When you’re just starting out in No-Limit Texas Holdem, you can’t minimize the importance of “position,” or where you act in the hand. An “early” position or “late” position will dramatically affect both the cards you choose to play, and how you play them.
According to the Texas Holdem rules, play begins when the player to the left of the dealer (“the button”) puts in half a bet, called the small blind. The player to his left then puts in a full bet, called the big blind. Since the small blind and big blind have already acted, the player three to the left of the button acts first before the flop, with action proceeding clockwise around the table. Although they’ve already been forced to bet once, the small blind and big blind can still choose to fold, call or raise when the action gets back to them. In subsequent rounds, the player to the left of the dealer acts first.
If you’re one of the first players to act in a hand, you are said to be in early position, and you’re at a bit of a disadvantage. You’ll be forced throughout the whole hand to make decisions without a lot of key information, like how many people will stay in the hand and how much strength they are representing.
You have to adapt your Texas Holdem strategy to these circumstances. The earlier you act in the hand, the more discerning you should be about the cards you play. Putting in a raise when others are acting after you is said to be acting “out of position,” since you are building a pot where you are at a disadvantage. A hand like A-T, then, needs to be played carefully in early position; if an ace flops and you bet, it’s tough to know if you’re up against a bigger ace if you’re called.
If you are on the button, or close to the button’s right, you are in “late” position, and you have the advantage. It’s much clearer if you’ll be able to see a cheap flop, and, on a favorable flop, you’ll have a better idea of your opponent’s strength and how to play him.
You can also play much more speculative hands, like middle suited connectors. If you come in early with 8s-9s and run into a big raise, you’ll have to fold and give up your bet. Or, if you do get to see a flop, it’ll be hard to maximize results since you won’t know if you should bet out or try to trap your opponents. In late position, you’ll likely have that information already, and be able to judge if a more marginal hand has a better chance of winning.
In a Nutshell
If you have a marginal hand and aren’t sure if you should play it, check your position. If you’re in an early position, your best bet is usually folding and waiting for a better opportunity. Texas Holdem poker is a game of patience and discipline. If you wait for the right situation to attack, you will have a much better chance of success.