Position is one of the most critical elements in any given hand of poker. Virtually every player with any reasonable amount of experience knows what position is, but only top level players know how to capitalize on each position at the table. As nice as it would be, you are not going to be in position in every pot that you play. In fact, you are going to play a lot more out of position pots than in position pots.
The key to success is not only playing pots in position. Instead, your aim should be to make the most out of any position that you are in, while also creating more opportunities for pots while in position. In other words, getting involved in late position is the best course of action, even if you are not working with the strongest of hands. Your hand value will rise dramatically no matter what you are holding simply because you have the advantage of acting last. The value in being able to force your opponents to act first can not be overstated.
Some players get to the stage in their game where they realize that position is important, but they are still not quite sure how to implement playing position into their own skill set. There is a big difference between playing more pots in position and playing more pots profitably in position. Anyone could sit down, wait to be on the button, and start making all kinds of loose calls, but this is hardly going to make you any money. Patience is a huge asset in poker, and you will have plenty of sessions where you just don’t get any really playable hands, be it in or out of position. Forcing the issue will seldom find any success in the short run, and it is all but certainly a plan for failure in the long run.
Position in 6-Max vs. Full Ring Games
There are some very definitive differences between position and its implementation in 6-max games vs. full ring games. If you only play live poker, full ring position is the only thing that will be relevant to you, but online players should all be familiar with how position works in short handed games. 6-max games are very prevalent online, and the occasional full ring game will break up to the point where it is playing 6-handed. There is a significant advantage to be had if you are able to adjust to short handed play when your opponents are unable to. Even if you aren’t a 6-max regular, there will still be practical uses for the skills that a 6-max player needs to know.
Early position in a 6-max game does not mean that you have to be wildly selective with your hands. As there are only five other players (at the most) fighting for the pot, you do not have to mow down 8 or 9 of your opponents to win the hand. As such, you can widen your range in early position and push opponents around. Having said that, though, you should have a relatively defined set of hands that you are making open raises with. If there is one thing that you are never doing in early position, it is open limping. Now that you have decided that you are tossing open limps to the side, you need to determine which hands are playable in early position and which ones are not.
Though there is no steadfast set of rules, there are general hands that players will open with in early position at a 6-max games and ones they will not. Again, as a general rule only, anything worse than 22 or JQ should be in the muck. When you start to play speculative hands like suited connectors out of position, you are just asking for trouble. This goes without saying in full ring games, but it is a concept that many 6-max players seem to completely disregard. Yes, you can play JQ, JK, and small pocket pairs, but since you are opening the action with a raise, you will be bleeding the value from speculative hands by investing too much money.
Middle position and late position are almost one in the same in 6-max games. Since the under gun player, coupled with the blinds, takes up half the table alone, there are just a few positions left to account for. Anything past under the gun is fair grounds for steal attempts, though you should be more aggressive nearer to the button. Stealing from UTG+1 is really not a good strategy unless you are at an exceptionally tight table. In 6-max games, stealing is more common than it is in full ring games, but along with that comes more players who are willing to fight back. If you are going to step out and make some plays, be prepared to face some resistance from time to time. This is one of the biggest position adjustments that need to be made in 6-max games when coming from a full ring game. In full ring games, steals have a very high rates of success as players will give their opponents credit for a hand. As a result, full ring players don’t typically worry about being played back at when they steal. When you start to play more aggressive in 6-max games, however, everything is exactly the opposite.
Playing in Early Position
Early position is the spot where you want to be more selective with your hands. Playing suited connectors, weak face cards, and so on and so forth is just throwing money down the drain. This holds true in both 6-max and full ring games. In early position at full ring tables, opening with anything less than AJ is going to be quite pushy. As a general rule of thumb, AJ is the cut off point for early position hands that are worthy of a raise. You should also be making an open raise with anything from small to big pocket pairs. Whatever you do, avoid open limping. Unless you have found an incredibly good game with well below average opponents, open limping is nothing more than a telegraph of your hand strength. Be selective in early position but also maintain your aggressiveness.
Playing in Middle Position
Middle position is where things can get murky. On one hand, you are not in early position, but on the other hand, you are not in late position either. As a result of being in the middle, you can almost go either way in many spots. Sometimes you will want to open raise with JK in middle position, where other times you will simply fold. Likewise, JJ might call an open raise in middle position, but it is also worthy of a raise. Middle position gives you the opportunity to “freelance” with your hands. This is a good spot at the table for trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Remember, there are still players to act behind you, but some of your competition has already stepped out of the way. Middle position does not give you the freedom to play a wide range of pots like late position will; so don’t get caught up with suited and connected hands, however tempting it may be.
Playing in Late Position
Late position is the holy ground, the place where you want to be, and the time to make money. There aren’t many players who will get up from the game when they are on or near the button. Late position allows you to act last, after seeing what all of your opponents have decided to do. Have a decent, but not strong hand? No problem, see how your opponents play the hand and decide where you are likely to stand. 44 can be tricky to play in early position, especially if you are re-raised, but it is a breeze in late position.
Late position will allow you to: call raises with suited connectors, raise and call a three bet with small pairs, make steal and re-steal attempts, and fold your “ok” hands without any worries. These are all elements that can and should parlay themselves into significant profits. You can win big pots with big starting hands, but mediocre starting hands in late position are true gold mines. Use late position to effectively manage the pot size, the action, and to ultimately take down more pots.