Before I begin this article, I want to emphasize that poker is a long-term game. While it is true that luck plays a role in the outcome, luck only affects the outcome in the short term. Furthermore, a player’s success, or failure, in the short term does not have any bearing on determining their skill as a poker player. There are numerous ways to increase the chances of winning, to improve one’s game while reducing the effect luck has on your play. One of the important aspects to focus on in order to be a better player is position.

Position in poker is crucial and playing position properly has a vital role in determining a poker player’s overall success. Simply put, position refers to when you act during a hand. Position is normally split evenly into 3 categories: Early, Middle, and Late. Players in Early position, also known as ‘out of position’ – either of the first 2 seats in a 6 handed game or 3 seats in 9 or 10 handed – are in the worst position at the table as they are forced to act with little to no information. The last few seats, known as being ‘in position’ are considered to be the best seats at the table as they get to make their action after having all or almost all of the information available.   This means having the dealer button or being the player to act after all other players have folded. The worst positions in the game are typically the blinds as they act first after the first round of betting. In poker, players are either ‘in position’ or ‘out of position’.

Playing ‘in position’ has several benefits such as having more information than your opponents when it’s your turn to act. Having more information gives you the opportunity to bluff effectively and at a greatly reduced cost compared to bluffs from early positions. Late position also gives you the benefit of being able to accurately put out value bets to extract the most chips from your opponent. Being last to act in a hand gives you final control over the pot size which is particularly valuable on those hands where you are not sure if you are winning.

It is important to remember that, even with a perfect strategy, you will not always win when you are ‘in position’ and that you can still make mistakes. Some of the more common mistakes to watch for include having static bet sizes when you hit or miss the board – if you always bet 5BB when you pair the board on the flop, your opponents will catch on. Having an unbalanced betting frequency (e.g. 80% flop, 30% turn, 60% river instead of 65%/60%/60% or 70%/60%/55%) which can lead to opponents not believing your story. Not raising enough, particularly when you are short stacked and failing to connect your preflop action to the river action which will leave the story you are trying to tell full of holes.

When you are playing ‘out of position’, you are at a significant disadvantage. Unlike when you are ‘in position’, when you act early in the hand, you are giving your opponents access to information about your hand. This position is not ideal to play poker from, but to help reduce your potential losses, some of the common mistakes you should watch for are over-betting or selecting the wrong hand to put out a C-Bet, under-betting because you’re afraid of getting raised on the river, under bluffing (particularly after a check/call or check/check) and not taking advantage of your opponents weakness, under protecting your equity, and forgetting your position. Presuming your opponent has the same understanding of poker, the one advantage of playing ‘out of position’ is you are likely to make more hero calls as bluff-catching is more frequent in this position.

Table Position: Early Positions: small blind, big blind, under the gun, under the gun +1. Middle positions: middle position, lojack. Late positions: hijack, cutoff, button

If you want to succeed when playing ‘out of position’, one must study the game diligently and play tighter than you would ‘in position’. The disadvantage of playing ‘out of position’ requires a stronger range of hands to compensate. Playing more hands ‘in position’ than ‘out of position’ will, with a strong knowledge of poker, generally lead to increased winnings at the poker table. 

Playing more of your hands ‘in position’ is a vital key aspect as you become an increasingly more successful poker player. It can be fun to play some trash hands ‘out of position’, but this, over the long term, can only lead to losing money. By avoiding this pitfall and focusing on playing ‘in position’ and avoiding the common mistakes while playing ‘out of position’, you will have a better long term run. Even when you are on a downswing, by remembering these tips and constant studying, you will lose less than if you start to ‘try something different’. The more you appreciate the role of position in poker, the easier the game will become. Have fun at the tables!

About the Author: Jackpot is a 28 year-old professional poker player from Iran. After studying computer programming, Jackpot made the jump to poker and now specializes in micro-stakes.