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24/02/2006 No.36
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday February 24, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Our discussion of bluffing will remain incomplete without a little chat about "position". Well, I'll be honest - it will remain incomplete anyway. Poker is a complicated game. As I have warned before, every situation can be debated for ever, and there are counterarguments to every strategy.

Nevertheless, there are a few guiding principles. In a hold 'em game, the player "on the button" (ie the dealer or nominal dealer) is always the last to act. This is the best position to have at the table. The reason should be obvious: you can see what everybody else does before you make a decision.


For example, let's say you have a pair of threes. If five people have called before you, you've got good odds to take a cheap look at the flop. If you sense general weakness, you have a raising option. But if you're the first to act, it's much more dangerous to get involved with a small pair because you don't know whether somebody behind you is waiting to raise. "On the button", you will remain last to act (and therefore in the strongest position) throughout the hand. A nice place to raise pre-flop is from one or two seats before the button, because you might force out the next couple of players and create an extra opportunity to be last to act.

It also means that opponents might check to you on the flop, giving you the choice (depending on your hand) of value betting, bluffing, or taking a free card. When it comes to bluffing, late position makes life easier. Although it is a stronger move to bet out from an early position, it makes you quite vulnerable to a raise. But if you can make the first bet from last place, you are vulnerable only to a check-raise - which ought to indicate a big hand, so you can just throw your bluff away. This means that you can play a wider range of hands in "late" position than in "early". Small pairs, small suited connectors and medium-sized aces are all dangerous in the first few seats. They are much more playable in the end spots near the button, where you have more information, more options and more control.