The Misconceptions Of Playing Out Of Position

Guide To Winning Poker (22)

  • If we roll over out of position, we will indeed get rolled
  • There are some arguments why out of position is so weak, but they are mostly false
  • We may not be able to win more money out of position, but we can come a lot closer

Going First Isn’t As Bad As You May Think

Being first to act in every betting round isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You may have heard the line that the first person to bet usually wins the pot. There’s at least some truth in this. If we do choose to bet first, and we may or may not depending on the situation, it is true that we put pressure on our opponent. Whenever we do so, we put our opponent in a position to make a mistake, meaning folding too much, calling too much, or raising too much.

In fact, if our opponent isn’t very good, we could bet out every time and if they may very well be so tight that we’re going to have a positive expectation with every bet. As we’ve shown in earlier sessions, the ideal amount of times that our opponent should fold is no more than a third with a half pot size bet, and a lot of people fold a lot more than this. So right there you can see the power of initiative, and why they say the first into the pot usually comes out ahead. If people fold more often than they don’t fold, then we know this for an absolute certainty, since they will be losing pots more than they win them.

It’s Not Just About How Many Hands You Win

There’s a lot more to things than just who wins the pot on any given betting round, and a lot of the money at the table is won and lost when players tend to compound mistakes. A perfect example of this is with the calling station, where I’m betting with a better range than they are and they will call me down with weaker hands. In this case the amount of chips that they lose on net is much more than just what’s at stake on the flop.

So if we just check, then we turn the ball over to the opponent, who then has the opportunity to put us to the test. So in battles between a player out of position and a player in position, what generally happens is that the out of position player will turn over the initiative to the in position player, who will bet, taking the aggression. The out of position player, preferring to play passive, will then fold too much and give the in position a big advantage here.

I’ve argued for years that much of what we consider to be due to positional advantages doesn’t come from the positions themselves. Most of it is due to players playing too weakly and passively out of position and in fact it’s not hard to show that this is the case. Most players still don’t get it though and I’ve even seen some folks who coach for a living get bent out of shape insisting that position is the cause here, not weak play, since the weak play is justified and most players don’t play weakly enough out of position. This is pure nonsense though.

No One Says It’s Not More Challenging To Play Out Of Position

There’s no question though that it’s more difficult to play out of position than in position, especially given the way people in position tend to play, which is with the liberal use of aggression. Aggressive players are more difficult to play against since they will put you to the test much more than passive players, meaning putting pressure on you with bets and raises, where you need to respond correctly or be at a disadvantage.

This is a lot like my throwing a punch at you or not, and if I throw the punch, you now have to deal with it. So you’ve now got to look to move your head to avoid it, or try to block it and counter punch. Given the choice, players will all too often look to duck here and while they don’t get hit, the fight becomes too one sided, and some of those punches are going to connect. So what I’m saying is that perhaps it might be good to take a step back here and try to figure out what’s really going on, and in particular, when it’s good to lead out with a punch instead, or look to counter punch.

Whoever Acts First Can Tip Their Hand First

We do know though that by leading out of position, we are subject to giving up too much information. A lot is made of this when people look to point out the disadvantages of playing out of position, and this is certainly something we need to take stock of. For instance, if I bet when I have a hand and check when I don’t, then if I play straightforward I’m giving away too much here.

This can be true, but the same can be said for me checking out of position and then letting my opponent do the betting. However, that’s somehow not seen as the same thing, since it’s said that our opponent can be aggressive here and we can’t, so his betting range will be more balanced and contain a lot more bluffs perhaps. We can do the same thing though and in fact if we’re going to lead a lot we need to. However there’s no advantage or disadvantage here in either spot.

So if a player isn’t very experienced or very skilled at the game, then it might be said that they can get themselves in more trouble by leading out like this. However, the difference may not be what you think. It really isn’t a matter of information, as what really only matters is the percentage of the time a player continues on with their hands on a given street, indicating what average strength of hand they are doing that with. So if I bet out or just call your bet it’s the same range. If I check and fold when I have nothing and I bet when I do, I’m still check folding too much and whether I bet or not has nothing to do with that. It’s true that I can make it easier on my opponent by playing too transparent, the same holds true for my opponent, and who has position has nothing to do with this.

So Tipping Your Hand Is Actually More Neutral Than People Think

So while it’s clear that we want to not play too straightforward and therefore be too transparent in the sort of hands which we have, this goes both ways and there’s nothing peculiar to being out of position that even increases this requirement, let alone make it the crisis that many players think it is. So when we consider that, and then consider the power of initiative, and the fact that it is very often to our advantage to do so, this would seem to shift things toward the out of position player actually.

In reality though, this doesn’t mean at all that it can be to your advantage being out of position. What I’m saying here is that it certainly can be if we play in a skilled fashion and in fact outplay our opponents. There will be lots of instances where it’s going to be to our benefit to lead out, and there will be other circumstances where another line will work better. What I do want to make clear here is that there’s no innate disadvantage that you are under simply because you are out of position against a player, unless that player is better than you are. We want to avoid this from being the case though, and if it is, this means that we both need to improve our skill and our game selection as well.

Aren’t Out Of Position Players Subject To Being Pressured More?

So let’s look at some other claims that a lot of players make as far as why we are so at a disadvantage here. I frequently hear that players in position have the ability to put pressure on you more than you have the ability to put pressure on them. Once again, this comes out of how people tend to play in and out of position, where players in position are much more likely to play aggressively, which is where this pressure that we’re talking about comes from.

Is there any good reason though why the out of position player couldn’t play as aggressively though? The correct answer here is no reason at all. In fact, their argument here is once again totally flawed, as it’s based upon people playing weakly out of position and they haven’t even considered that this doesn’t have to be the case.

The reason they will give you though is that the in position player is in position and acting second, so he’s able to put more pressure on you. However, any time anyone bets or raises, there’s always the potential for more aggression, and that goes completely both ways. Sure, you could raise me if I lead out, but I can also re-raise this raise, as well as check raise you. So given that someone will show aggression in the hand, the other player can put the pressure on anytime they want to, and this goes completely both ways.

Ken’s Guide To Winning Poker – Index

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series

So What About Less Pot Control?

It’s also said that players out of position exercise less pot control, meaning that they will tend to get paid less with their good hands and have to fold too many hands when the price to continue gets too high. Once again, this is more a manner of how people play in and out of position. If you play more passively, then sure you are going to get paid less when you have a hand. If you play scared, then sure you’ll end up folding too many hands.

Whenever you check to an opponent who acts after you, then your opponent will have the option of controlling the pot size by checking back. So if you look at each street in a vacuum, then it does seem like this could happen. There’s no question that checking out of position does give up the means to control the pot. However, we’re not limited to doing that, and we are free to decide what lines we can take, and which lines will be best to take, and we do need to take all things into consideration.

So there’s no question that by checking out of position we’re risking giving free cards and not building the pot. This is the essence of the real disadvantage of being out of position. All the other alleged ones arise out of a misunderstanding of how position really works, and all kinds of disadvantages emerge from players playing too weakly out of position. This isn’t a big deal though, and it’s one that we will deal with, in the context of how our opponents play and what the best approach will be against them.

So there will be cases where we may risk giving the opponent the opportunity to get a free card, but we’ll be choosing this when what we are looking to gain is greater than what we’re giving up here. Poker is purely a game of choices and the task is to make the one that’s most in our interest. So I’ll be continuing this discussion in the next session where we’ll look at some of the tactics we can use out of position and the reasons behind them.