Poker Basics

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A player's position in the betting sequence is an important, yet underrated aspect of poker. In our discussion of raising, check raising, and the free card, we have shown how position affects the way you play a hand. Indeed it can be said that position is one of the key elements affecting virtually every play in poker.

In games like five-card draw, draw lowball, and hold 'em, you know your position in advance of each deal since the person to the left of the dealer, the man under the gun as he's described, always acts first, and the dealer acts last. However, in stud games, both high and low, you can rarely be sure where you'll be in the betting sequence from one round to the next, as we have noted.

Position is more important in some games than in others, it is particularly critical in hold 'em and in five-card draw and draw lowball. However, in all poker games it is far better to be last to act, primarily because it is generally easier to decide what to do after you have seen what your opponents have done. Logically, then, the worst position is to be first since you must act before you know what any of your opponents are going to do. You might, for instance, have a hand that's worth a call if there are two or three other callers, but in first or early position you cannot be sure there will be any other callers. In last position you could know for sure whether you were getting favorable pot odds for a call, and if you weren't, you could save a bet and fold. When you are neither first nor last, the closer you are to last position the better, since you have fewer unknown quantities behind you and more relatively known quantities in front of you.

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