Analyzing Position in No Limit Hold’Em Tournaments

Table position is an important factor in poker, but in a tournament, there are a few strategies that you can employ to offset a poor table position. In an online ring game or cash game, you can easily leave and enter a different table, but in a tournament, this is no longer an option.

Brief Look at Position

Table position refers to a player’s position relative to the button. If you are one of the players closer to the left of the blinds, you are considered to be in Early Position. Players across the table from the blinds are in Middle Position, and the players closest to the right of the blinds, the button, and the blinds themselves, are considered to be in Late Position. In short, position refers to the order of action. Early Position players act first, such as checking calling, or raising. Because of this, an Early Position player needs to be careful if they are planning to raise, as others in the Middle and Late positions might opt to re-raise. In Late Position, a player has the advantage of knowing who is already in the hand and can guess the relative strengths of his or her opponents by the size of the raises, if any have been made.

Stuck In the Middle

Oftentimes in a tournament (and in a ring game), a player may be faced with a situation where he or she is sandwiched between two aggressive players. In a tournament, where the sizes of chip stacks play an important strategic role, it can be dangerous to enter a pot when there are ‘big stacks’ to the left and right of you. It can be difficult to determine the strength of an opponent’s hand if the player in front of you has a large stack of chips and limps in by simply calling the blinds. Conversely, before entering, you must also consider the other opponents who have yet to act. In a tournament, it is quite common for the ‘big stack’ to bully the players that limped in, especially if they are acting in the later positions. For example, in a 9 handed table, the chip leader limps in with a call in Early Position, and you have a decent hand in the 5th position, but two players with very large stacks are in the Late Positions. If you call, or enter with a small raise, there is a good chance that at least one of the larger stacks will call, or re-raise, perhaps the big blind will enter, as he/she is already in for the blind bet, and the action will turn back around to the chip leader. At that point, the chip leader may attempt to bully the players in the pot. Being caught between larger stacks can lead to trouble, as the hand progresses.

Isolating Your Target

Since you can not simply get up and move to another table in a tournament, a situation like the one described above can be nerve-wracking. One option, particularly for tight-passive players, is to wait it out, and let the chip bullies knock each other out, or you can hope that you or the other players are relocated to another table, as the tournament progresses. While this is a very passive strategy, it can be effective, but it probably does not appeal to the poker style of most players, and it requires a great deal of patience.
In a situation like this, the best thing to do is isolate your opponents and hope to catch them in a pot that you plan on playing all the way to the finish. As timing is everything, the ideal scenario would be to catch a top tier pocket in Late Position. In such a hand, if the action comes to you with one or two ‘big stack’ players already in the pot, and a smaller stacked player has called as well, this would be the ideal time to isolate your target. By using the strength of position, you can fire back with a large raise and either steal the pot altogether (including the chips already committed), or hook a caller or two. Many chip bullies will take the fight or flight mentality if they are faced with a big raise from late position. The typical chip bully will probably push back throughout the remainder of the hand in an attempt to force you to lay-down; as he or she has you covered. By isolating the bigger stack from your pre-flop raise in late position, you will be able to continue to raise and/or re-raise as the hand plays out.

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