Playing Position Preflop

One of the first things you learn in poker strategy is the importance of table position. And there’s a good reason for this because playing in position creates opportunities for more success throughout a hand. In short, the better your table position is, the bigger advantage you’ll have over opponents. But before we arrive at the reason why this is true, let’s talk about the overall importance of table position, and why you really need to think about your position in pre-flop play.

Importance Of Table Position

The most basic level of poker thinking is considering your own situation such as your cards and table position. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fish who don’t get the second part of this equation, which is why they bleed out so many chips. So if you understand basic strategy for playing in position, you’re already far ahead of some poker players.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of table position, this concept simply refers to where you are in relationship to the dealer (button). From here, you can divide the table up into three sections with early position, middle position and late position being the three sections. Using a 10-player table, early position would be the first three seats after the big blind, middle position would be the next two seats, and late position would be the last three seats including the button. As you may have noticed, the small and big blinds have been excluded from this discussion because they warrant further analysis (which we’ll get to later).

In any case, the later your position is in a hand, the better off you are when it comes to betting. When you play in position, you have more information on opponents, you can control the size of the pot better, and you have prime opportunities for bluffing opponents who limp into pots. To sum things up, later position gives you more overall control of the hand, and it allows you to play a wider range of cards. On the other hand, early position is the worst spot to be in because you are one of the first players to act throughout the hand, and you are making a lot of blind decisions.

Thinking About Position Preflop

As soon as a hand is dealt, you should be thinking about two things:

1. The strength of your hand
2. Your table position

Table position isn’t something that you start thinking about after the flop or turn like bad players do. Instead, you need to decide during pre-flop play whether your position warrants playing a particular hand. As we discussed before, the later position you have on the table, the bigger your advantage during a hand. This being the case, you can afford to play lesser cards in late position since you are acting after other players.

This is the basis behind starting hand requirements, which is a fundamental look at what cards you should play pre-flop at each table position. Most rudimentary starting hand requirements suggest you play the following hands pre-flop from each position:

Early position - AA-JJ, AK
Middle position - AA-99, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, QJ, JT
Late position - AA-77, AK, AQ, AJ, AT, A9, Ax (suited) KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, JT, T9, 98

Of course, this is just standard tight aggressive strategy for a beginner. As you start to play more poker and develop a strategy of your own, these starting hand requirements will change. But as a basic guide for deciding what hands to play pre-flop, these requirements are useful.

Table Position In Shorthanded Games

So far we’ve covered the basics of table position, and how you need to be thinking about your hand in conjunction with table position pre-flop. But what happens when you’re in a shorthanded game with 6 or fewer players? The answer is that middle position disappears, and all that’s left is early position and late position.

The reason why you eliminate middle position is because you’re only going to have four spots or less besides the blinds. And it doesn’t make sense to include one spot for middle position when you only have one or two spots for early and late position. Of course, this doesn’t make playing in position any less important; it just simplifies things.

For instance, if you’re sitting to the left of the big blind, you are still in early position and should stick to premium hands. Likewise, if you’re on the button, you are still sitting in the best position on the table.

The Blinds

Up until now, we’ve omitted the blinds from this discussion. However, the blinds are just as important as any other position on the table, so they’re definitely worth talking about.

The first thing worth noting in regards to the blinds is that they are the last position to act pre-flop. This being the case, some players get sucked into the line of thinking that they’re somehow in a good spot here because they get to see what everybody else does. But you also have to consider that you’ll either be the first (small blind) or second player (big blind) to act after the flop. So pre-flop decisions you make should be made with post-flop play in mind.

Of course, the blinds also differ in this regard because, as mentioned before, you get to see everybody’s pre-flop action. For instance, if you’re in the big blind, you already have a forced bet on the table; so if you’re holding KT and somebody makes a small raise, you can call to see the flop cheaply. This differs from early position where you should fold KT for the simple fact that you don’t know whether or not a raise is coming.

The same can be said of the small blind where unraised pots frequently reach this position; if you only have to call half a blind to see the flop, it’s worth doing so with 60-70% of poker hands. But don’t get too liberal from the blinds pre-flop because you could easily get trapped with a marginal hand if you hit something later on. For example, if you’re holding KsJh in the small blind and the flop shows Kc-As-5c, you’re the first to act in a hand where it’s tempting, but not smart to stay in because of the obvious top pair and flush draw opportunities.

No matter how you choose to play in the small blind - or any other position for that matter - just remember that most of your profits will be made in late position. So don’t get carried away with playing from the blinds or early position.

We also recommend reading our preflop betting strategy article.

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