"�.daydreamers, as well as anyone else curious about how a professional gambler plies his trade, should read Sklansky and Malmuth�.
"Since Sklansky and Malmuth began producing their revelatory books over a decade ago, the general level of expertise around American poker and blackjack tables has risen exponentially."--Cigar Aficionado Magazine, June 1988
Read an Excerpt
A player's position is more important in hold 'em than in any other poker game. Only draw poker is close. In both draw and hold 'em the dealer acts last and the man "under the gun" acts first on each betting round. (In some forms of draw poker, the opener, rather than the man under the gun, acts first after the draw, which somewhat diminishes the dealer's advantage.) However, hold 'em has four betting rounds as opposed to draw poker's two. This fact serves to compound the advantages of late position and the disadvantages of early position.
Why are these considerations so important? Here is an analysis: First, take the play before the flop. If you call in early position, you are subjecting yourself to one or more raises behind you. The earlier your position the more risk you are taking. If you wouldn't have called if you knew there was a raise behind you, you have now been forced to put $20 in before the flop with a hand that doesn't justify it. If you fold without calling the raise, you have given up $10 without seeing a card. Also some hands are only worth playing if there are many other callers. In early position you are just guessing about how many people will play.
Other considerations involve the fact that if you are in early position or under the gun; you will remain there throughout the hand. Assume now that it is sometime after the flop. Once again, if you are in last position with only a fair-to-good hand, and the first player bets, there can be no raise behind you. Those players in middle position have no such comfort. If you have a "big hand" in this spot, your advantage in being last is even greater. This is best seen by comparing your situation with being first with a big hand. If you were first you might try to check and raise, but if it doesn't work you have lost a few bets from those that would have called you, and given a free card to those that wouldn't. Being last, you will always be able to bet even if you don't get the opportunity to raise. If you are in middle position with a big hand, you still have problems. If no one has yet bet and it is up to you, you must decide whether to risk "sandbagging." Also, if someone has bet in front of you, a raise will drive players out behind you. These extra bets lost really add up.
Even if the pot narrows down to two players, these positional considerations still apply, maybe more so. Suppose you are last to act and have a big hand. Once again if our opponent bets you can raise. If he doesn't bet, you do. If you are first with the same hand, you can only make two bets if a check-raise works. If it doesn't, you have cost yourself a bet. If instead you come right out betting with this hand in first position, you lose a bet when a check raise would have worked, but he now just calls. If your hand is only mediocre, it is once again advantageous to be last. If you can't call a bet, you still may get a free card (which could wind up beating him) if he chose to check a hand, which you know, is better than yours is. However, if you are first with this same hand, it is unlikely that he will still check after you check. Finally, even if your hand is somewhere in the middle (good, but not great) it is better to be last. While it is true that you will bet in either position, if he is first, and comes out betting, you will simply call him. If you were first in this spot, you would bet and he might raise. The importance of these extra bets that may be saved or gained by being in late position cannot be overemphasized. Never forget that in poker we are trying to win a lot of money � not a lot of pots.
It is true, as some sharp readers may have realized that occasionally it is an advantage to be in early position. Sometimes you want to drive players out to make your hand stand up. Only raising in early position will do this. Secondly, if you are first with "a lock" you may make three bets by betting and then reraising. However, these exceptions do little to change the general principle that it is better to be last. (This, of course, is even truer when the check and raise feature is not allowed.)
How then do we make use of this information? Later on in the Strategy chapter I will discuss situations after the flop where your position determines your action. However, the main point of this chapter is to show why you must take your position very much into account when you are deciding whether to play a specific hand or not. Any starting hand can become a winning hand when all the cards are out. However, some hands do so more than others. For this reason, the lesser hands can be played only in late position. Not simply because you are in little danger of a raise behind you before the flop, but also because of the bets that are gained (or saved) when you turn a hand in this position.
Conversely, the opposite considerations apply in early position. Therefore, the earlier your position, the better your first two cards must be to play. But what are good starting hands?