Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
In poker, position is profit. Today’s self-interview explains what you need to know to get the most from where you’re seated, relative to your opponents.
First question, please…
Question 1: How much does position really matter in poker?
Well, how about this: The majority of the best poker players in the world – and possibly all of them – lose money for their lifetimes to opponents on their left. There! I said it, and I’m proud.
That’s a statement of fact that will probably shock most readers. Almost all the profit you’ll ever make playing poker will come from players to your right – players who usually act before you do. I said usually, not always, because sometimes players to your right act after you.
That happens on the first betting round when you enter a pot from an early seat and the opponents to your right are in the blinds. However, you regain positional advantage on all subsequent betting rounds, when they’ll act first. You also temporarily lose your positional advantage of acting last when you’re “under the gun” – meaning first to act – in a non-blind, ante-only game. But you’ll regain the advantage quickly on future deals.
Overall, you’ll be acting after players to your right most of the time. And, in poker, getting to see what opponents do before you act is a huge advantage. In fact, you can’t overcome the positional advantage of an opponent sitting immediately to your left in a full-handed game – unless your level of skill is monumentally better. The best you can do is play good enough that you diminish your disadvantage.
And, in fact, averaged over years of play, you’ll lose money to players on your left and make money from players on your right. This effect is so powerful that if you looked down at a poker table from a weather satellite in space, you’d see a phenomenal and continuous poker storm. The money would be swirling around the table in a clockwise direction, because that’s the way the action flows. Money would blow from players acting earlier to players acting later.
Of course, there would be some cross currents, too – currents that went against the direction of the storm. That’s because short-term luck would cause gusty distortions in the dominant direction. But, averaged over time, the money flows clockwise.
So, your mission in poker is to win as much money as you can from players on your right and lose as little as you can to players on your left. Your goal is just that simple.
Question 2: So, how do you go about maximizing profit from players on your right and decreasing your losses to the left?
The main way is to make quality decisions about seat selection, if you’re allowed to pick a seat. Sometimes this isn’t possible. In poker tournaments you’re assigned a seat. And if there’s only one seat available at a table, you won’t have a choice.
Even when you can’t choose a seat though, you’ll play more profitably if you keep reminding yourself that you’re at a disadvantage against players to your left, who act after you. And you hold an advantage over players to your right, who act first. Then you can take the characteristics of those opponents and their positions into account when making decisions about whether to check, bet, call, or raise.
Now, here’s the secret. You want players to your right who supply the most money. Those are typically the ones who play too many hands. You want these loose players in the pot before you raise – and you will raise a lot, using my methods – because once you’re an expert player, you can maximize small edges through aggressive play. Ideally, you want to choose seats or change to seats where players to your right are not only loose, but timid. That way, they’re less likely to take full advantage by making daring raises with quality hands when they have you beat.
One other type of player belongs on your right – aggressive winners. You want them to act first, because if they act after you, they’ll often barge into your pot and interfere with your chances of beating loose players already in your pot. So, you’ll have to balance those two type of opponents and make seating decisions keeping both factors in mind.
Okay, so loose players belong on your right, as well as aggressive winning players. Who belongs on your left?
Tight players belong there. That’s because they don’t play as many hands and, therefore, don’t make full profit from their positional advantage.
Question 3: Is there anything you can do to reduce the positional advantage of players on your left?
Yes. You can make friends with them. Buy them coffee. Joke around. Compliment them on their play against other opponents. All this gives them less motive to pick on you.
Meanwhile, you should declare war on players to your right. Bet and raise very aggressively. If someone moves from a seat on your right to your left, that’s the time to rethink your relationship and to immediately be extra friendly.
Also, you can try check-raising, often called “sandbagging,” against players to your left. I’m careful not to overuse this tactic, because – although it compensates for your positional disadvantage – it has the effect of seeming to be warlike. And you don’t want to go to war against an opponent with an advantage – one who sits to your left.
Question 4: Anything else?
A few loose ends, yes.
Remember that you should always be looking for the most profitable seating position in any game with three or more players. Even with two opponents, it’s likely that one fits better on your right and one on your left. So, unless they’re seated right next to each other, you’ll have a choice.
Another thing: People say there’s no seating advantage in a seven-card stud game. That’s not true. Although the first player to act is usually decided by high hand showing, there will often be multiple players competing. Therefore, sitting to the left of the loosest players (and taking my other advice into account) means increased profit in stud, also.
I’ll close with a tip. You can change positions without seeming as if you’re doing anything strategic. I sometimes do this by declaring that my seat is unlucky, although I’m not superstitious. This gives me the opportunity to move without raising suspicion. And it has the added advantage that, if I’m losing and opponents are inspired by my temporary misfortune, I can immediately establish a new “lucky” image to be feared – assuming a favorable run of cards.
So, I repeat: In poker, position is profit. — MC