Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.
I’d almost forgotten. Then Nolan Dalla– the revered poker promoter, author, and personality — made me remember. He introduced me at a seminar at the Rio. He imitated me by waving his hands frenetically above his head, pretending to walk precariously on a three-story rooftop ledge by moonlight, while delivering a poker sermon to a crowd of poker players gathered below.
Nolan’s recreation would have been funny, even as a greatly exaggerated parody. But, actually, it was more than that. It really happened.
It was 15 years ago, give or take a few. I had agreed to address an annual gathering of the newsgroup called rec.gambling.poker. I’d better stop and explain RGP. You won’t find that forum directly on the Web, although some sites mirror the discussions. It exists on Usenet, a part of the Internet that predates the Web. A decade and a half ago, Usenet discussions were polite and informative on most of the 20,000 or so groups.
Although there are even more groups today, Usenet civilization has deteriorated. You’ll increasingly find off-topic, sometimes hateful, often libelous posts. Even sadder, RGP, where I and other poker experts once hung out and exchanged ideas, is but a shadow of its former glory.
Well-known poker people have told me that they’re hesitant to contribute to a forum where each thoughtful post might be met with accusations against their mothers and worse. Many of these publicly posted assaults probably come from lonely soles inhabiting dark rooms in their parents’ basements, hoping to scrounge together their next bankrolls.
Hey, it’s just a theory. No matter. For me, it began to take too much time correcting the records. The attitude of some of the disruptive posters seemed to be, “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
So we stayed out of the kitchen. Now what? Anyway, I’m sounding bitter and I don’t mean to do that. Let’s move on.
The annual August event where I’d been invited to speak was called BARGE (and still exists today). The name is an acronym for Big August Rec.Gambling Excursion. The “rec.gambling” part is one level higher on Usenet than rec.gambling.poker, where most of the attendees hung out online.
Even today, BARGE is a rewarding place to meet people you’ve been exchanging ideas with online and, perhaps, complain about the minority that tries to spoil their discussions. By the way, these folks never look like you imaged them, in my experience.
Anyway, at the restaurant where I was scheduled to address the attendees and give a short seminar, the audio equipment failed. Don’t worry. We went outside during closing time. My audience stood on a balcony, and I climbed higher, to a narrow ledge on the roof of the adjoining building. There I delivered a message centering on an important poker concept I believe remains under-respected today.
The power of position
By now almost all serious poker players are aware that position is important. The action goes clockwise, coming right to left.
That means that most of the time, players on your right are going to act first. Because you get to see what they do before making your decision, you have a positional advantage.
But position isn’t just a trivial thing to be grudgingly acknowledged; it’s the difference between success and failure. Poker players who ignore position are usually broke. From the ledge, I pointed out that if you could put a weather satellite up in space and peer down on a poker game, you’d see the money currents flowing clockwise, around and around the table.
You might see a few cross-currents stirred up by probability storms when someone in weaker positions got lucky. But the predominant current would be clockwise.
This current is so powerful that even world-class players lose money for their lifetimes to players on their left. The money comes from your right; the profit comes from your right. Often, the best you can hope to do against opponents to your left is minimize your disadvantage. I like to make friends with them, perhaps buy coffee. This leaves them less motivated to take full advantage of their superior position.
There’s something else you need to do. And if you do it, you can instantly jump up many rungs on the ladder of poker profit. Here’s my advice…
Always — that’s “Always” with a capital A — try to place yourself in a favorable seat, either by changing chairs or selecting the best one when you first enter a game. The simple rule is, loose-weak players belong on your right. They supply most of your profit overall, and you’ll get a lot more of it from them if you make sure you have positional advantage.
If you just let happenstance decide where they sit relative to you, sometimes you’ll actually be taking the worst of it. You want them to enter pots before you make educated raises and push your hands for value. If you’re on their right, you’ll usually make your raise first and often chase them and their weak money out of the pot.
There’s a second type of player you want on your right. It’s an aggressive, winning type. These players interfere with your strategy if you let them act after you. They also tend to take maximum advantage of their position, if seated to your left.
It can be a balancing act, deciding whether to position a weak-loose or an aggressive-winning player to your right, when given a choice. But any decision honoring the concept is better than just sitting where you are and never moving.
Who can most safely be seated to your left? Ideally, you want tight players to your left. Because they play fewer pots, they don’t maximize their positional advantage over you. Also, players with short stacks belong on your left, because they can’t afford to use their positional advantage to do great damage.
That’s the message I delivered from the ledge by moonlight years ago. And it’s just as true today.
Until Nolan recounted this story a few days ago, I hadn’t even realized he’d been there that night. He told the 2009 seminar attendees that a security guard had wandered into the moonlit audience, looked up at me storming the ledge, waving my hands frantically. The guard asked, “Do you think he’s really going to jump?” — MC