Changing Position in Poker

Position Advantages

Poker Position"Sensitivity ain't your style... A cheap box of candy and an Elvis smile"
-- Steve Earle

Position is important in most competitive games. In baseball the home team is given the advantage of batting last. Batting last allows the home team in the final inning to know precisely what to aim for. In a tied game, only one run matters. Down by three, then three runs are a necessity. In the top part of the inning the visiting team would not know for sure if going for one run was better than taking the risk of going for two. In football, physical position, having the wind at your back, often plays an enormous role in who wins a game.

In Texas Hold'em poker, the value of position is generally self-evident. You want opponents to make their decisions before you do, and then you want the final say, the last word. On top of that, Hold'em is a game where it is common that nobody has much of anything. You are making decisions based on whose "nothing" will outplay the others to win the pot. While superior position doesn't automatically win hands, it does make it more likely you will make better bets -- in the same way that a general who positions his troops on terrain he is familiar with will have an edge.

But position in Texas Hold'em is simple. Last is basically best, particularly when only two players are in a pot. First position, or second position behind a maniac, or position in front of a maniac... sometimes these will offer positional advantages too, but for the most part, just being last to act is such a significant edge that all good players will tend to play more hands when they are in late position and less hands when they are in early position.

Position in Seven Card Stud and Stud High-Low is far different. Position here tends to be variable. The highest board showing acts first from fourth street on, so if king high bets first on fourth street, another player who gets an ace or pairs deuces might act first on fifth street. You do still tend to have an advantage over the player to your immediate right, but positional considerations are complicated in the Stud games. Certain hands should be more playable when you are not the high hand, while representing hands becomes more important when you act first. Some hands can be played more aggressively when an opponent shows a king or ace, meaning they will likely be forced to act first throughout the hand.

But the greatest difference in positional complexity comes in comparing Omaha HiLo to Hold'em. Last position continues to have some general advantages, but it comes with disadvantages too. For example, bluffing from last position is suicide against good players. The bluffing arrow is almost removed from your quiver when you are last. In Hold'em having middle position seldom offers any advantages but middle position is the prime bluffing position in Omaha.

At the same time though, middle position has significant disadvantages because Omaha High Low is a game of "sharing" pots. If you have the nut hand one way or the other, and the early position bettor bets the other nut hand, middle position becomes very hard to play. Most people, fortunately, play very poorly here. For example, they will raise their nut high hand, driving out players behind, and then splitting the pot with the initial low bettor. The correct action will usually be to just call the low bettor, and hope for overcalls -- but sometimes this will NOT be right! For example, if you suspect a player behind you also has the nut low, if you raise with the high hand you will get two bets into the pot from the low hands instead of just one.

Hold'em's simplistic last-is-best positional concept is out the window in Omaha. Very generally, if you have a low hand, betting first is advantageous, while having the nut high hand is best in last position. Suppose you have the nut flush on the river against more than one player. Betting first is totally action killing. The best you will do is get called. If you are last with the nuts, you might get a bet in front of you, or you might even get a checkraise bluff from an opponent who thinks you are bluffing. In contrast, betting the low from early position can lead to scrambling where the later position players try to drive each other out; or, if there is another nut low in play, betting will tend to slow that player down so that they don't raise in three-way situations.

Moving from Hold'em to other games, there are often considerations that, while not totally different, are more complex -- even if some other concepts are not as complicated. (Winning more than your share of situations when no one has much of anything is more important in Hold'em than Omaha for instance.) Position always matters, but it is much more variable in Stud and Omaha than in Hold'em. You have to "think on your feet" about position more in Stud and Omaha.

Manipulating position is a skill that Hold'em players need to focus on developing more deeply when moving to other games.