10/07/2008

A Study in Position in No-Limit Hold'em

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

One of the most important things that a novice poker player learns during the early stages of their development curve is the importance of position in all forms of poker. Everyone eventually becomes aware that acting after your opponents is a great advantage. You can bluff, semi-bluff, avoid big hands, win more money from your own good hands etc etc etc.

It is still surprising even now just how many players break this golden rule but that is a different topic. I guess that some players over estimate their game so much that they believe in their own mind that they can beat any game with any hand from any position. If you are a great player and select the right games and have a huge bankroll then it may be the case but I for one certainly wouldn’t want to go down this avenue.

So we play more hands in position than out of position….this is a given. Even though our opponents may suspect that our button raise is being done on a wide range of hands, this still does not alter the fact that we have a positional superiority. But as you start to study the concept of position then other things start to reveal themselves that you were not previously aware of and this is where the student starts to take the next important steps in their understanding of position.

Because being on the button or acting last for instance is not the only position that we have and it isn’t always the most important factor either. We will take the button as the ultimate example here as if we elect to play our hand on the button then we will have positional advantage throughout the duration of the hand. This can never change simply because we are on the button and are guaranteed to act last on all rounds.

There is a name for this and it is called “absolute position” but yet there is another type of position that fewer poker players are aware of and who factor this into their games. This is “relative position” and in many cases can be more important than having absolute position.

Relative position comes into play when we look at your position relative to the potential future action. To highlight what I am talking about here, we will have a look at a situation from the early stages of a deep stack tournament. You are on the button with pocket tens and two early players limp in and the aggressive player to your immediate right in the cut-off raises the pot. You call the raise as does the big blind and the two other limpers making a five way pot.

The flop is pretty good for you and is 9-5-2 rainbow but yet your position is now a little more precarious than what it seems at first light. If the first three players check and the pre-flop raiser bets then you are essentially in the middle of a player who has raised pre-flop and bet the flop and three other players. You cannot assume that all of these players are weak just because they have checked. You suspect that your pocket tens are ahead so you make a raise but this raise still has to get by three other players before it even gets back to the original flop bettor. So despite being on the button and having absolute position then your relative position is nowhere near as strong as you could be running smack bang into a big hand that was being sandbagged to the raiser and with a board like this then a flopped set is a possibility.

Now let’s take a look at another example where not having absolute position is actually not that bad once the flop falls simply because you have superior relative position. The UTG player limps in and so do you with pocket eights and the same player raises on the button and the big blind and the original limper both call.

You also call and the flop comes 10-7-3 rainbow, the big blind and UTG player check. Here your absolute position is inferior to the first example because you have a player to your left on the button. You suspect that your pair of eights are ahead of the buttons range and elect to bet out. But you are effectively in the middle of a pre-flop raiser yet to act and two players who could be laying in wait for the pre-flop raiser to speak.

So essentially you are firing blind here but yet you can improve your position dramatically by checking. Let us say that you check this flop as you also expect the button to make a continuation bet here. If they do in fact make that bet then you can get to see what the two other players who have checked actually do.

If they were checking weakness and fold then this paves the way for you to make a check raise that given the style and probable range of your opponent will probably take this pot down. But if one of the early position players decides to check raise then you have saved yourself money by checking the hand.

Of course in low stakes cash games then you wouldn’t play the eights in this way and a flop bet would be called for but in the higher stakes games where players can be very aggressive then you need to be thinking several moves ahead and thinking more along the lines of selecting “lines” of play rather than individual actions and taking relative position into account as well as absolute position can open up all new lines of play for you.

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