Playing Position

dealer button imageThe importance of position is mentioned over and over again in any poker forum or poker strategy website. That being said, the importance of position cannot be overstated. The extra information you gain from having a positional advantage over your opposition allows you to develop a plan for the rest of the hand with the maximum amount of information available.

When you are on the button you are able to play more hands and play them more aggressively because of this positional advantage.

These are our top 5 tips for playing positional poker. Learn these tips and you will be on your way to crushing your opponents. Note: this article is written with NLHE cash game poker in mind, but the majority of the points are applicable across a range of games.

Top 5 Tips for Playing Position

1. Increase your Range of Hands in Position

As mentioned in the introduction, the extra information that you gain from a positional advantage allows you to play more hands more aggressively. The edge that a player on the button has is large enough that it is a losing play to be entering the pot with the same range of hands that your earlier-positioned opponents are entering the pot with. Play more hands on the button.

Take a moment to think about what it takes to find out if your opponent has a strong hand if you have position on him. What actions do you have to take? What confirmation are you looking for?

Now think about what it takes to determine whether your opponent has a strong hand or not if you have to act first.

You are going to have to overbet the pot, or attempt a check-raise, or fire multiple barrels. You won’t know if your opponent is floating you or trapping you or even just trying to peel a good card.

Check out our cash game strategy article for a more detailed breakdown of which hands to play in each seat.

2. Defend your Button

If you’ve ever played tournament poker, you’ve probably heard it mentioned that you should “defend your big blind” from attack. If a player 2 or 3 seats to your right raises your big blind a few times in a row, you must strike back in order to slow him down and give yourself a chance at a few walks.

In cash games, the same principle applies to the button. The button is such a valuable piece of “poker real estate” that you must defend it if the players on your right are frequently raising when you are on the button. Regardless of the cards you are holding, you must take a stand at some point.

The button is valuable. Don’t let your opponents “buy the button” out from underneath you too frequently.

3. Control the Size of the Pot

Another benefit that comes from having position is that you can more easily control the pot when you have position on the opponent.

If you get to act last then you can more easily keep the size of the pot small when you want to peel a card or if you have a weaker made hand.

If you have a very strong hand then you have the freedom to take your time and figure out how to extract the most value from your hand. If your opponent is stubborn then you can just bet and raise and expect him to put up enough resistance to build the pot. If he is tighter then you can try to let him catch up or you can check it back once and try to induce a bluff.

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4. Mix Up your Lines of Play

Poker is a game of “muscle memory” in a mental sense of the phrase. If you get into particular habits, for instance always raising top pair top kicker on the flop in position, you will find that you rarely mix up these lines of play. You’re comfortable with how things play out when you stick to your standard lines of play, why fix what isn’t broken?

Mixing up your lines of play allows you to confuse your opponents making it hard for them to get a read on what you are doing. But more importantly it lets you try new things.

Thinking through alternate and possibly unconventional lines of play gives you the experience necessary to comfortably deviate from the norm when it becomes truly necessary. For instance if you are up against a particularly tricky small-ball style player like Daniel Negreanu, it may behoove you to occasionally play a strong hand slowly for deception, meta-game considerations, and pot control. A strong player like Daniel can be tricky and conventional lines of play may not always be the best way to go.

5. Think

Never forget to stop and think when you are playing poker.

Several times during my poker career I have ended up in a situation where I realized after I had checked back the river that my opponent was playing a pot-control line. If you recognize that your opponent’s line of play is designed to get you to check on the river, it’s probably because his hand isn’t very strong. Bet!

If you recognize your opponent’s line of play might be inducing you to bet, don’t oblige him. Check!

It is very important to take a moment during each hand to consider your opponent’s actions in the following context: your opponent also knows how to think!

It is all too easy when you are playing poker to turn on auto-pilot and wait for your opponents to make egregious and obvious errors. You can make money doing this. You can make a lot of money playing poker on auto-pilot in fact. But you can’t improve while playing on auto-pilot.

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