- Under the gun: When you are the player who must open the betting round, your options are to bet or to check. In a loose game, you must beware of betting since there is still a table full of players who may raise. Therefore, you may be asking to spend more money than your initial bet if you open.
Your first task is to forecast the type of players at the table. If your hand is strong, you can bet it legitimately. But in doing so, you need to factor in those probable raises to determine if your hand is not just good enough to justify your raise, but the next raises. If you're playing at a tight table, then it would be right to raise since otherwise, you may be allowing worse hands to stay in for free if nobody raises. If your hand is strong and you want to play it deceptively at a tight table, then you would check and call those bets that happen to be made.
If your hand is weak and you want to play it legitimately, you would call but by doing so, you risk revealing to the table how weak your hand is. You are actually in a better position to bluff, since you are starting the betting round and can start it off with an intimidation bet. At a tight table, this may be enough to fold some better hands. At a loose table, you would do better to call since bluffing becomes less effective.
Early position: If there is no bet to you, then you are in a similar position as being under the gun, except now, your play is influenced by the fact that those players ahead of you have indicated either weakness or slowplaying. By reading them as players, you must make a decision as to which. If your hand is semi-strong, you are now more inclined to bet. If your hand is weak, you are more inclined to bluff. Once the betting round reaches those players ahead of you, you'll get a better idea by their actions which way they're going.
If there is a bet to you, then you're in a different situation. With a strong hand, you may want to simply call. To raise means sending a double-bet to the players to your left, which may be enough to fold too many players in a tight game. In a loose game, you would be more inclined to bet since they'll probably stay in anyway. With a weak hand, you're in a bit of a jam. Strength has already been suggested by the play in front of you. To call is to risk more money. To raise is to take a chance bluffing. In a loose game, to fold might be the best move.
Late position: If there is no bet to you, then you are more in the driver's seat. Nobody has suggested strength up to you. You are in a better position to bluff with a weak hand, and you are in more of a position to slowplay with a strong hand. To bluff is to certainly count out some of the players who called and didn't bet. To slowplay is to limp in with the rest, keeping them in the game and allowing you to make your move on a later betting round with more players in the pot.
If there is a bet to you or numerous bets to you, then you will be less inclined to bluff with a weak hand. Strength has already been suggested, and the more bets, the less likely you'll fold everybody with a bluff. With a weak hand, you may be more inclined to fold or, if all is not lost, simply call. With a strong hand, you may be more inclined to call at a tight table (where it's likely everybody to your right will be in on the next round) or raise at a loose table (where the goal at this point is to get as much money in the pot as possible).
- Last to bet: This is the driver's seat. This is the best position to be in. You have just been awarded the luxury of seeing what everybody else has done ahead of you. Each player's move in combination with what you know of that player's style has given you indication as to what every player at the table may have. The tight players who bet reveal strength and the loose players who called should be removed from the pot at your earliest convenience.
If there is no bet to you, then you may be more inclined to get some money moving. Slowplaying is useful, but when nobody has bet, you gain more information by throwing out a token bet. At a loose table, don't hesitate. At a tight table, be careful not to eliminate too many players. With a weak hand, you have the opportunity to stay in the game for free by also checking. In no other position do you have that kind of luxury. If there is a bet to you, you at least have been given the chance to see what other players are potentially holding. If you've read correctly enough, then you should have a pretty good idea of where your hand stands with the rest. With a strong hand, you would be more inclined to slowplay at a tight table and certainly raise at a loose table. With a weak hand, you would be more inclined to fold in a tight game since strength has already been suggested. In a loose game, you play a weak hand at your own risk, since betting players may also be holding weak hands, but loose play can disguise it one way or the other.
Without the ability to position ourselves where we want, we're at the mercy of the rules of the game. In most games, the player to the left of the dealer opens every betting round. For this, I gladly accept responsibility to shuffle and deal; not that big a chore when you consider the benefits. In Stud poker, the highest hand up opens the betting round, making for a much more unpredictable game. Although you want the best hand, you also want the best cards showing to be on your immediate left.
Without this ability, it's the merit of a sound poker player to take advantage of his position by factoring it into his decision-making. Just as there are no perfect plays for all numbers of all types of players in all sized pots, there are no perfect plays for all positions. Your position at the table is as important as any of the rest of them. Early position makes you one of the first to represent a hand; late position allows yours to be one of the last to represent a hand, doing so after you've seen what's out there.