Position in Limit and No Limit Texas Holdem
Position is an extremely important concept for any poker player to understand. Having position on your opponents can allow you to dictate the action of a hand in a game like Hold’em where the closer you are to the button, the bigger your advantage.
From early position it is important that you play only the best of hands. The reason for this is that in a full ring game, there are 8 or 9 players to act after you before the flop.
Playing a speculative hand like a suited connector or a baby pair will have you burning up chips pretty quick. With so many players to act after you, there is a reasonable chance the pot is going to get raised.
If you are sitting in an aggressive game where nearly every pot is raised and re-raised pre-flop, there is no sense limping in with a 7-8 suited from early position. Suited connectors and small pairs should be trying to see flops as cheaply as possible because they won’t make a winning hand often enough and get it paid off, to have to call two or three bets pre-flop.
With big pairs in early position you should be raising and three-betting if you get re-raised. The main objective with big pairs is to thin the field as much as possible.
One pair hands are vulnerable in Limit Hold ‘em because unlike No-Limit, you can only bet a certain amount each round. Opponents are more likely to chase you down when it will only cost them one or two fixed bets to continue.
In an extremely aggressive game as described above you can safely eliminate any hand except 99 or better and AK. The hands you do play, you should be playing aggressively by raising the pot coming in.
In middle position you can loosen up your starting hands a bit by adding the medium pairs and AQ. Again if the game is aggressive, you have to evaluate the play of your opponents to your left. If they are aggressive players who are aware of position, you may want to just ditch the small pairs before the flop.
Small pairs are tough to play and you should generally only come into a pot with them after 2 or 3 players have limped. This way if it does get raised and the limpers call, you can play your baby pair for two bets knowing you can win a big pot if you do flop your set.
If it is folded to you in middle position you should usually enter the pot with a raise. Unlike in early position where the whole table had to act after you, now you will only have to make it through the late position players and the blinds.
Late position is where it’s at. Good players make most of their money in late position. The advantage of being able to see what your opponents do before you have to act is immeasurable.
Your starting hand selection can open up to include all pairs, AK-AT, KQs-KTs, suited Aces, and after 3 or more limpers, suited connectors. Some of these hands, like the big unsuited ones, are best played in a heads up situation. This is because hands like KQ and QT are “one pair” hands. In a heads up pot there is a good chance of winning with just one pair if you hit one of your cards.
On the other hand, suited Aces and suited connectors tend to flourish in multi-way pots because of their potential to flop big hands and big draws. Draws are also much easier to play when your opponents have to act before you. Position gives you the advantage of betting if it is checked to you, or checking and giving yourself a free card.
The “free card play” is often used when a player in late position flops a big draw such as the nut flush draw. If someone bets the flop he can raise with his draw attempting to induce the bettor to check the turn. From there he can opt to see a free river, or bet to try and win the pot right there.
At the lower limits, especially at Limit Hold ‘em, bluffing should be kept to a minimum. There are too many players at these levels that will call you down with nothing, that bluffing is hardly worth attempting. Being in position however, allows you to see what your opponents do before you have to act, and there will be some occasions that a well-timed bluff will take down a nice pot.
In the Blinds
Blind play is completely different than playing in any other position at the table. You will always be in an un-raised pot if you are the big blind. You will have an extreme positional disadvantage post-flop, because you will either be first or second to act (depending on if the small blind has decided to play). This makes it tougher to play many hands because everyone else in the pot gets to act after you.
You also must decide whether or not to defend your big blind if the pot is raised. It is important that you don’t defend with unsuited hands that are easily dominated such as A9 or KT. If there are a few limpers, and the button raises, you are looking to play hands that will flop big made hands, or big draws.
If three players had limped in, and the button raises, You would call out of the big blind with a hand like A8 suited, only because you would be expecting the limpers to call as well, and you would have a chance to win a big pot if you flop a big hand or draw. You would want to play extremely carefully however, if you flopped only top-pair. If it is the Ace, you might be out-kicked, and if it is the 8, someone might have an overpair. Even if they don’t have a pair bigger than your top pair of 8’s, your hand is extremely vulnerable to a number of turn cards, especially if the board has straight and flush possibilities.
Defending your blinds in Limit hold’em is a matter of post-flop discretion. If you play well after the flop, you
can defend with more hands.
The same basic concept goes for calling from the small blind. It has been said that if you have a hand you would call a raise with from the big blind, you can call the other half bet from the small blind in an un-raised pot. You should definitely not have the thinking that it is only another 1/2 bet so you can be overly loose with your calling standards.
If there are three limpers, and you are in the small blind, you would be getting 9:1 odds to call the other ½ bet to play. No hand is a 9:1 underdog pre-flop, so it would seem that calling with any two cards would be correct. Of course, this is not the case.
A hand like 72 or 83 is not going to make a hand often enough to justify calling the extra ½ bet. In the long run, you will be throwing away money, and since a good limit player hopes tom make 1-2 big bets per hour, those loose calls can be the difference between a break-even, and a winning player.
No-Limit Hold ‘em
When it comes to NL Hold'em, position is a whole different animal. The best players say they could beat any game without looking at their hole cards if they had position the whole time. This is probably a slight exaggeration; however it shows how important understanding position can be.
In early position you should be playing very tight in both tournaments and NL cash games. If you are a beginner, you should stick to eights or better. With 88-TT it is not a bad strategy just to limp in, depending on the dynamics of the table.
If the table is passive, you should lean toward a mix of limps and raises depending on your table image. If your opponents see you as a loose, wild player, you are probably better off limping in. These hands can be tough to play after the flop comes with overcards, especially from out of position. If you have a loose image, you are probably going to get called if you raise pre-flop, therefore it may be best just to limp.
With premium hands such as JJ-AA and AK, you should be raising from early position almost every time. Some people may tell you to limp in with Aces in early position so you can re-raise if someone raises around back. The only situations you should be limping with big pairs are when the pots are frequently getting raised, and re-raised pre-flop. If this is not the case, you should be open raising these big pairs and AK from early position.
From middle position you can open up both your calling and raising standards. You may still limp with pairs lower than 99, but you should usually raise 99 and up. You can also throw in AQ for a raise. The reason you can open up your starting hand requirements is that the closer you get to the button, the fewer opponents there are to get through.
If your raise gets all your opponents who have position on you to fold, it has done a great job for you already. It has made it so you will be able to act last after the flop if your raise does get called. This allows you to see exactly what your opponents will do, before you even have to make a move.
In late position you can raise a lot more hands than in any other position. Again this is due to the fact that there are few or no people to get through except for the blinds. You can start raising AT or better, and any pocket pair (*Note - beginning players should start out by raising these hands only after 1 or less limpers, to limit tough decisions post-flop).
Being in position gives you the ultimate advantage of seeing what your opponents will do before you have to act, on every street. It is used more than anything, to "steal" pots in NL Hold 'em. When you raise pre-flop and get a caller, there is a good chance that when the flop comes out, depending on how coordinated it is, that it hasn't helped your opponent's hand. Even though it may not have helped your hand, you should usually make a bet depending on the tendencies of the player you’re up against.
You probably shouldn't be betting an AK that has missed the flop, when an opponent who is known to check-raise checks to you. However if we change that opponent to a player who frequently calls pre flop raises and folds on the flop, you are going to bet almost every time, no matter what flops.
As you can see, position is one of the most important concepts to understand when it comes to the game of poker. Careful observation of your opponents and use of your positional advantage can turn a break-even player to a winner in a very short period of time. Discipline, concentration, and constant analysis and adjustment when playing poker is the key to improving your game, and growing your bankroll.