Grasping the Importance of Position

Both the tease and the terror of Hold’em is the fact that you start with two hole cards. It’s a lot like looking at the brochure for the house you’ll ultimately own. Maybe the place that looks so great in the picture actually turns out to be on top of a toxic-waste dump. Or maybe that ratty little trap actually sits atop a gold mine.

Regardless of how you feel about the concept of judging a book by its cover, with starter cards in Hold’em, that’s essentially what you have to do.

The start of a hand also determines your position, that is, your place on the table relative to the deal.

In this chapter, we take you on a stroll around the different positions at a table and talk about the relative strength of a hand according to where it sits.

Grasping the Importance of Position

Before we dive into talking about the hands you should be playing, it’s worth understanding the general concept of position. Position will help decide if you should raise, call, or fold. Your position can leave you stumbling blindly through a hand or make you surprisingly educated about what’s happening around the table.

The easiest way to think of a Poker table is by position relative to the dealer button and then group those seats into sets (see Figure 2-1).

Early position

Seats in the early position are the ones that are first, second, third, and fourth from the dealer button. The problem with these seats is that you have no idea what cards the people behind you have, and worse, there are a lot of people behind you. When you’re forced to act in early position, you’ll continually be acting early for every betting round. For this reason alone, you should act only when you have premium cards (and fold everything else). Jack-queen might look like a sweetheart here, but over the long run, it’ll rip you to pieces when you play it from early position.

You may have noticed that early position has an interesting anomaly, and that is seats 1 and 2 from the dealer button are already covered by blinds. So in Seat 1 with the small blind, you may get a chance to see a hand for what is essentially half a bet (another small blind to see the big blind). In Seat 2 you might get to see the hand for “free,” because if no one raised, you’re already in.

When you’re in the big blind, watch the betting round as it comes to you. If you try to fold when it’s your turn, the dealer may push your cards back at you and say, “You can check for free,” but all the people at the table will know you’re now holding a hand that you have no interest in. Players can, and will, try to force you to fold based on this information.

In the blinds, you may be interested in playing hands because you already have a portion of a bet on the felt — and in some cases, that intuition is right. Never forget, however, that after the pre-flop betting round, the blinds are the first hands that will see action — and for this reason they’re continually at more risk of being attacked than other hands at the table.

Unless you’re playing No-Limit, where you have the ability of putting down a mercilessly large raise, raising from the blinds will almost never get other players in the game to fold. So although you’ll essentially gain a round of betting by raising, you’ve also switched on a bright neon sign that blinks “Hey look! I’ve got a hand!” Although that may gain you one bet in the short run, it will lose you more in the long run. (Only the masochistic and the terminally dull will repeatedly call a player they know has a great hand throughout all the betting rounds.) With a big hand, you’re better off not raising and slow-playing instead.

Middle position

The fifth, sixth, and seventh seats are known as middle position, and here things start to get interesting. You’ve already had a chance to see about half the table act and in some cases if you place a bet, you’ll be the first person to do so because everyone else has folded.

Because you’re sitting farther back in the order, you can run a little wilder. Play cards that are a bit worse — then when you actually do manage to hit a hand, the people in front of you may try to bet and you can return with some neighborly favor like a raise.

This isn’t like being in Candyland, though. You still have about half the table to act behind you, as well as those pesky blinds.

As you play from the middle, be sure to keep an eye on the actions of the people behind you, especially the people who are raising. Those people are indicating hands of strength and you don’t want to go out blindly betting in following rounds only to get raised, yet again, by the guy who has already nailed you once pre-flop.

Late position

The eighth, ninth, and (if there is one) tenth seats (lots of online tables have only nine seats) are late position. These are the rumble seats on the Poker jalopy and are way fun. Because you’ve already seen all the action in front of you, you can make decisions like making calls purely on pot odds, raising with not-so-great hands when no one else has played, or folding marginal hands when it’s clear there’s going to be bloodshed in front of you.

Even if those bratty little people sitting in the blinds decide to raise you pre- flop (because they act after you), you’ll be all over them like ugly on an ape after the flop because you get to act last repeatedly.

In a Poker game, money tends to flow around the table in a clockwise fashion. The reason for this is due almost exclusively to the concept of position, and especially late position. The last people to act bring in the most because people either fold to the late-position bets or call the late-position raises and lose.

The only real difficulty of playing in late position is that everyone knows that it rocks. Just like Lovers’ Lane, it has a reputation for being the spot where somewhat seedy things, such as stealing the blinds (raising from late position with garbage merely to try to gobble up blinds when no one else has bet) happens.


If you’re waiting for a seat in a professional cardroom (or if you’ve drawn a seat to play in a tournament) you’ll be given a seat and table number.

Most tables are identified by number, either right next to the chip tray on the felt, or from signs hanging above them on the ceiling.

The seats are numbered clockwise from the dealer starting with 1 and going up to however many, and the seats hold that number irrespective of the position of the dealer marker. If you ever have a question about the table you should be going to, ask your floorperson; if you ever have a question about sitting in the right seat, ask your dealer.

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