Position and Starting Hand Selection
The position at which a player starts a hand will have a great bearing on how the hand is played. The best position in Hold'em, whether limit, no-limit, or pot-limit, is the dealer position (often called the button). The player with the button is the last to act in each round except for the first round of betting (the big blind acts last in the first round). The reason this is such an advantage is that the button gets to see what everyone else does before he/she has to act. This leads to opportunities to steal a pot with a marginal hand and allows good players to win the maximum amount with their good hand. It also allows the good players to minimize their losses in certain situations.
The worst position is the player to the left of the big blind (often called under-the-gun). Your biggest decision in Hold'em is the first one you must make: whether to play a hand or not. On average, profitable players enter the pot with better hands than other players. Before you enter a pot, you want as much information as possible. When under-the-gun, you have no information about what any of the other players are going to do. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage. For these reasons, you can often play weaker hands the closer you get to the button. Let's assume that the small blind is in seat 1, the big blind is in seat 2, and the button is in seat 10. The players in seats 3, 4, and 5 are in early position, seats 6 and 7 are in middle position, and seats 8, 9, and 10 are in late position. You will learn in the next section that some hands can be played in the middle or late positions that cannot be played in the early positions.
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Here is an example of table position.
If your goal is to become a winning Texas Hold'em player, this section is invaluable. As stated above, the most important decision you make as a Hold'em player is whether or not to enter the pot (or play for the pot). Almost all losing Hold'em players play far too many hands. Winning Hold'em players see the flop only between 20 and 25 percent of the time. Let's think about that statement for a minute. Considering the fact that 10 percent of the time you will be in the big blind, which will often let you see the flop for free, if you are to be a winning player, you won't enter many other pots -- only one to one and a half on average each round other than when you are the big blind.
Many players will call a half bet in the small blind with any two cards. After reading this article, hopefully you won't play this way as it can cost you considerable money in the long run. This one error, when done repeatedly, can be the difference between winning and losing.
Many professional players play more hands than recommended, but their post-flop play and ability to read other players is superior to most people's abilities. This allows them to outplay their opponents and make up for the difference in starting hand composition after the flop.
The following recommendations are also geared toward low-limit Texas Hold'em, such as 1/2, 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, and 5/10. Of course, some 20/40 games play like 5/10 games, and some 5/10 games play like 50/100 games. Getting a feel for your opponents is important when you consider your starting hand requirements.
We will discuss what hands can be played from each position under a variety of circumstances in the next few sections. You should refer to these sections often and eventually memorize them as you gain experience. As with everything in poker, rarely is any decision set in stone. The following pages contain solid guidelines to help you understand what to look for in each position. Many things will go into each decision you make, such as who enters the pot before you, if the pot has been raised, how loose or tight the other players are, and your table image. What is important to remember is that these guidelines are a good starting point, but through experience you will tweak them to best fit your playing style. Move on to the next section to get started.
For more information about Texas Hold 'Em Poker and other variations, try the following links:
- To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
- Some Poker Basics are essential before you sit down at the card table.
- For a more complicated version of hold 'em, learn How to Play Omaha Poker.
- Get to know the previous "most popular game in poker", in How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker.