If you're relatively new to the game of Texas Hold'em Poker, you may not be aware of the extent to which where you are sitting can have an effect on how a given hand progresses. The fact is, your position in the table can give you a critical strategic advantage, if you know how to play it correctly.
Understanding poker table positions
Let's assume that you are working with the standard tournament poker table that seats nine players (not counting the dealer, obviously, if it's a real table and not an online one).
The first three seats are referred to as early positions. Seats four, five and six are called the middle positions, and the dealer, the small blind and the big blind are called late positions.
Now obviously, after every hand the dealer button moves on one position, and the early, middle and late positions change. So, I am not implying that by sitting in a particular chair there is an advantage to be had. Instead I'm saying that, if you are aware of the power of position, you can use it to your advantage wherever you are sitting.
On the face of it, the most obviously beneficial position to be playing from is the dealer button. This is because you get to act last in every situation, because the person to the dealers left always acts first.
That's always the blinds, who are forced to bet regardless of what they're holding. From there the street moves round the table until it ends up at the dealer button.
If you are sitting on the dealer button, you get to watch everyone act first, and then make your move based on what you have seen. It is a far more informed position than, say, having to act from early position.
For example, if everyone ahead of you has folded, then from the dealer button it is advisable to make a big raise. In all likelihood, you will succeed in snatching the blinds.
However, if the number of people have already called and you don't have a super strong hand, you can bow out gracefully rather than being tempted into a bruising situation.
Of course, there's a lot more to it than just the splendour of being on the dealer button. Your position also affects how you play different hands.
Large pairs and High Royals
Fair enough, if you get a pair of Queens, or Ace-King in the hole, you're always going to play it. But when we're considering how position affects your play, what matters is how you play these cards.
For example, say you're sitting in early position and you get a high pair. You cannot afford to simply limp into the flop. A high pair is a decent hand but it's a hardly the strongest possible. You can, however, increase its chances of prevailing by throwing in a raise from early position.
This has the effect of getting a bunch of people to fold out of the hand before the flop, which gives your pair a much higher chance of being the best hand simply on the basis that there's less competition.
Medium sized pairs
If you're sitting with a pair of eights or nines and you're in early position, it's probably a good idea to lead with a big raise if you're really intending to play the hand. There are nine people at the table; eights are only going to win if they're played against a small number of opponents.
How you handle medium sized pairs if you're in middle position largely depends on what has happened already. If an early position player has simply limped in, go ahead and raise up. But if they raised, you need to seriously evaluate your position.
Facing a raise, it's probably better just to call, and see if you don't flop a set, assuming you're not short stacked. Facing a re-raise, get out.
Single high cards
Weak kickers are a serious problem regardless of the position you're in. Suppose you get A-4 and you flop A-10-7. You'll feel pretty good and likely take it all the way to the end ... at which point you discover your opponent has A-K. Ouch.
Best to play this sort of hand only from late position and only if no one's raised yet – raise it up yourself to limit the competition it will receive.