The Importance Of Position - Part 1

Guide To Winning Poker (19)

  • Players don't really think about position very much
  • They tend to rely on some assumptions which may only be partly valid
  • By our willingness to think about position more, we can really gain

Positional Differences Are Among The First Things We Learn

In poker, there is a set sequence of betting that varies as the dealer button goes around the table. So no matter what format we're playing, whether we have a full table of opponents or just one, the dynamic of position will affect what we do and what your opponents do in response to it. So at this point it makes sense to have at least a preliminary discussion of it so that we may begin to understand how the element of position actually affects our profitability.

Most poker players with any sense of knowledge of the game will tell you that position is a big advantage, but very few have ever taken the time to think about it very much. The funny thing is though is that most of these players don't even want to engage in any sort of real examination or discussion about it. In fact if you try to engage them they generally will just say things like everyone knows position is valuable, and if you don't think so, let's play heads up with you out of position every hand. I can't tell you how many times I get challenged like this just for bringing up the topic.

It's Better For Us That People Generally Don't Want To Think About Position Much

That's perfectly fine by me though as if they don't even want to think about this, that's great, as they will just trod along with their simple strategies which will remain easily exploitable by players like ourselves who are willing to think about this a little more than they are. So if you've been reading this series all along, you know that I don't take anything for granted in poker, and that's a big mistake in fact. I want to look to understand what the heck is really going on with every move that we consider making at the table, and position is no different.

In fact this is a pretty interesting one to say the least and one that we can and will go into in a fair amount of depth later. For now what I want to do is to look at some of the basics here and see if how people generally perceive them make sense or not. We'll be of course using some of the things we've learned to start to evaluate this, particularly those which deal with playing frequency and aggression.

The conventional thinking here is that you want to play more passively out of position, where you're looking to check and fold or check and call more than normal, and also play more aggressively in position, where you bet and raise more than you normally would. Why you do this is supposed to be based upon the power of position, where you're exercising your power over your opponents when you have it, and respecting its power when they have it.

Being Too General About Position Is A Big Mistake

The first thing that should come to mind is that we're definitely over generalizing here with such an approach, and even without going into anything else, how we proceed either in our out of position needs to depend on the tendencies of the particular opponent that we're up against. So what I'd suggest here as a much better alternative to this relatively mindless approach to the game that most players use, is to look at the way a player behaves both in and out of position and then look at ways we can best take advantage of these tendencies.

For now though I want to look at a particular type of player, and we'll call him Grinder. Grinder has been playing online poker for quite a while and actually makes a pretty decent living at it. He's watched a lot of instructional videos at all the major sites and feels that he's a pretty good player. So in other words he follows the general thinking that's out there now which has him playing passively out of position, checking and usually folding. He'll check raise a decent amount of the time though, usually with a real hand but sometimes with air just to balance things out. When he's in position, he's very aggressive, betting or raising most of the time.

His opponents tend to check to him a lot so he looks to take advantage of what he perceives as weakness here, and when they do bet, he's much more prone to raising, thinking how dare someone donk bet into me when I have position on them, so I will make them pay for that. When they check, the thinking is, this is my pot and I'm taking it, because I am in position here and I should win most pots in this spot.

Over Playing Your Position Can Get You In Trouble

So as you can see, none of this is opponent specific and players play like they either have a special magical cape on when in position, or play in fear of their opponents wearing it when they are out of position. If position truly is that powerful, that's still the wrong way to play, as it's never a good idea to have set strategies that aren't derived from a player's specific tendencies.

Grinder isn't looking to do too much thinking though, and he's playing 15 other tables in addition to the one we're at with him, so he really doesn't have any time to think anyway. Mindless poker has been good to him so far, although he struggles against other players of his type and hasn't yet figured out how to beat them, and the general feeling in the poker community is to try your best to avoid other so called regulars though as they are too tough to play against.

On the other hand we love playing against Grinder. Of course we prefer the real fish as he does, but he doesn't scare us at all, as his play is very transparent and predictable overall. This isn't to say he won't trick us on the odd hand, for instance with some of his bluffs, but we always want to look at how we do against a player type overall, and never just focus on particular hands like this. Overall we can look at his frequencies and come up with some good counter strategies against him, but it will help to develop a better understanding of how he thinks about position, how we're going to think about it, and how he may react to our counter play.

Thinking In Poker Is Always A Good Thing

So this is going to involve a lot closer examination of position than Grinder is willing to engage in. He's just assuming that position is so powerful that he can make these big adjustments in his play without any real regard to whether they make sense or not. We're not willing to do the same though and while it may turn out that he is right, it may also be the case that he's overestimating the power of position, at least against better opponents such as ourselves who may not be so willing to play along with his game and may instead throw some curve balls at him.

Grinder argues though that if you look at the results of players in position versus out of position, you will see a clear pattern of in position players both winning more hands and more money, and players out of position winning less hands and less money. Now this is true, but it doesn't mean that he will necessarily have the same results against us, and in fact we're looking to find ways where we can win more hands than normal in both situations. Out of position, we're at least looking to lose less money than average, and in position, we're looking to make more money than average.

A Lot Of The Success Of Position Is Artificial

What really stands out for me though with these general tendencies of success in position isn't the fact that people make more money in position, it's that they win more hands, and significantly more. So what do you think causes this? Well it could only be due to one thing, and that's the fact that players out of position simply fold too much.

This isn't a great revelation, however it does stand out when you look at the claims of the power of position, which have everything to do with being able to control the pot better and thus make more money from their good hands. None of this by the way has to do with their winning more hands, although it's said that in position they can put more pressure on their opponents by using aggression to get them to fold more.

What is clearly happening though is that players out of position tend to fold more. Do they fold too much or is it correct to fold this much out of position? If you've ever watched a video where they went back and displayed everyone's cards face up, and then you got to watch the action from that perspective, you'd see how often players fold the better hand out of position.

Whenever you fold the better hand it's always a mistake by the way. There's nothing magical about a player acting after you that should cause this. Guess what instead causes it? Well if you guessed a player playing too meekly, you hit it right on the head. In fact, the only cause of this is a player wimping out too much. So we don't want to wimp out too often ourselves, and at the same time we want to take full advantage of our opponents playing scared, as is the case with our friend Grinder as well when he's out of position.

So I'll go into this more in the next session.

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker - Index

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series