Understanding Why Your Poker Table Position Makes a Difference

Hold’Em Poker, poker Omaha, and Pineapple Poker may seem like games where any set of hole cards can win. That argument is true in that it’s possible for any two, three, or four cards to win, but there are some hands that are much more likely to take down the pot than others. In Hold ’em, the best two-card hand you can have before the flop is a pair of Aces. You have the best possible pair going in, and the other players will have to make two pair or better to beat you. Of course, if one of your opponents does make two pair, you still have a chance to beat them with a higher two pair. The worst Hold ’em hand you can have before the flop is 72o, where you have extremely low cards, you need four cards to make a straight, you have no decent flush draw, and if you do make a pair, your opponents will almost certainly have a better kicker. Take the extreme case as an example. If two players are playing heads-up, and you give one player AA and the other 72o, the player with the Aces will win 90 percent of the hands. Yes, only 90 percent. Hey, if there were no luck, there would be no gambling.

Now that we’ve established that some hands are playable and some hands aren’t, we need to analyze when certain hands are playable. In a flop game, the position of the Dealer button determines the order in which the players will act during the hand. Some players will probably fold during the course of the hand, which means that the player who acts first during a particular betting round might change, but the players who choose to stay in the hand will act in a known order until the next deal. Why is this consideration important? Because for every seat to the left you are of the big blind, there will be one fewer player left to act after you make your decision to play or not. And why is that important? Because when there are fewer players to act, it is less likely that someone behind you will raise and cost you more money than you wanted to put in to see the flop. After all, if you’re playing $10–$20 and you wanted to play the first round for $20, you would have raised yourself.

For a practical example of why position makes a difference, imagine for a moment that you are under the gun (one seat to the left of the big blind) and are dealt an unsuited KT. KTo is a fair hand, but it’s not a hand you want to invest a lot of money in before the flop. Yes, you’ve got two big cards, but there’s plenty of bad news: You have to act first, you need four cards of one of your suits to make a flush (one of which will be pretty weak at Ten-high), you need both a Jack and a Queen to make a straight, and you only have a Ten kicker if you pair your King. Kind of puts a damper on the fun, eh? If you’re still not convinced that playing KTo under the gun is a bad idea, take a look at the 100,000-hand Turbo Texas Hold ’em simulation results shown in Figure 8.1. In this simulation, seat 7 has the button, and Elsworth Tooey, representing you in seat 10, has K♥T♦ and always calls the first $10. We’ve created an average game with all sorts of players, many of whom are quite loose, but you can see the results aren’t that promising.

Again, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you won a lot of pots, but the bad news is that you’re losing over $4 per hand on average. Now take a look at the results in Figure 8.2. You’ve still got Elsworth playing your money, but this time he has a choice of whether to call a raise or not.

In this simulation, Elsworth still lost your money, but only to the tune of about $0.53 per hand. That’s still a lot of money when you play 100,000 hands, but it’s a lot less than the $400,000 loss he posted when playing KTo under the gun. The difference between the two positions? Elsworth won’t play KTo if he has to call a raise. You probably play a lot better than Elsworth after the flop and can win more money than you lose by playing KTo on the button when no one has raised in front of you, but you’re still facing an uphill battle when you play KTo with seven players yet to act. The same principle translates to all other hands in flop games: Many of the hands you can play when you’re last to act are hands you should toss without a second thought when you pick them up under the gun.