Play in position
Perhaps the most important aspect of poker is position. Having position in a hand allows you to act after you have seen all your other opponents act, gives you the opportunity to make the last bluff, and allows you to get a free card when you really need it.
Let's take those ideas and break them down.
Having position allows you to act after you have seen all your opponents act.
If you're on the button, you'll get to watch every other player at your table decide what they'd like to do with
their hands. Make sure you watch these players because they could be giving away some vital information about the strength of their hands.
There are times when players reach for their chips before it's their turn. In this situation, a player probably has a strong hand and is thinking about betting it. Use the time before your turn to act wisely, because players give away more information than they'd like by simply looking at their cards.
Watching these players will also help you figure out if the aggressive player at your table will raise or if the loose player will call before it's your turn to act. With this knowledge, you can determine how you'll play the hand, if you decide to play it.
Another positional advantage that you have is the ability to see a cheap flop. Have a couple players already limped into the pot? All of a sudden your 9-7 suited is a playable hand because of the other callers. If you hit the flop, great! If you don't and you think you can take down the pot with a bet, go for it and read the following paragraph.
Having position allows you to make the last bluff.
Situation: There are three other players involved in the pot and they check to you. You are pretty sure they would've bet if they had hit the flop. Meanwhile, you've got nothing. Not even a high card. But you throw in a bet of half the pot because of your position, and they all fold their hands.
Why wouldn't you bet there? Your opponents have shown weakness and taking advantage of it is almost a necessity. By having position, you can get a read on your opponents because they all act before you. This positional advantage will allow you to win hands that you should have no business winning if cards were the only things that mattered. When you've got it, use it. Position is power.
Having position allows you to get a free card when you really need it.
There are a lot of times when you'd like to chase your draw, but the odds just aren't right to do so after an opponent bets out. However, if you're in position, you've got the opportunity to check to see a free card, one that could give you the nuts. There are times when you need to bet your big draw (open-ended straight/flush) in this position, but there are also times to check and see the free card.
It's all about the math.
Mathematically, a player will miss the flop two out of three times. If you are in position and playing against a predictable player who will bet if he hits the flop and checks if he misses the flop, then you will be able to pick up two out of three pots that way with a bet.
Think about it this way, if a tight, predictable player raises from middle position, you can call with just about anything knowing that if he misses that flop, the pot is yours.
Need more information on playing position? Listen to the Poker Edge with Phil Gordon and I with our special guest, WPT Player of the Year Gavin Smith. We talk in-depth about position and will discuss in much more detail the points I have mentioned above.
March 6, Tight or loose
March 13, Flop a set? Bet it!
March 20, Should you show your cards?
March 27, Bet with a purpose
April 4, Playing position preflop
April 11, Playing pocket pairs
April 18, Overplaying A-K
April 25, Be patient early
May 2, Big chips at the bubble
May 9, Don't get too short stacked
May 16, Reraise to isolate
Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, editor, producer and tournament director. Andrew is also the co-host of "The Poker Edge" on ESPNRadio.com. To contact Andrew, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.