Texas Hold ‘em: Strategy by Table Position


Whether you are playing limit or no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, position will always be a deciding factor in the strategies you employ. No Limit Hold ‘Em, perhaps more than any other form of poker, is about power. Taking control of your opponents and the table at which you’re playing requires a combination of observation, knowledge, experience and careful decision-making. And when considering any or all of those factors, your position in a hand will always be a central determining component.

What is ‘Position’?

In Hold ‘Em, the term position refers to where you are in relation to the opening action, or betting. Before the flop, the first person to act, a position also known as being “under the gun,” is the player directly to the left of the big blind. Once that player has folded, called or raised, the action then proceeds sequentially to the left as everyone else makes their own decision.

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Table position by location to dealer.

The last two players to act before the flop are the small and big blinds, who then decide how they want to act based on whether the big blind has been called or raised. However, if one or both of them raise, then the action goes back around the table as everyone else decides how to react.

After the flop, the action begins with the remaining player who is closest to the immediate left of the dealer button. That could be anyone from the player who had posted the small blind to the player directly to the right of the dealer button, a position also known as the “cut off.” The last person to act would either be the player who has the dealer button or, if they’re not still in the hand, the player closest to the right of the button.

Playing Early Position Pre-Flop

Pre-flop, being on the button isn’t quite as important as it is after the flop. Sometimes you can even use what might be considered bad position to your advantage. For instance, if you’re one of the first two or three people to act before the flop, and you wake up to a monster hand like pocket aces or kings, you might want to just call the big blind. That way, if someone behind you raises, you can put in a reraise when the action comes back to you. This is an especially effective strategy at a table where you have observed a lot of raising before the flop.

In the event the table is more conservative, playing a big hand in early position can be very tricky. If you’re holding a large pocket pair, you will almost always want to lead out with a raise. After all, one of the most dispiriting outcomes for someone holding pocket aces is to be run down by an inferior hand that they allowed in by not raising.

For other hands that are considered powerful, such as ace-king or ace-queen, calling the big blind and seeing what transpires afterward is often the best strategy. In cases like those, you aren’t holding a made hand, and will have to rely on hitting the flop. At the same time, if you do hit your hand, it is unlikely anyone will put you on cards that big. Either way, the key to playing in early position pre-flop is to remain cautious, there are a lot of cards and betting still to come.

Playing Late Position Pre-Flop

This is a little bit more straightforward. If you’re in later position, you will be able to see how almost everyone has acted and make your decision accordingly. With a big hand, you will want to raise, or at least call a raise. If what you’re holding is mediocre, say a jack-ten, then you might want to call the big blind or a small raise to use your positional advantage after the flop.

If you’re in the blinds, pre-flop is the one time in the hand where you will have a positional advantage. Since you’re the last to act, you might be able to “steal” some money pre-flop by raising if there are a lot of callers and no one has shown any strength. And if you do have a big hand, your position provides you the opportunity to at least eliminate some of the callers or raisers, if not take the entire table, before the flop is dealt. Learn more about Pre-Flop strategy here.

Playing Early Position Post-Flop

Being in early position after the flop might require more skill than other facets of Hold ‘Em, because you have to read your opponents’ strengths before you’ve seen them react to the flop. Therefore, unless you have an extraordinary read or feel, you must protect your hand immediately – meaning checking is usually the best option. Even if you have a big hand, it is likely someone else will bet behind you, and you will be able to either call or raise their bet. – And the check-raise is one of the most useful tools in Hold ‘Em.

On the turn and river, when there are likely to be fewer players still involved in the hand, you will have to be more aggressive. And that all comes down to making a read. Is your opponent calling you down because they have a draw, or are they hiding a big hand? This is where your poker skill really comes into play.

Playing Late Position Post-Flop

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If you’re on the button or in late position after the flop you get the advantage of seeing how your opponents have decided to act. If they display weakness you might have an opportunity to bluff your way into taking the pot. If you think you have the best hand you can raise, or simply call and mask your strength.

This is where you have the best opportunity to take control of a table. By effectively using late position after the flop, you can begin to wear away at your opponents. In many instances, they might not even be able to see your hand because you’ve pushed everyone else out of the pot before a showdown, which creates a whole new level of confusion.

Once you start factoring position into any poker decision, you will add a whole new level to your game, one that will most likely lead to bigger, more consistent paydays. Learn more about Post-Flop strategy here.