Playing Out of Position
Playing out of position is one of the most difficult things to do in poker. Sure, you can still make big hands, but they are going to be much more challenging to play than when you are in position. Playing in position is one skill set that was largely brought to light in the more recent years of poker. Though older players surely knew that position was valuable, only recently have many realized that even weak hands can be quite profitable if they are played in position. You can do so many things in position that you just can't do when you are first to act.
With all of this being said, however, playing out of position isn't something that you should totally abandon. There's plenty of value in it if you know what you are doing. It's not going to be the most comfortable way to play poker, but this doesn't mean that it can't be profitable.
Out of position play isn't something that you can really choose. While you do have the ability to fold any hand that you would like, it isn't going to be logical to muck pocket aces simply because you are under the gun. You'll need to adapt to the circumstances and find a way to play the hand to the best of your ability. This could mean varying your raise sizes, playing differently post-flop, or one of many other things. The simple point is that playing out of position isn't something that can or should be avoided.
Of course, if you have a weak hand, your position could decide whether it's worth playing, but this isn't to say that all strong hands are completely devalued by position. Poker is all about making the best out of the situation that is put in front of you, and this is exactly what it comes down to when playing out of position.
Weak Hands Out of Position
Weak hands tend to be the most straightforward in terms of execution whether you are sitting in early, middle, or late position. While there's going to be some value in mixing it up and making plays in late position from time to time with weak hands, it just isn't going to make sense when you are out of position. The reason that you can make steal and re-steal attempts from late position is found in your post-flop advantage. You are playing the player while almost ignoring the hand itself. In early position you aren't going to have this luxury. Don't mess around with weak hands when you are out of position, it's really that simple.
Mediocre Hands Out of Position
Mediocre hands can be a bit tricky to play no matter where you are seated, and early position is only going to complicate things even further. The best move in this spot is to analyze what's going on. Are you at a table where suited connector type hands have value post-flop? Can you afford to limp and call a raise? These are the types of things that you'll need to consider with middle of the road hands when playing out of position.
For the most part, raises are going to be out of the question with mediocre hands in this spot. If you have a suited connector type hand and want to get involved, the most optimal line will usually be to limp in and hope to either play a limped pot or to call a raise and see a flop. By raising in early position with a moderately strong hand, you are going to be hurting yourself no matter what.
Unless you can get few callers and fire a continuation bet with success, a raise is going to be punished by callers who are in position or by re-raisers who put the pressure back on you. The most basic approach in this situation is to look for ways to minimize your risk wherever possible. You don't want to be unnecessarily inflating pots when you don't have a big hand and you aren't in great position for post-flop play.
Strong Hands Out of Position
A strong hand is a strong hand no matter how you look at it. The types of hands that would fall into this category include big pocket pairs, AQ/AK and so on and so forth. You shouldn't be mucking these hands for just about any reason, whether you are last to act or first to act. With all of that said, it's safe to say that your strategy is going to be slightly altered. You are going to be coming in for a raise, but a raise in early position shouldn't be the same as it would be in late position.
Think about what happens when you either open or re-raise in late position with one of these hands. You'll already see who you are isolating, you have position, and you are essentially in full control of the hand. To compensate for the lack of all of this when out of position, your easiest move will be to increase your bet sizes. Larger raises will thin out the field. You don't want everyone to fold, but you don't want five callers either.
The real issues with these hands are going to develop after the flop is dealt. It's not that hard to make a larger raise in an attempt to weed out the field, but it will be difficult to remain deceptive if you are firing out massive bets on every street. You'll need to create new ways to be tricky in your approach while also ensuring that you are getting value out of your big hands. This is going to be subject to each hand that you are playing and will vary from spot to spot, but it's something to keep in mind. You always want to be confusing your opponents as much as possible, but be sure that you aren't digging yourself into a hole for the other players to take advantage of.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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