Value of Position in Early Levels
Position in the early stages of tournament play is going to matter. Your position is going to be ever changing and it will be the primary factor in what types of hands you'll be able to reasonably play. For example, you aren't going to be limping in pots under the gun with random suited connectors. It's too early and too risky to be putting money on the line in these sort of spots. However, you may have a chance to play in this same hand if you were in late position with a number of other players involved. Each situation is going to be different.
The important thing about early stage play in tournaments is that it's not likely to completely cripple your chances of success. When you are in the middle or late levels, each decision is going to be amplified. Because of this, you'll be able to get away with more mistakes than you would otherwise be privy to. The easiest way to look at position when a tournament first starts is that, while it matters, it isn't likely to make or break your chances of a deep run. In the end, it's just another one of virtually limitless elements that you should be taking into consideration.
Early position is almost always going to be the least profitable position at the table. You are going to have minimal control in hands and you'll generally get stuck in a lot of tough spots. With that being said, it doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of times where playing a hand is still logical. One of the first things that you should do, especially when in early position, is to consider how you'll react to a raise. If you are only going to be mucking to any moderate size raise, there's little point in limping into a pot.
The reason for this is that limped pots are usually going to end up being small unless a cooler vs. cooler situation arises. You might think that they are better than raised pots when you have already limped, but they really aren't. Limping in early position and calling a small raise will put you in much better shape to potentially win a large pot than if it simply limps the whole way around.
For tournament play, raising in early position should be reduced when an event has just begun. You don't want to be unnecessarily putting chips at risk because the post-flop dynamics won't cater to this type of strategy. Continuation bets have reduced value when they are being used to fight for essentially meaningless pots. It's much better to see a lot of pots and to let your opponents bleed away their chips than it is to aggressively go after them. Of course, this strategy will be tossed out the window as play progresses.
Middle position will allow for more raises with generally the same type of hand selection that you had in early position. You are still not seated where it's viable to be opening a lot of pots because re-raises from late position players will make everything more difficult than it needs to be. Instead, the best plan is to simply pick your spots. What this means is that you can play in more or less pots depending upon the situation that you are in.
If a loose player to your right is continually playing, this would be an example of a time where it makes sense to start getting involved. If your table has been very tight, limping into pots with the hope of flopping hard and getting paid off is all but useless. Middle position is the area of the table where you can go one way or the other without much issue.
The one thing about middle position is that it's going to put you in some very unique spots. In late position, you'll be able to control the play at hand without much challenge. You can bet, raise, and call hands without putting yourself at risk. In middle position, however, calling a raise means risking a re-raise. Limping in means the pot is likely to already be dead, and so on and so forth. You are basically being pitted in the worst part of the table. Sure, early position is worse, but at least your decisions are more clear-cut. Middle position is going to force you to make some tougher decisions.
Late position is where things should be getting easier. You'll have the advantage of controlling the play as much as possible. One of the first moves that players think about in late position is stealing the blinds. While this is a viable play in the later stages of tournaments, it's not going to make much sense at this point in the game. You are going to be chasing after blinds that really don't matter now and are certainly not going to matter later on. Use your position to set yourself up for big post flop action, not small and inconsequential pre-flop pots.
Late position is best taken advantage of by players who know when the price is right. Even if you have a pretty weak hand, calling a raise when in late position could be very reasonable. You'll have the benefit of acting last, you know who is involved, and backing out of the hand won't be difficult to do.
Think about a hand like 79 suited in early or middle position vs. in late position. You don't want to be raising and then 3 bet in EP or MP with a suited connector, but calling a raise in late position is great. You will have the price to play set in stone, you know who you are up against, and you'll act last after the flop. Everything is just going to be easier when you are in late position. In the early stages of tournaments, use late position to execute as effectively as possible during post-flop play. Later on in the event you can use this position for steals and re-steals at a time when they really matter.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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