One reason why position is so important in Hold 'Em is because it is a poker game of fixed position. What that means is that the betting round will always begin to the left of the dealer on every round. This differs from a game like Stud, where the best hand showing opens each betting round, which can change from round to round. In Hold 'Em, you know your position from the outset based on where you're sitting relative to the dealer.
While we'll discuss the implications of position on all betting rounds, discussion will focus mostly on the first pre-flop betting round and the second betting round after the flop. The reason for this is that position will be most relevant in two spots: i) deciding whether to call the blinds, raise the blinds, or fold to the blinds, and ii) deciding how to play one's hand after seeing the flop.
One interesting point in the discussion of position are the blinds. Because they have opened the first betting round with forced bets, they are actually last to act on the first betting round. In playing their hands however, they need to bear in mind that they will be the first to act on all subsequent betting rounds. Therefore when in the blinds, you want to bear in mind that you're actually in early position. As we will see, this limits the number of hands you can play aggressively.
However, this is balanced by the fact that as one of the blinds, you've already invested part or all of the cost of the betting round. If nobody raises into the big blind, he obviously plays for free (but of course, has the option to raise). If nobody raises into the small blind, then he only owes the difference between the two blind bets. Although he will be first to act on all betting rounds, he likely only has to put in $1 or $2 to call (at a 3-6 table). What this means is that if a hand is playable (or even semi-playable), it's worth seeing the blind bet if it only costs you one or two bucks. If however, you're sitting in the small blind with absolute trash, or if somebody has raised the blind bet and your hand is only mediocre, remember that you're first to act on all subsequent betting rounds. You have to fold some of those mediocre hands. The question often arises of when to raise in the blinds. This should be done rarely, and only when warranted by the right conditions.
By raising in the blinds, you give your hand away. What's more, if the flop falls and you catch none of it (meaning the flop doesn't help your hand at all), then you'll have to check and be fairly obvious that the flop didn't help your once-powerful hand. This only encourages another player who did catch part or all of the flop to bet into you. With a strong hand like AA or KK, you may choose to raise in the blinds or you may choose to hide the strength of your hand by not raising. An important point to consider when raising in the blinds is that you won't likely fold anybody. Since you're last to act, anybody who has called the blind bet will also likely call your raise (per a previous column that discusses two individual bets versus the double-bet). Therefore, when you know your raise won't fold anybody, then you're raising to build money in the pot and not to thin the herd. When you're raising to build money in the pot, be sure you're doing it with the right hand. There's no sense building money in a pot that you're not the favourite to win.
To discern what we mean by early, middle, and late position, we'll break it up as follows, based on a ten-player game. Early position is comprised of both blinds and the two next players after the blinds. Middle position is comprised of the three players after early position. Late position is comprised of the last three players after middle position. The breakdown then would be 4/3/3. While this standard is certainly arguable, it's good enough for our discussion here.
Early Position Disadvantages
For the first betting round, we've already covered the importance of the blinds. On that same betting round, the two players seated after the blinds can also be considered in early position. For discussion related to the second, third, and fourth betting rounds, we include the blinds as being in early position.
Early position is the worst position to be in and it has few benefits. In early position, you want to play less hands and tread much more carefully with your hands. You are giving up an advantage to those players in late position, which weighs against you inevitably on each betting round. When you have the best hand, that's all you need to win. But before you do (or when you're unsure), remember that positional disadvantage is a disadvantage as valid as a mathematical or psychological disadvantage. Here's why.