The word 'Position' comes up a lot during a poker game. But what exactly does it imply? To begin with, we need to distinguish between two different kinds of position,
After that I will discuss a couple of examples in which your relative position has a big influence on your game.
With absolute position we simply mean your position in relation to the dealer (button). The closer you are sitting to the button (speaking clockwise, so the SB is furthest away from the button), the later you will have to act on the following streets. This, of course, gives you the advantage of seeing what everyone else does before you have to make a decision. At first glance, this sounds like a pretty clear definition of the term position, and from what I gather, this is how many of you use the term position when playing poker, but I hope that after reading this article, you will have a deeper understanding of position and especially of the term "relative position".
Your absolute position is very important when playing against only one opponent, a so-called heads-up situation. There is no relative position in these situations, seeing as you and your opponent are the only two players in the pot. When playing stakes up to 25NL, it is very unlikely that you will see the majority of your flops heads-up. Only at very tight 6-max tables will you play the majority of your hands heads-up, but generally you will find yourself in a hand with several opponents.
For this reason, your relative position, in relation to the initial raiser (IR), is much more important than your absolute position when playing microstakes nowadays. This is because of the continuation bet (c-bet) and the fact that, 90% of the time, action on the flop gets checked around to the IR. Because many of the players at the lower stakes know the term c-bet, they will make use of this play on almost any flop, which is why it is "normal" to check around to the player who raised preflop, the so-called initial raiser. We can illustrate this clearly by using the following example:
In both situations we are sitting with the same hand, .
We are sitting on the button at a full ring table. The players UTG and UTG+1 limp, it gets folded around to the cut-off (CO), who raises to 5BB. Now it is on us to make a decision. What are we going to do, bearing in mind our position?
We are sitting in the SB at a full ring table. UTG raises to 5BB, UTG+1 calls, it gets folded around to the Button, who also calls and now it's on us. What do we do here?
These two examples help us understand the idea of relative position. Lets say we call in both situations here. In situation 1.1, the SB, UTG and UTG+1 call and in situation 1.2 the BB folds. The flop brings and we hit and open-ended straight-draw.
Now comes the postflop action:
Situation 1.1: players will usually check around to the IR, in this case the CO, who bets half the pot.
Situation 1.2: players will usually check around to the IR, in this case UTG, who bets half the pot.
I hope that some of you are already seeing where I'm going with this. In situation 1.1, although you are on the button, you are in the worst possible position in relation to the IR, because you will be first to act after he made his c-bet, while you don't have any information about how the other players are going to react, seeing as they will check around to the IR 90% of the time, no matter whether they hit the flop or not, because they know he is likely to fire out a c-bet. Therefore, we have the worst possible relative position here, despite the fact that we are in the best absolute position.
In situation 1.2 on the other hand, you are sitting directly to the right of the IR. If this player now places a c-bet on the flop, all the other players will have to act before it is your turn to make a decision. So, although you are sitting in the SB here and therefore the worst absolute position, you have the best relative position in relation to the IR because you are last to act after checking the hand round to him.
So, before making your next preflop call, check out what your position is in relation to the IR preflop and think about how many players could still come into the pot behind you. When taking this into consideration, situation 1.1 would be a definite fold, because there are still three players left to act behind you, and if one of these players decides to call, you will be "out of position" for the rest of the hand, despite sitting on the button. Situation 1.2, on the other hand, is a good spot for a call, because you have position on the IR (apart from when the BB calls as well) and therefore you get maximum information before having to make a decision. Furthermore, you are the last to act before the flop, so you can be sure to see a flop if you make the call.
For a "visualisation" of this concept, check out the clip below from Rolf Slotboom.
Using relative position
Now that you (hopefully) know what relative position is all about and how it affects the postflop situation, it is of course also handy to know how to make good use of this position.
We will now discuss eight different situations. These are:
1. A good hand (), in position, on a drawless board ()
2. A good hand, in position, on a drawy board ()
3. A good hand, out of position, on a drawless board
4. A good hand, out of position, on a drawy board
5. A marginal hand ( or rather ), in position, on a drawless board
6. A marginal hand, in position, on a drawy board
7. A marginal hand, out of position, on a drawless board
8. A marginal hand, out of position, on a drawy board
The hands where we are in position, we are sitting in the SB, the IR is UTG and we have two callers UTG+1 and CO. The image below clarifies this situation:
Image 1: In position
When sitting out of position, we are in the SB again, but this time the IR is on the button and the two callers are in the BB and UTG. Here is an image again to clarify the situation.
Image 2: Out of position
We are sitting in position with and the flop comes
Despite our bad absolute position here, we have the perfect position to get a lot of value out of this hand. First we have to decide what to do; to check or to bet. If we bet here, there is a high chance of the IR raising, seeing as we entered his pot and he is "the boss". As a result, the two players behind him are going to fold the majority of their hands. Seeing as there was a bet and a raise in front of them, they are likely to even fold hands like top pair, which we obviously don't want with a big hand like this one. If we check here, the IR is likely to bet, no matter if he hit or not. Now the action is on the other two players in the hand. At this point they have no idea about the strength of my hand and are likely to call with hands like KQ and QJ. If we then choose to raise, they will be much more likely to make the call. Simply put, players are more likely to call a single bet twice than to call two bets once. If we bet and the IR raises, then the other players have to call two bets, while if I check/raise, they already called a previous bet and now only have to call one more bet. Therefore, this situation calls for a check/raise on the flop. We can also choose to check/call here and leave the betting up to the players behind us. The problem with this is that the pot often stays relatively small because there is a chance that all the players will check the turn. Whenever you hit your set, you play for stacks, so as soon as you expect that a player will call a bet from you, bet!
We are sitting in position with and the flop comes .
We are in pretty much the same situation as we were before, but this time we see a flop that we aren't too happy about because there are a lot of potential draws on the board. Again we first need to decide whether or not we are going to bet or check to the IR.
If we bet, we risk a raise from the IR with one of the draws, as a result of which the other two players (maybe with a draw as well but also hands like top pair) are likely to fold. So, because we are sitting to the right of the IR, and the chance is big that he will raise once we bet, we won't do this because this will push the other two players out of the pot. A logical danger that results from this type of play is that you sometimes have the situation where the IR doesn't make a c-bet and you are thereby giving away a free card. But seeing as the majority of IRs will make use of their c-bet option on the microstakes, there is more value in checking here, thereby keeping the other players in the pot as well. After your check, the IR is likely to c-bet, and now the action is on the other two opponents. They will now call with a large number of hands, namely with the same hands as in Example 1, but also with a wide range of draws. Using the same principle as in Example 1 (players are more likely to call a single bet twice than two bets once) you can get a lot of value out of these draws using a check/raise. Make sure to make a GOOD raise though and don't give your opponents the right odds to call. Raise the size of the pot to make your opponents pay to hit their draws.
We are sitting out of position with and the flop is
This time we are sitting out of position, seeing as the IR is in the CO and the two other players are in between us so that we are first to act after the IR makes a c-bet. What we are doing here is basically putting ourselves in the situation of the IR in Examples 1 and 2 and hoping that the IR will adopt our line from Examples 1 and 2, namely raising. We, therefore, bet out here as first to act, the so-called "donkbet". The result of this is that now, the two players in between us and the IR have to make a decision before the IR has acted. At this point they only have to deal with a single bet from us and will often not realize what situation they have gotten themselves into and call with a hand like top pair. After the two players have decided whether to call my bet or not, the action is on the IR. Seeing as he was the IR, he still has the idea that this is his pot. He will therefore raise here with a hand like top pair or better (like an overpair). The action is back on us, and we now decide to just call, so that the two players in between us and the IR now have to call a single bet twice rather than two bets once, which would have been the case if we had gone for the check/raise option here. The check/call option would also not be ideal as we wouldn't be getting enough value for our hand. So as you can see, a check/raise is a bad option in this situation, because you are not giving the other two players a chance to stay in the pot.
We are sitting out of position with and the flop is
Actually this situation plays itself similar to the one in Example 3, the only difference being here that, if the IR's raise is too small, we will have to re-raise him once more because we don't want to give the other players good odds to call their draws. So, if the IR min-raises our bet, we will have to put in another raise if there are more players in the pot.
Now we will start looking at these situations with marginal hands. This can be any type of marginal hand, be it top pair or a draw.
We are sitting in position with and the flop is .
We have a reasonable hand here (top pair with marginal kicker) on a dry board. What to do, check or bet? If we decide to check and the IR bets, hands like ours will end up calling, which is something we don't want to see because our kicker isn't great. If we bet, the IR might raise although he doesn't have a hand, because he thinks he can pick up the pot that way. The problem with this is that we will be out of position for the remaining hand in relation to the IR, who might also be holding a strong hand. The best thing we can do here is check and see what the other players do. The IR bets and now action is on the other players. If one of them calls the bet from the IR, this player must have a hand like top pair or better on this board, otherwise that player would've folded here, seeing as there are no draws they could be chasing.
So therefore, if one of the other players calls the bet from the IR, we fold. If both of the other players fold, we call, because the IR will raise with a wide range of hands here, many of which we currently beat. In this case we have made great use of our relative position in order to make our decision, although we were first to act after the flop.
We are sitting in position with and the flop is .
Here we have the same situation as in Example 5, only that this time we have a relatively drawy board, which will have a great influence on our decision. The players sitting in between us and the IR are now likely to call with a lot of drawing hands. As we could see in Example 2, this isn't a bad thing if we have a strong hand. However, this time we are sitting with a relatively weak hand, and we won't have a problem with the other players folding. So, what we do here is bet out and hope for a raise by the IR. With a raise the IR will push the other players out of the pot, unless they have a very strong hand like a set. The IR doesn't necessarily have to have a strong here, so what we did by betting out is making sure that the other two players fold their reasonable hands, as long as the IR raises our bet. If the IR doesn't raise our bet, at least we made sure that the other players have to pay to hit their draws.
We are sitting out of position with and the flop is .
This time we are sitting out of position with a reasonable hand. What we do here is get the information out of our opponents ourselves and make use of (exploit) our absolute position. We bet out relatively small, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the pot, and see what happens. If the two players in the middle have a hand, they will call or sometimes raise. If they have nothing they will fold. We hereby eliminate our disadvantage of sitting out of position by betting ourselves (albeit a small so-called 'feeler-bet') and seeing how our opponents will react. By doing this, we don't have to wait for the IR to make his c-bet, which would have been larger than our feeler-bet, without having any information on the players in between us. If one of the two players in between us calls and the IR raises, it will be easier for us to fold our hand compared to if we didn't have this information.
We are sitting out of position with and the flop is .
From what we have discussed so far, you should be able to figure this one out for yourself. We are sitting directly to the left of the IR and get to see a drawy flop. Here we use the principle of calling one bet twice and calling two bets once again. If we check here and the IR bets, we are next to act. So if we raise here, the two players in between us will have to call a double bet, which isn't very likely. Therefore we will go for the check/raise 100% of the time here to make sure the other two players get out of the hand. Again we are making optimal use of our relative position here by getting the players with draws to fold their hands.
I hope that by reading this article you now have a better understanding of the importance of your position in relation to the IR and the implications this will have for how you play your hands. There are, however, two important circumstances in all of the examples above:
- The IR will generally place a c-bet on the flop
- There are more players in the pot than just you and the IR (when heads-up, absolute position is much more important).
If one of the circumstances above is not present, than there is absolutely no point in making use of your relative position.
Seeing as the majority of pots on the microstakes are multi-way (often three players will see the flop) and the IR often makes use of his c-bet, the points made above are an essential part of maximising your winnings and minimising your losses on these limits. At these tables it is of vital importance to make use of your relative position as it can completely change the way you play a certain hand, to your advantage of course.
See you at the tables!