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Table Position is Important to Betting Decisions in Texas Hold’em Poker

“Hold’em is a lot like making love: Position is everything.” – WPT Host Vince van Patten

Gaining knowledge from your table position relative to your opponents’ is key to determining if and how much to bet. The reason the dealer rotates the button after each hand is because table position is crucial to determining appropriate odds and bets. The three basic table positions in poker are early (the Big Blind, Small Blind and Under the Gun), middle and late (including the Cutoff and the Button).

The strength of position comes from the fact that the betting moves in a clockwise fashion. When playing in late position — which is the strongest position — you get to see how other players react to their hands before the action comes to you. The Pokerism “Position is power” comes from this simple idea.

Though the strength of your hole cards is important, how you use position in deciding your betting strategy is the most important tool in your poker skill set. Playing your starting hands the same no matter what position you are in is one of the gravest mistakes you can make. Though you may understand the strength of playing premium starting hands, incorrectly entering every pot without considering position is costly. The more information you possess, the more you increase your chances of winning the hand.

Your margin for error is less when you are sitting in early position. If you bet with a marginal hand pre-flop from early position, you can easily end up with a raise or even re-raise by players betting after you. This places you in the untenable position of immediately having to decide whether your hand is worth losing the extra chips (two or three small bets in limit, to an All-in in no-limit) just to see the flop. If you make the correct move and fold, you lose the chips you already put in the pot. Therefore, if you are in early position, you should restrict the hands you play to the top premium hands, because you have no way of knowing what the other players in the group are holding. Statistically at least one of the players behind you also has a premium starting hand. Though the big and small blinds are in early position, they have the advantage of acting last pre-flop.

When you are playing from middle position, you still have players waiting for action along with others that have already played. Though your pre-flop hand choice increases slightly in this position, you are still limited to playing only strong opening hands. You get better odds than early position when playing weaker hands, but you still have a significant risk from the players behind you.

Poker Legend Doyle Brunson once remarked, “If I had position on a player, I wouldn’t even need to look at my cards.” Being in late position with a good hand has major advantages over being early with a good hand. A player in late position holding a premium hand has the ability to manipulate the pot size, making future bets easier to call on the turn or river. Late position is especially important when playing marginal hands, such as suited-connectors or Aces with weak kickers. With the advantage of seeing your opponents’ actions before you act, you can expand the range of your starting hands, often playing weaker hands from late position. If you do not consider position when playing a hand, you give an edge to players who do understand its importance.

Since the button is the strongest opening position, many players try to bluff or over-bet a weak hand from this position. Gaining knowledge of other players’ styles helps you determine if they are overplaying a hand from the button or actually have a strong hand. Learning your opponents’ styles also provides a clue to how strongly you should protect your own blinds.

The type of game and the stakes involved can magnify the importance of position. In a low-stakes, limit game, with a table of loose players, position means less, since these players tend to play any two cards and draw to the end regardless. As the stakes get higher, position becomes more important. Position becomes even more important in no-limit play, as the threat of the All-in on each hand considerably raises the stakes more than in limit play.

About the author: Daniel L. Cox is the editor of Poker Insider Magazine, an ezine dedicated to poker. He is also the award-winning author of “Winning Blue-Collar Hold’em: How to Play Low-limit Ring Games and Small Buy-in Tournaments” and four upcoming books on poker. He can be found on Twitter at PokerInsiderMag, where he gives you a daily poker quote or pokerism.