They say the early bird catches the worm, but in poker, it’s often the early bird that ends up feeding the worms, so to speak. That’s because the player who acts first typically ends up being out of position (OOP,) which limits their options and reduces their opportunities to maximize value. Given that all poker players will find themselves out of position more often than in, it’s a good idea to be as well prepared as possible. Take a closer look at how to act when you find yourself out of position when you’re playing online poker.
What Does “Out of Position” Mean in Poker?
To grasp what it means to play poker out of position, you need to have a basic understanding of why it’s a big deal to play in position. Most online poker tournaments and cash games will have six players at the table, who will be in early, middle or late position, depending on when they get to act postflop. The player in final position — known as the button — is the very last to act, which provides multiple advantages. The biggest of these is information about opponents’ hands. The ability to gauge whether you have the strongest hand compared to your opponents is invaluable, enabling you to extract value from weakness and get away cheaply if your hand is beaten.
Conversely, being in early position comes with multiple risks. If you raise, you alert your opponents to the strength of your holdings, allowing them to react accordingly. A big danger is that players with strong hands will call your raise, growing the pot and putting you under pressure. This is why it’s generally agreed that the best approach to adopt if you’re out of position is to play it tight and only raise with the most powerful hands.
How To Think When Out of Position
According to poker boom legend Daniel Negreanu, the question of position is really quite simple: “There’s two positions you can be in, in a pot. You’re either in position or you’re out of position. When you’re in position, that means you get to go last. When you’re out of position, you know, you don’t know what’s going to happen behind you. You might get raised. You know, you might get bluffed. A whole bunch of bad things could happen.”So what should your poker mindset be? Negreanu compares it to boxing. In position, you want to be the aggressor — the one who throws the punches and controls the situation in order to maximize profit. Out of position, you’ll want to be defensive and keep your guard up, sometimes concealing a strong hand to surprise your opponent. In practice, this means folding more against overly aggressive players.
Tips for Playing Out of Position
How does this advice work in practice? Say you’re playing the most out-of-position position there is: under the gun (UTG.) As the very first player to act, your primary goal is to minimize your risk and protect your chips. As a result, you have to tighten your range. Forget about speculative hands such as 9-8 suited. It can be worth taking a chance to hit your draw when you’re in position, but under the gun, you’re throwing money away. The fact is that you simply don’t have the equity to enter too many pots. In general, it’s best to stick to the strongest hands. At a six-max table, these are strong suited connectors such as K-J and K-Q, pocket pairs from 5 on up, strong unsuited aces from A-K down to A-10 and strong suited aces from A-K down to A-8.
So what do you do with your strong hand when you’re playing UTG? Open raise. If you’re lucky, your opponents will fold and you’ll pick up the blinds. If they call, you get to see the flop. But what if they 3-bet? With the very strongest hands, you should call to see the flop or 4-bet to grow the pot. Otherwise, consider folding. After all, your open raise from UTG is telling your opponents that you have a very strong hand, so if they push back with a 3-bet, their holdings are likely to be very strong too.
Postflop, your preflop callers probably don’t have the greatest hand strength, so you can act aggressively towards them if the flop is agreeable. Chances are they’ll call (again allowing you to grow the pot) or fold. Be on your guard against opponents who continue to 3-bet against you. Call if you’re confident your hand is strong enough to see you through to later streets; otherwise, fold. If things work out in your favor, your aggressive opponent will build a big pot for you to take down with a raise!
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