once the cards have been dealt having position is a huge advantage because you are able to dictate your actions based on what your opponent does. Your opponent will be less certain of what to do because they have not been given the benefit of seeing you act on the hand as it has been dealt with the new cards. Therefore the player in position is always going to have a greater opportunity to "outplay" their opponent on the flop, turn and river. If your opponent, checks, it could mean that you have a chance to win the pot with a bet. Or if your opponent bets, you could have the potential to win the pot with a raise, or you may be signaled to give up the hand. However it’s important to note that you have the benefit of all this additional information that your opponent does not.
It is not difficult to spot a player who understands the nature of position in poker. Typically you will see the player playing a larger number of hands when they are in late position and a much smaller number of hands in middle and very few if any in early position. Players are trying to exact as much of an edge by playing in these positions as possible and can be very difficult to play against. A final word of warning, some players tend to fail to give their opponents any respect in a particular hand simply knowing that their opponents’ range of hands is much wider, as it understandable is in a later position. However, it's important to note, that wherever you are in position you may have a hand that is the nuts on a particular board or maybe they were in fact dealt a strong hand on the button. Both of these are additional advantages of playing position and advantages that will make it even more difficult for your opponents to beat you at the table.