Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1988) in Poker Player Newspaper.
Rediscovered, enhanced, and added to Poker1 in 2014.
Oh, good! I always wanted to write about this word, and I never seemed to get around to it.
Just about any semi-conscious human poker player who sat in a game for more than 15 minutes probably made certain relevant conclusions. Among these conclusions no doubt was the impression that it’s better to act after your opponent has acted.
It’s a lot more comfortable to have your opponent bet or check first if you’re holding a medium strength hand. Then you can evaluate your chances relative to the action he’s already taken. If you have to fire your medium strength hand into him before he’s acted, all kinds of terrible turmoil can arise. You can get raised, for instance. And if you decide to check, you might just miss (for fear of being raised) a chance to win a nice extra sum by betting.
Having to act first is not fun and frolic.
Okay, that’s the sort of thing that occurs even to novice players after not too much experience in the poker wars.
But, please believe me, there’s more to position than that. First of all, in a normal poker game, the deal (or the dealer position) rotates. So, fair’s fair and we all get a chance at being last to act. Ah, but that isn’t the whole picture. When you are last to act — or nearly last to act — you can play weaker and more speculative hands than you can if you’re in an early position.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Everyone knows that!” But everyone doesn’t. In lower-limit games, where positional considerations are the most valuable, many players look only at the strength of their hands and not their seating position. That means they tend to act too tight in late positions and too loose in early positions.
Enough of that argument. Here’s something really important, even to advanced players. I want to settle an argument. Some books have suggested that you should sit to the left of aggressive players and some swear you should sit on the right.
Some say in limit games you should be on the right side of aggressive players and in no-limit situations you should be on the left.
Well, listen to me, my friends. There has never been a poker game played in the universe where you’d rather be on the right of a sophisticated, aggressive player. One of the first tactical things I instruct my students to do is to locate the most aggressive players in the game and sit on their left as soon as possible. That’s even true with seven-stud, a game most players and some authorities think has little positional value.
The reason many players think position doesn’t matter in seven-stud games is that you don’t know who’s going to act first. By rule, the exposed cards dictate which player must decide first — either a high pair or the highest rank with suits breaking ties in reverse alphabetical order — spades, hearts, diamonds, and then clubs. On the first round, there’s an exception, with the lowest rank starting the action.
Fine. But even though seven-stud games don’t allow you to know in advance who’s going to initiate the action on the first through fourth betting rounds, position matters. You will usually still act after players to your right. So, the normal strategic considerations still hold true.
Significant extra profit comes from acting after loose players who will barge into pots with substandard hands. When you’re a superior player, you exploit your minor edges by raising aggressively. Once these loose players enter the pot and you raise, they feel trapped and often call that raise reluctantly. But if you raise before they get a chance to act, they’re apt to think, “Hey, I’m loose, but not that loose” — and, so, they fold and you lose money.
That’s why it’s so important to sit to the left of loose players (positioning them on your right). This allows you to exploit their weakness of calling small bets with losing hands.
But wait! I said — assuming you’re a winning player with a big advantage — that you should sit to the left of strong, aggressive players. Well, that’s true, too. In fact, it’s even more important in many cases than sitting to the left of loose players. The reason is that these knowledgeable and fearless foes mess up your strategy by acting after you, so you need to avoid that disaster. Sit to their left and make them act first.
You want to act after these opponents act, so you can control the flow and not they. Sure, you want loose, naive players on your right, too, so that they’re already in the pot before you raise and you don’t chase away their action. But that’s sometimes of secondary importance.
The most important thing positionally you can do for your bankroll is sit to the left of the most aggressive winning players at the table, whenever they exist. That won’t be in every game, just some. If you do this, when competing against that type of player, in a typical $10-$20 limit hold ’em game you could easily earn $15 an hour more than some other smart player who doesn’t pay any attention to seating. Of course, you want loose players to act first, too.
So, try to gauge each situation in accordance with this rule: Loose players go to your right as much as possible; but those rare big-winning aggressive players go to your right as a priority. If you have a choice, select your original seat and change chairs during the game in accordance with that simple advice.
That’s the truth. You have my word on it. — MC