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Position

Position in poker is a matter of the number of players who can still act after you. Playing position is a matter of taking into consideration what those players may do, before you decide what to do yourself.

Position is a mystery to most poker players. But next to the relative value of your hand it is the most important thing for a poker player to think about in the game.

In a poker game you will have bad hands, fair hands, and good hands. The bad hands you will throw away. The very good hands will win for you, but you will not hold them often. The winnings on them will be of great importance only in certain rare cases in which you will be lucky enough to hold a very good hand against a hand that is almost as good, such as four of a kind against a high full house, and remember that such a case can go against you as easily as for you. The fair hands represent the bulk of your winnings and losses, and your success in playing the fair hands will depend very largely on your understanding of position.

Cases constantly arise when you consider your position as well as your hand, but at all times there are two main positional objects: First, you want to be last to act if possible. Second, you don't want to get caught between two players who may have betting or raising hands. In a close case, you play along when your position is good and you drop when your position is bad.

Take a case in draw poker in which there will be at most three active players, whom we will call A, B, and C. A has opened and B has raised. C should either reraise or drop. If C simply calls, his position is bad. The normal process will be for A to check after the draw, and for B to bet. Now if C calls, even though he may think he has B beaten, he risks the danger that A can beat him and may even raise back. However, if C reraises before the draw, he makes his position good because normally A and B will check to him after the draw and he can have a free checkout if he has not improved.

In a similar game, A opens, B and C call, and D raises. It is probable that there will be no players after D, in which case he will have the advantage of being the last to speak.

Because it is an advantage to be last, in draw poker one tries to avoid opening (betting first) if he can get anyone else to do it for him. The closer the opener is to his left, the better his posit tion will be after the draw. The closer the opener or the last raiser is to his right, the worse is his position after the draw because the more likely he is to find himself between a betting hand on his right and a doubtful quantity on his left.

In stud poker, the player who takes the lead sacrifices a positional advantage. The exception is when all the active players speak before him. For example, A has the high hand showing and it seems likely that he will continue to have. B and C are in the pot. D is the last of the active players. He sacrifices no position when he bets or raises, because the tendency thereafter will be for the other players to check to him and he will have full freedom of action.

Remember that position, important as it is, should affect your play only on hands that are already questionable. When you have the best hand in either draw or stud, you usually have to bet it regardless of your position.
Here are some everyday examples of position play. In most draw poker games a player in an early position should seldom open unless he is so strong that he wants to invite a raise so that he can reraise, and even then he is usually better off to pass in a "pass and back in" game. When the opener is at your right, you ordinarily simply play along on a very strong hand, such as a pat straight, because you do not want to drive out other players, yet if you were one of the last men to speak you would raise; in either case, you are playing position.

The converse case is the one in which you hold two fair pairs next to the opener and raise to drive out other players, on the grounds that a two-pair hand is usually the best before the draw but is hard to improve and suffers a sharp diminution of its winning chances every time another player comes in; on this hand you would not necessarily raise if you were in a late position, so again you are playing position. Exactly the same, in stud poker, when you are next to the high hand snowing you will simply call or check and if you are far from the high hand you will raise; again you are playing position.

A good bluff depends more on position than on any other factor. Strangely enough, it is not the usual "good" position that you want for a successful bluff; more often you want what would ordinarily be bad position. For example, when there are four players in the pot the last player is in good position for playing a fair hand but in bad position for bluffing. Those other three players, who checked to him, all have a right to call and because they all checked none of them is afraid of any of the others.

The most successful bluff is one that makes the most dangerous opponent think he is "in the middle." He may then drop the only hand that is good enough to call, for fear one of the players after him will be able to beat him. For example:

Draw poker, seven players, pass and out. A and B drop. C opens, D drops, E stays, F raises, G and C stay. E now raises and after the draw he stands pat and bets. F is likely to drop a fair hand because he cannot tell what G and C will do. G and C are likely to drop against a pat hand anyway.
 
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