If you want to become a great NL Texas Hold’em player, it is imperative you know the importance of table position, and the general strategies behind each position.
Playing too many hands is the number one mistake that new players make.
If you already believe poker is pure luck, then stop reading right now. But if you want to take your game to the next level, you need to have a thorough understanding of table position. With this knowledge you will naturally rely less on luck and receive less “bad beats” as a result.
Position lets us see how other players at the table act. If I am in a late position to act, I have an advantage over the other players because I can better gauge the strength of their hand, as well as my own.
Position should not define how you play your starting cards, but it should give you general guidelines. Play selectively and aggressively and you will begin to see your poker game (and your winnings) grow.
Nine Player Table Position
The image above is based on a typical nine-player poker table. I will define position based on four categories: the blinds, early, middle and late position.
The blinds are used to create action at the poker table. To the immediate left of the dealer is the small blind. The small blind is the smaller of two forced bets, and is half of the big blind. The big blind is the larger of the two forced bets. The big blind is equal to the minimum bet at the poker table.
Generally, the blinds are in the worst position because they are forced into betting without even looking at their cards. However, they have the advantage of going last before the flop.
After the flop, the blinds are in the worst position because they are first to act. Keep this in mind before you call with a subpar hand pre-flop. New players tend to call raises just because they already have money in the pot.
You stand to lose a lot of money if you chase cards from the blinds. Before you call, take into consideration the raiser’s table position, and anything else you know about him.
Under the gun, or UTG, is the position immediately to the left of the big blind. This player is the first to act after the cards are dealt. Positions 5 and 6 on the chart are sometimes referred to as UTG+1 and UTG+2.
Early position is the most difficult to play from because you have no idea how the players after you will act. All other circumstances aside, you should play premium hands from early position. Aces, Kings, Queens, A-K suited and A-K unsuited should be played here and from any position other position at the table.
You should also strongly consider playing Jacks, 10s, A-Q suited, A-J suited, and K-Q suited.
Positions 7 and 8 on the chart are referred to as being in middle position.
Players in middle position have the advantage of seeing how the players in early position act, but the disadvantage of not knowing what the players in late position will do.
If there is a bet from a player in early position, fold everything but premium hands. If you have a good hand and are the first to make a raise pre-flop, make a standard raise of three to four times the big blind. You want to get the players in the blinds from calling with marginal hands and getting lucky on the flop.
If a good player in late position re-raises you, be ready to fold anything but excellent starting hands like A-A, K-K, A-K or Q-Q. If a good player from later position just calls, be wary of them having either an excellent starting hand or a pocket pair. Don’t over commit to the flop just because you have a good starting hand.
Positions 9 and 1 on the chart are referred to as the “cutoff” and the “button”, respectively, and they have the best position at the table because they are last to act.
Late position is a big advantage in NL Hold’em and should be treated as such. Even if you don’t have a particularly good hand, if no one in front of you has raised, you have the opportunity to raise/bluff and steal the pot. As such, the late positions are sometimes referred to as the “steal positions.” It can be a great move to pick up the blinds.
Late position allows you to play drawing hands. If several players limp in before you, a drawing hand like J-10 suited has good pot odds.
Hands that you would not want to play in early position, such as a weak Ace (A-8), KQ, and KJ become playable in late position.
If you have a good hand, one of the worst things you can do is check and let the players in the blinds see a free flop. Position is something to be taken advantage of. Even if your hole cards aren’t very good, raising will often get players in the blinds and early position to fold hands they may have otherwise played in a different position. Keep in mind, however, whom you are raising, as this will affect the size of your raise and the amount of aggression you need to put on him to win the pot.
Poker is a great game to play for fun, but if you are serious about winning money, you must choose the right time to play your hand, and this all comes from understanding table position.
If you are more interested in position, there are plenty of poker starting hand charts online to give you general guidelines on when to play which starting hands.