Position is without doubt the single biggest weapon that you will have in your arsenal in a poker game. Pro poker star Phil Ivey once famously said that he wouldn’t be able to beat his own grandmother if she had position on him all night long. So just why is getting to act last in poker such a huge advantage? To see why we can use an analogy here with another casino game and that is blackjack.
Putting card counting to one side for a moment then it isn’t possible to get an edge over the dealer in that game even if the player is using accurate basic strategy and playing their hands perfectly. The dealer simply takes cards up to and including a total of 17 and stands on all totals on 17 or more. There is nothing magical or complex about this and this simple system gets an edge over every single blackjack player. But on closer inspection then we can easily see why that is; the dealer simply gets to act last after the player on every single hand of play.
If the players busts and then the dealer busts the player still loses because they bust their hand first. This example highlights how acting last is such a big advantage. This is exactly the same in poker where even a novice player acting last can offset the skill advantage of a superior poker player. To see how this can be then we will look at a very simple example here to show you what I mean.
A solid player calls in a $1-$2 no limit hold’em ring game and a weaker player with position raises. The strong player has 6c-6d and the weak player has Jc-9c. All other players fold and the flop comes Ah-Ks-8c and now the action is on the solid player with the sixes. He has seen a raise from someone with position over him and now there are three overcards on the flop two of which hit the range of a raiser. He fears betting with such a scary board and so he checks. Meanwhile the weaker player has seen a very timid betting sequence from his opponent of calling pre-flop and then calling a raise followed by checking the flop.
So despite the fact that he has missed the flop then he figures that a continuation bet should figure to take the pot down. He makes a two thirds pot sized bet and his opponent decides that discretion is the better part of valour and folds the best hand. Now look at what happens if we were to turn this situation around and simply alter the position of both players. This time the player with the pocket sixes raises from late position and the caller with the Jc-9c calls the raise and misses the flop.
Now we have the exact same situation in reverse with the player with position and the initiative in the hand winning the pot. So this one hand example shows how when position is reversed that a totally different result can be achieved. No matter what hand you hold pre-flop then the hand will make more money having better position (this even applies to aces). If you raise from early position in no limit hold’em and get three callers and you hold A-A and miss the flop then you are going to be betting totally blind on whether or not one of your opponents has overtaken you.
So now you know, and I hope you'll remember this the next time the cards come out.