The concept of position in poker - or poker positions - is quite easy to grasp. Poker positions simply refer to your physical place at the table in regards to the dealer, and while your spatial location at the table has nothing to do with how good of a player you are, it can impact how well you can play; that is, if you don’t take poker positions into consideration. In fact, disregarding your position can make or break your game.
First, it's important to know that anyone who comes after you in the deal has 'position' over you, meaning they can benefit immensely from watching the action that unfolds before it’s their turn to act. This said, there are pros and cons to all poker positions (some with more cons than pros, admittedly). If you want to play your A-game, it's vital to know how to best take advantage of your seat, where ever it lies. Let's take a look.
If you are immediately to the left of the dealer, you're in early position. In larger tables, this can include up to 3 seats left of the dealer. Out of all the poker positions, early position is considered the least favourable, mainly because you are required to act first, without the benefit of seeing how the majority of the players are approaching their hand. For example, are they going to call or bet, showing confidence in their hand? Or are they going to check or fold, indicating either passivity or open rejection? Knowing how your opponents are going to play is valuable information, and if you are in early position, it is lost to you. Still, early position is not a death sentence. Strong, aggressive (and more often than not, experienced and well-stacked) players can use this position to their advantage, driving the action and setting the mood for the hand that's about to unfold.
TIP: In general, it's safest to play only choice hands if you're in the earliest of poker positions. This isn't to say you need AA or KK, but you are going to be looking for solid pairs at least (JJ or higher for the best results). Also, check when you can check. You can always raise in a subsequent post-flop round when you have a better feel for how your opponents are going to play their hands.
Again, the exact location of middle position depends on the size of your table. It can fall between 2 and 4 players to the left of the dealer. When you're in middle position, you are (fittingly enough), going to take a middle-of-the road approach to your playing. You have gleaned some valuable information from the first player(s), but there is still some action to come after you, so you need to act accordingly. Play a little looser, but beware the 'squeeze'. The squeeze is when you’re caught between calling a bet of an opponent in early position, and also face the possible threat of being raised by someone who hasn't acted yet in late position. Just be wary; an earlier player may be aggressively trying to get you to commit, but even your looser mid-position playing style needs to consider how the player(s) after you will act.
TIP: Don't commit any money to the pot with anything less than 10, 10 (if you want to proceed with relative confidence). Of course, this is a poker game, so anything could happen, but sticking to stronger hands will help minimize your chances of making a bad call.
When it comes to poker positions, here's the sweet spot. Everyone wants to be in late position and thankfully, everyone will be - eventually. Players in late position are the last ones to act; in a small table, the last player will be the very last one to act, period. In this position, you have a pretty good handle on how your opponents are going to play their hands by how they acted. Did they check? Bet? Raise? Being in late position pre-flop affords you the distinguished opportunity to collect much more information about your opponents’ hands and use it to your advantage, thereby allowing you to play much looser. (Just don’t confuse playing ‘loose’ with playing ‘recklessly’. You still need to have some math and method to your perceived madness!)
For example: If an opponent in an earlier position raised and another opponent re-raised, it is probably in your best interest to muck your hand - even if it was moderately decent – unless you’re holding pure gold (e.g. AA).
TIP: Just because you can bluff in poker, doesn't mean you have to or should. This said, late position is the bluffer’s paradise – and if you are in the position to bluff, you are in the position to steal the pot. Unlike those in the earlier poker positions, you’re betting with insight into the strength of your opponents hands, so depending on factors like your stack size, table image (i.e. how seriously other players take you) and the actual cards you are holding, you may be able to convince your competition your hand is a wee bit better than you know it to be.
Make the most out of every hand by taking this advice to heart and then to the tables. Remember that learning how to properly and effectively play your poker positions comes down to knowing your place – literally. As soon as you take a seat – before you even see your hole cards – you should have a pretty good idea of your strategy based on where you are in relation to the dealer. Understanding how poker positions affect your play will help you own your position, so even if you find yourself acting first, you can make it work for you, not against you.