Your distance from the dealer button

(Less is more)

In Texas Holdem, Position refers to your distance from the dealer button. The closer you are to the button the better your position is. If you are "on the button" then you are last to act each betting round except the first (the blinds act last before the flop). It makes sense that acting last in poker is better than acting first because you get to see what all the other players do before you have to do something.

In our holdem starting hand suggestions you'll notice that you can play worse hands when you have better position, but be careful, The worse your hand is before the flop, the harder you have to hit the flop to continue.

The power of position is information. By acting last you see what your opponents do before you act. You need to make the best use of that information. For example say the following situation occurs while you are on the button:

You Hold:   And The Flop Is:
Jack of Clubs Ten of Hearts
Hole Cards
Eight of Diamonds Ten of Diamonds Two of Clubs

The board is checked to the person before you who bets. From past experience you know this person is capable of betting a draw even if the draw isn't to the nuts. You raise and force everyone behind you to call two bets if they want to play (and force them to make a bigger mistake with weaker draws like overcard draws and gutshow straights). Without seeing what other players have done before you, your decision isn't as clear.

In this situation, if a solid player raises in front of you, you may choose to drop your hand. So, with the same hole cards and same flop your action may be totally different based on what the players before you do. This is only possible when you have good position.

On a side note, when you play this hand against a lot of players you would rather have a flop like this:

Eight of Diamonds Nine of Hearts Two of Clubs

Why would you rather have a draw than a made hand in this case? Let me count the ways:

  1. With the made hand (a pair of Tens with a Jack kicker) You may not have the best hand and you may have to pay a lot to find that out by the end of the hand, especially with a flush draw on board. This is one of reasons to raise on the flop with the made hand to reduce the number of players
  2. You have the top end of a straight draw, so when you make your straight it will be the highest possible straight.
  3. There is no flush draw.
  4. If you don't make your straight draw, you will sometimes win when a Jack or a Ten comes.
  5. When you make your straight, other players are likely to make fairly strong second-best hands

Of course you would really like:

Eight of Diamonds Queen of Clubs Nine of Hearts

On a related note, if you do happen to flop the nut straight, don't be afraid to play it strongly at your average loose table. You will still get plenty of action from the Queens, Nines, Eights, 67's, Tx's, Jx's and under pairs trying to beat you on the river. Unfortunately for them this is one hand that they'll have a very tough time cracking. This means that when you are last to act you usually want to raise with this hand on the flop and not play it passively.

And as a second side note, don't be afraid to cap the betting on the river should your nut still be the nut then. A very common mistake you will see at low limit holdem tables is to assume the other player also has the nut hand after a raise or re-raise on the river. Don't assume the other player obviously has JT as well--you'll be surprised how often they don't. Really, cap it. Every time.

The Free Card

Another advantage of being in late position (especially in last position) is that you can attempt to gain a free card by raising on the flop. Free cards are not really free but actually half price--you are raising a small bet on the flop with the intention of being able to check on the turn if a helpful card doesn't come.

For example, the following happens again while you are on the button:

You Hold:   And The Flop Is:
King of Hearts Four of Hearts
Hole Cards
Five of Hearts Eight of Spades Jack of Hearts

There is a bet and four callers before you. You have the option of raising here. If the other players are betting or calling with only one pair they will be inclined to check the turn to you.

Five of Hearts Eight of Spades Jack of Hearts   Two of Clubs
Flop   Turn

At this point you can check the turn and hope to catch a heart on the river. In this particular case if you use this strategy against most low limit hold 'em players it is probably safe to raise the river if your heart comes and someone comes out betting as they will often bet an ace high flush draw strongly the whole way so your king high flush is almost certainly good.

Keep in mind that your opponents are not stupid! If you consistently try to buy a free card whenever you are on the button they will start re-raising you and betting the turn. For this reason, you should raise your strong made hands at least some of the time on the flop (instead of waiting until the turn when the bet size doubles to gain some extra value).

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If your opponents have seen you purchase a free card and you happen to flop a strong made hand (like a set or top two pair) when you are on or near the dealer button, you will often get additional callers (by hands as weak as bottom or middle pair) if your opponents think there's a good chance that your raise means that you are on a draw.

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