The power of position permeates all facets of your poker game. Every single hand that you play out of position finds you fighting an uphill battle. You always need to make a conscious effort to play many more hands while acting last. Here are four reasons playing in position is so powerful:
1. Acting last gives you more information than your opponents
Being in position affords you the advantage of being able to see everyone act before you. As a result, you have more information on which to base your decisions than anyone else at the table. I feel that the easiest way to illustrate this informational advantage is by discussing hands in terms of relative strength. And by relative strength, I mean the profitability of playing individual hands both in and out of position.
For example, T♠9♠ in the small blind is a different hand than T♠9♠ on the button. T♠9♠ on the button is exponentially more profitable. Why is this so? It’s because the button has you playing the hand in position and acting after everyone else after the flop.
Let’s say you pick up T♠9♠ twice against the same opponent heads up. The situation is exactly the same both times except for one factor, position. Each time effective stacks are exactly the same, initiative is the same, and even history and game flow are identical. The only difference is that one time you act first, and the other time you act last. In both cases, you open raise and get called by one player. The flop comes T♦8♣2♦. In either scenario, you have the option to check or bet when it is your turn.
In position, you bet the flop and get called, and the turn is a blank 4♥. You bet the turn and once again get called. The river is a J♦ that brings an over card and makes a straight and flush possible. Your opponent shoves all-in, and you quickly fold. Your opponent shows down a flush and scoops the pot.
Out of position, you lead out on the flop and get called. The turn comes a blank 4♥. You once again lead the turn and your opponent calls. The river is a J♦ that brings in flush and straight possibilities. Checking seems pretty bad since your read is that your opponent either has a weak made hand or a draw. You can get value from worse hands, so you decide to bet-fold the river. He shoves all-in over your bet, and you quickly throw your hand away. He flashes his flush, and you feel very good about your fold.
When you were in position, your opponent was unable to extract more money from you once he hit his hand since you acted last on the river. You had more information on each street and were able to mitigate your loss.
Anotherexamplehasyouraisingfrommiddlepositionandgettingcallsfrombothblinds. Inposition, you flop top pair mid kicker. One player leads out, and the tight player next to act reraises all-in. You decide your one pair hand is no good and fold, only losing your initial raise.
Now imagine the same hand, but this time you raise from middle position and get called by the cutoff and button. You again flop top pair and continuation bet 3/4 pot. The loose player next to act raises you, and then the button goes all-in. You are forced to fold and, once again, lose an extra bet due to being out of position.
2. Pot size control
One of the fundamentals of poker is to strive to play big pots with big hands and small pots with small hands. Position allows you to much more easily control the size of the pot. Once again, let’s look at an example where everything is exactly the same except for your position:
You have T♣T♥ and are the pre-flop aggressor in a heads up pot. The flop comes J♥J♦2♣, and you decide that it’s likely that you have the best hand the majority of the time and are looking to get two streets of value.
In position, you bet when you are checked to and get called. The turn comes a K♠, and you decide to check behind for pot control. The river is a 4♠, and your opponent leads out. You decide that calling is best, and you have achieved your goal of two streets of value. He turns over A♥3♣, and you scoop the pot.
Out of position, you lead out and get called. The turn is a K♠, and you decide to check for pot control. Your opponent bets, and you call. The river is a 4♠, and you once again check. Your opponent bets the river big, and you are in a tough spot. You decide to fold, and he shows the A♥3♣ bluff and drags in the chips.
Because you were out of position, your opponent was able to inflate the size of the pot and put you in a difficult spot. Without the ability to close the action with a check on the turn, looking up a bluff on the river became too expensive for a third pair hand. Deciding whether that last bet goes into the pot is a very important luxury to have in poker. We only get to make that final decision and control the size of the pot while in position.
3. You have more bluffing opportunities
An often overlooked advantage of acting last is in those small pots in which no one seems to take any interest. If you are in position in a limped pot and everyone checks to you, it is generally a mistake not to bet as everyone else has shown weakness and will fold often enough to make the bluff profitable. You should bet especially by the turn, since someone with a piece of the board will usually have bet by then. Even if called, the river usually sets up as a good bluffing opportunity against someone who stubbornly called with a weak pair or some kind of draw.
In raised pots, you will also be given the choice of bluffing 5th street more often. After getting to the river, you have one more piece of information to work from before deciding to bet. In position, you will either be checked to or bet into, giving you useful information. Out of position, you are often left playing guessing games.
4. It is easier to get value in position
When you flop a big hand, your ability to build a sizable pot largely depends on whether or not you are in position. As we have already discussed, being last to act allows you to control the size of the pot and ultimately decide how much money goes in. This is why calling in the blinds to try to hit a hand is so terrible. Because, not only do you not make a strong hand often enough to justify the call, you also have difficulty building a big pot even when you do hit.