By Rolf Slotboom
Position is one of the most important, yet one of the least understood aspects in poker. A lot of players don't ever think about their position relative to the button; they think about their cards only and don't adjust their decisions (whether / how to play) to their position in the betting.
Another group of players talk about position all the time; they play hands "because they are on the button", they bet "because they always bet when they are last to act" or make remarks like: "I don't play cards. I play position." The first group of players doesn't make the adjustments necessary to become a winning player and is often easy to play against. The second group seems to focus on one aspect of the game only and tends to forget that (especially in limit poker) card selection might be even more important; that most of the time you're going to have to show the best hand to win the pot.
Nevertheless, position is a very important factor in poker. Hold'em and Omaha are positional games: the closer you are to the button, the better. You might occasionally play hands that are slightly below your usual standards. You might decide to become a little bit more aggressive with your hand because you're last to act or try to steal a pot because of the weakness the other players have shown by checking, but if you overdo this you'll find your edge might decrease instead of increase. People might start check-raising you because they know you are going to bet whenever it's been checked to you; in fact, even tight, solid players like myself are going to (semi-) bluff check-raise you (and the other opponents) out of the pot.
Position in limit hold'em.
Position in limit hold'em is important, although not as important as many players seem to think. In loose / passive games your position often enables you to win more on your good hands (especially your good drawing hands) and lose less with them than you would otherwise. In tight / aggressive games (the usual standard for the limits $10-20 and up), you might be able to pick up some small pots because of your position.
However, in games like these the opposition is more knowledgeable than in the lower-limit games. People expect the button to bet when there hasn't been any action yet; they expect someone in late position to raise before the flop to try to steal the blinds. They will play back with nothing, expecting you to have nothing. This also means that if you do have the goods in late position, you might be able to win a huge pot because your late-position aggressiveness isn't necessarily the sign of a great hand to them. In loose / passive games, the free card play is profitable and will often work. Let's say you're playing a suited ace on the button, you flop a four-flush, there's an early-position bettor, three callers and you raise; they all call your raise. In games like these the check-to-the-raiser attitude still exists. People might very well check to you on the turn.
When you have improved you bet and when you haven't you check, getting more money in the money when you make your hand and losing less when you don't. In the higher limit games, the free card play will rarely succeed. People know what you're doing so they will either reraise on the flop or (better) call your raise and then bet into you when it seems like you haven't improved. I they do check to you on the turn, you might decide to bet rather than check because of the weakness they have shown.
If for example the board is Jh 8d 2h and you've got Ah 9h you would most of the time bet your four-flush, even if the turn hasn't helped you: someone with a jack or eight might fold, leaving you heads up against some kind of (straight) draw, that is your ace-high might win the pot. When the river is a blank and your opponent checks, you check it back (never bet your ace-high in cases like this, just show the hand down) and if he bets, you're going to have to grit your teeth and pay off (a bet by a busted hand is too likely in cases like this to fold).
Another play a lot of (semi-) knowledgeable players like to make is reraising a late-position raiser with a small wired pair. They expect the raiser to be on a steal and figure their hand is a small favorite hot-and-cold against two random cards; they want to play the hand heads up in position. I don't like this play however and use it only sparingly, only when I think somebody is out of line or tries to run over the game. The fact is: the raiser might have a good hand (he doesn't always need to be in there with nothing), one of the blinds may wake up with a real hand (forcing you to pay four bets for a hand that may barely be worth one), or the raiser may in fact be playing two random cards but receive help from the board.
In limit hold'em, you should be able to save money or make money because of the information you get by the players acting before you in the betting process. Therefore you might start betting second pair in late position because you think your hand is best; you might pick up an occasional pot if you think there are no great hands out there but don't overdo it. If people start passing their hands to you, fully expecting you to bet, to put the check-raise in and they do this habitually, then you might have gone a little too far with your late-position play and you should start tightening up a little (betting when you have the goods, checking when you don't).
Position in pot-limit Omaha.
In pot-limit Omaha, compared to limit hold'em, position is of paramount importance. Because in this game so many turn- or river cards may cripple your hand, people are reluctant to give free cards. Therefore, if it's been checked to you, the odds are against anybody being in there with a real hand, and a good-sized bet has a good chance of winning the pot right away. Even if people suspect you are stealing, they still tend to give up the hand. Pot-limit players don't like to battle for small pots with less than premium hands, even if they think the bettor doesn't need to have a premium hand either.
Often the person who makes the first bet is able to pick up the pot, and therefore it might just as well be you who does the grabbing here. But once again, don't overdo it. Just like in limit hold'em, people might start check-raising you with hands they will fold against others. If you bet a marginal hand that you will have to give up against a check-raise (for example, an open-ended straight draw when there's a two-flush on the board) it might be better not to bet at all, since you can make your hand for free; in fact, if you get check-raised here, you are losing money on a hand you actually could have made some money with. In general, I like to play for the big pots in Omaha.
If there has been no raise before the flop and the hand gets checked to me, I often check my marginal hands back. I don't want people to think I'm trying to pick up pots all the time. If on the other hand the pot has been raised before the flop and the money is deep, I might become very aggressive when I'm in position and I suspect there are no great hands like top set or some kind of monster draw out there. I try to use my tight image to represent the temporary nuts (most often top set) and if someone decides to play back at me, all the money is going to be in the middle. If I get called, I will have a lot of outs no matter what (in Omaha, you hardly ever bet or raise without having outs because people may be in there with all kinds of hands, and therefore the likelihood of getting called is high).
If you bet or raise on the flop with a fine draw (wraparound straight- and flush draw) and get called, it's up to you whether or not to bet the turn as well. Against most players I have the tendency to keep putting as much pressure on them as possible if I think they're in there with something like top two pair or a small set, to try to make them fold their hand. If the player is unlikely to fold even after a second pot-sized bet (either because he's a really bad player or simply because he doesn't respect your play), you should just check it back and try to make your hand for free. One more thing: while in general you can become more aggressive with your hand the closer you are to the button, sometimes the opposite is also true.
If you flop a very good draw in early position, you might decide to go all-in on the flop by check-raising or betting out yourself, whereas you would have just called a bet (rather than go all-in) in late position. By going all-in, you try to get maximum value out of your hand. If you just call a bet when you're out of position and then you make your hand, the original bettor might fold if you come out betting and if you check, he might check it back. If you are last to act, the original bettor will most of the time be forced to pay you off, since he may feel his check might have induced some kind of bluff; if the board pairs on the turn or river you just fold your hand and save money you wouldn't have saved in early position.
Some final words.
Your position in the betting is always an important consideration in poker. Still, you shouldn't make decisions based on position only but use your position in combination with all other important factors: is the opposition likely to be weak, what do I think I'll have to beat, if I bet will they suspect me of stealing, does the board make it likely for someone to be checking a monster, are there any habitual check-raisers anyway etc. If you are able to combine all those factors with your position in the betting process*, then you should be able to make (or save) a lot of money, just because you're last to act.
* In pot-limit poker, there is also another important positional consideration besides position in the betting process and that is position on the preflop raiser. If there has been a late- position raise and you are on the button, your position is in fact rather vulnerable. People might check their good hands to the raiser on the flop, expecting him to bet (which, even in Omaha, will happen quite often) and thereby bagging you as well. If the preflop raiser doesn't bet, it is by no means certain that a bet by you will win the pot because someone might be lurking in the woods. On the other hand, if you're the big blind and there has been an under-the-gun raise, your position may not be as bad as it seems. When the flop is favorable, you just check and if the preflop raiser bets, you might be able to bag the entire field, or induce some kind of (semi-) bluff by someone who tries to pick up the pot because there has been no action yet.