Table Position

If there was only one consideration that you made before playing a hand, it would be possible to make an argument that your position in relation to the button would be as important as the cards you hold. This is due to the fact that the later you act during a hand, the more information you’ll have about how to correctly play your cards. Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the more information you are able to gather, the more of an edge you gain over your opposition. If you are on the button and last to act in the hand, you are able to see every player's actions before you act. If after the flop there is a bet, a raise and re-raise before it is your turn, then you can safely muck anything but the most premium of hands. When you are first to act in a hand, you have no idea of what actions players behind you may take, and as such, you are in a potentially precarious situation even with very strong hands. In poker, knowledge is power and understanding and utilizing position properly is critical to determining whether or not you will ultimately be a winning player.

 

Early Position

"Early position" is usually defined as the first three players to act after the blinds, assuming a full table. These are the weakest positions because they will be among the first players to act each round. This means that should you be in early position, you will have to act on minimal information. For this reason, you should only play strong to very strong hands in the first three seats because you will need to be able to have a hand to lead out with, or withstand potential bets and raises from players behind you. A lot of a player's success in poker comes from employing a solid hand selection strategy, which considers position in relation to the button. By limiting your play to these starting hands you can mitigate some of the risk of playing from early position by assuring your hands can survive a raise from a player who acts after you. In fact, you should almost always raise these hands in early position to take the lead at the table and use your strong play to get further information from your opponents when they act.

Assuming you are in a fairly typical game, which is a blend of different player types, you should often limit your starting hands to the following:

early

 

Middle Position

"Middle position" is usually defined as the next three players after the three early position players. In middle position, players can typically play more hands than in early position, as they have seen the actions of some of the players at the table and have much more information. However, there are still players to act after you and a certain amount of caution must be exercised through a solid hand selection strategy. If you are the first to enter the pot or only one or two players in front of you call, then consider raising with any of the stronger hands from the middle position hand group and calling with the rest. If there is a bet in front of you, re-raise only with early position hands and simply call with any middle position hands.

middle

 

Late Position

"Late position" is usually defined as the last two or three players before the blinds. In late position, a player has much more information through the observation of other players' actions and, therefore, a greater latitude in the range of hands that can be played. For example, if five players call in front of you then there are a number of drawing hands that become very playable, as opposed to early or even middle position where those very same hands may still not be worth the trouble and expense of seeing the flop. If you are first to enter the pot then certainly raise with any hand listed in the hand groups.

The power of acting last does not give you a license to play every hand no matter how tempting and you should still employ a solid hand selection strategy. Acting last, or near to last, does allow you to play hands much more creatively and in certain situations bluff with great effectiveness.

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Blinds

The blinds have the advantage of playing a diverse number of hands as they have already contributed either a partial or full bet to the pot and may see more flops due to the discounted price. This does not mean, however, that any two cards are playable from the blinds, particularly if there is a raise. The reason that you have to be careful about what you choose to play from the blinds is simple: After the flop the two blind positions will always be first to act and as such will be in early position and therefore vulnerable. It is best to think about your blinds as early position hands that allow you to see the flop at a reduced price. The best way to judge what hands to play in the blinds is to play any of the hand groups if there is no raise, and re-raise with the strongest hands in the early position hand group. If there is one bet, then call with any of the hand groups and re-raise with the strongest hands from the early position group. If the action is two or more bets to you in the big blind then seriously consider playing only A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and A-K while folding everything else. If you do play these hands to two bets then you can consider re-raising them as well. In summary, playing too many hands from the blinds is a recipe for disaster and one that is relatively common among players. Make sure you are not one of those players at your table.

Understanding and paying attention to your position relative to the button, while also employing a solid hand selection strategy, will go a long way toward making you a profitable player. Understanding the value and power of position will enable you to save bets by not playing marginal hands out of position early, and by playing more hands creatively when in the late position. Every hand in poker is different and you need to adapt to each situation. Doing so is the mark of a successful player.

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