A lot is made about position in poker and rightly so. Position, often times even more than your cards, will determine whether you play a hand or not, and also HOW you play your hand; which is why such a premium is placed on playing in position, and why poker coaches and authors continue to drill it in to your head to use position when making your decisions.
Unfortunately, in poker we can’t always play the position game. Sometimes we get a premium hand Under the Gun or in the Blinds and we are forced to play out of position. That being said, there are ways to minimize the disadvantage you are in when playing out of position if you understand the other factors involved in the hand. In this column I’m going to take a look at three such examples, as well as a offer up a little refresher course on why having position is such an advantage in poker.
The Advantages of Position
There are two ways you can find yourself last to act, as the pre-flop aggressor (which is the strongest position) or having called a pre-flop raise from a player that acts before you. Either way you have several strategic advantages over your opponent(s) when you are last to act:
- You will have more information about your opponents’ hands by their actions, and your opponents have less information about yours. Essentially, when you are in position your opponents will have made two decisions (pre-flop and on the flop) to your one. This makes your decisions much easier, and relatively speaking your opponent's decisions will be more difficult.
- If you were the aggressor pre-flop and have position you have tremendous fold equity, or the option of ‘taking one off’, since most players will check to the raiser on the flop. If you entered the pot passively and are in position you have a number of options at your disposal based on what your opponent(s) do, from floating to folding.
- With position you can maximize the value you extract from your opponents as you will never miss a bet. Out of position a potential check-raise can go awry if your opponent checks-behind. You will make more with the same hands in the long-run when you are in position.
Alright, so nothing groundbreaking there but it’s never a bad idea to go over the basics on position. Now let’s move on to playing out of position.
Two Common ‘Out of Position’ Situations
As I said in the opening, you’re going to have to play out of position at some point; it’s inevitable. Now, if you find yourself out of position quite a bit this is likely a leak in your game and something you’ll need to work on (your positional awareness), but there are ways to limit the disadvantage you find yourself in when you are out of position if you know what to look for –not every hand played out of position is equal.
Here is a look at two common scenarios players will find themselves in where you can turn your positional disadvantage into an advantage of sorts, or at least limit the shortcomings of playing out of position:
- Out of position, as the pre-flop aggressor
By taking the betting lead pre-flop you are basically saying, “my hand is better than yours.”, and by calling your opponents are saying, “My hand is pretty good but not great”. This scenario, where you are out of position but are the aggressor in the hand, gives you the opportunity to make a continuation bet whether the flop helped you or not.
Additionally, calling a raise speaks volumes about the type of hand a player might have. Generally speaking, players tend to call raises with fewer hands than they would raise with if it was folded to them. Therefore, it’s easier to pin down a caller’s hand, than it is a raiser’s hand from a similar position. So if you open from the cutoff and are called by the button, your range should be much wider than your opponent’s.
However, even though it appears playing out of position as the aggressor isn’t all that bad, you also open yourself up to players that “float”, as well as being at an informational disadvantage and being unable to maximize value. So, while being out of position as the aggressor isn’t exactly terrible, it’s still not ideal.
- Out of position but with position relative to the pre-flop aggressor
Situation #2 is less common, but can be a powerful weapon in multi-way pots and should be a major factor in your decision-making when you are confronted with a raise in the blinds or when you are 3-bet by a player with position on you. If it’s at all possible you want to act immediately before the pre-flop raiser in multi-way pots. As I’ve already explained, it is normal for players to check to the raiser, effectively putting the pre-flop aggressor in first position. Therefore, the player who acts immediately before him ends up in last position!
Think of it this way, it’s getting close to the bubble and you still have a healthy stack of 30 Big Blinds. You are in the big blind with a marginal hand and a player in MP opens and gets called by the cutoff. If you were facing a raise from the just the MP Player (or even the cutoff) you would likely fold your hand here, but with the added pot odds you start to ponder a call. Most players would look at this as a terrible position to be in, with two players acting after them, but the reality of the situation is that your position is actually pretty good. You are expected to check to the raiser, who is expected to continuation bet. The cutoff is in a terrible spot since he can’t decide to float because he’s in the dark as to what you are going to do; basically you have checked in the dark, and in doing so have gained a positional advantage –assuming that the MP player obliges and c-bets of course!
Now tweak this just a little bit and suppose you are the cutoff. In this scenario you have terrible position as the big blind is the player with position relative to the raiser and you’re the player who even though you are last to act are caught in a spot where you are the “monkey in the middle”. If the MP player makes his c-bet and you have air you’re going to have to fold far more often because of the pesky Big Blind whose check doesn’t necessarily mean weakness. While you’d rather have position or be heads-up out of position as the pre-flop aggressor, in multi-way pots there is a lot to be said for having position relative to the pre-flop aggressor.
Now, aside from the examples given above, if you are playing out of position in a passive way and don’t have position relative to the raiser… what do they say on the forums… Oh yeah, “you’re doing it wrong!” The simple fact is this, when you are the aggressor pre-flop you will find it much easier to play out of position than if you simply limp in, or raise-call, with the exception of when you have position relative to the pre-flop raiser.
One final area I want to touch on is a hand’s position sensitivity. Some hands are a bit easier to play out of position than others, mostly pocket pairs. The reason is that when you flop a good hand with a pocket pair (a set) you’re hand is strong enough to take a lot of heat, and you’re not as concerned about giving a free card or having your opponent try to bluff you off your hand. On the flip-side, hands like suited connectors have extremely high position sensitivity, since they are often drawing or make weaker top- or middle-pair hands, and if your opponent has position on you he will very rarely miss a bet. You’ll still make more money from your flopped sets when you are in position, but the difference isn’t quite as pronounced as it is with hands like suited connectors.