Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Position Overrated?

Every poker book you ever read, every forum you go on, all suggest the same thing, position is really important in poker. By inference this also implies that playing cards in position will give the player "in position", a higher EV over time than the players playing out of position.

The problem I have with the "position is everything" hypothesis is that no one to my knowledge has actually proven that position really matters and gives you a higher EV by playing a hand on the button vs. UTG or any other position in a 4,5,6,9 or 10 handed game. The proof would in fact be relatively easy to conduct. Marsh, myself, Ryan, Joe Sola, Woody, Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, and many others have played a statistically significant number of hands on line with all of the data captured in a hand history analysis. Why don't any of the poker mathematical geniuses like Caro, Ferguson or other smart mathematical minds (Ryan), go back, mine the data, and then prove whether the data support the theory that the button gives a higher EV than any other position.

I think everyone would agree that they would rather play AK suited (a hand everyone plays) from the button vs. UTG. But what really happens in practice? In practice players are much more nitty (in general) playing from early position than from late position and consequently play hands with greater showdown value from early position vs. late position.

I bring this up because I have a feeling, though I am too ADD to go back and mine the data, that my early position holdings in Omaha give me a greater EV than late position or button holdings. Several reasons I think. I am really nitty in early position. In Omaha, showdowns are much more common than in NLHE, so nittiness pays. Many players hate being check raised in Omaha and just call you down with mediocre holdings. I check raise plenty in Omaha but virtually always have the goods. In a double checked around pot, I will often bet out with air from early position prior to the button (likely also with air) stealing the pot from the late position player.

Similar phenomenon happen in NLHE I think. Jeh and I had some interesting hands between us (as always) and although far from statistically significant, this is how they played out.

Hand #1

My stack 47 chips. Jeh's stack, a gazillion chips, Adam's stack, about 200 chips. My position, button, Jeh small blind, Adam BB. Chuck and Fred fold. I raise from the button with J9os to our standard table raise 7 chips. Why? I have the button, this is one of Jeh's favorite hands (a good hand to try to beat him with), and I raise alot in case anyone has not noticed. Jeh calls, and Adam calls.

Flop is T,4,4 rainbow. Jeh checks, Adam checks and I think this is a good flop for me. Why? I have a history of always having a 4 and have a favorite hand with a 4 in it so I can sell the 4. Plus I am pretty sure no one will call me unless they have a 4, possibly a T, or an overpair which is highly unlikely given the lack of a repop preflop. Worst case, I have runner runner straight and I always count my runner runners as at least a 1/2 an out. I shove all in from the button.

Jeh calls pretty quickly, and Adam raises to 120. Jeh goes into the tank for about 3 minutes, and finally decides to go all in. Adam calls pretty quickly. Well, I am pretty sure one of these guys has a Jason 4.

Jeh tables AA, explaining his in the tank dilemna, Adam tables 3,4 suited and I pray for my runner runner. Turn is a K, a good card but the river is a J.

Moral of the story, from my perspective, the psychological "value" associated with the button cost me my short stack. I am pretty sure that the hand would have played out entirely differently if we all had the same hands with the same flop had I been in a different position other than the button.

Hand #2

4 handed Jeh and I have just rebought and have roughly equal full buyin stacks. I raise UTG to 7. Jeh calls from the "button" with 2,3 (I assume suited). Let's look at the hand from Jeh's perspective as he has the valuable "button." Jeh likes 2,3 one of his favorite hands. Jeh also likes to try to outplay me and figures he has a much better chance of doing so from "the button."

Flop is T,J, A with 2 clubs. I check Jeh checks. Turn is a J. I check Jeh bets 10, I think and then raise to 27. Jeh, relatively quickly raises to 65. I think for a bit then call the 65. River is the 9 of diamonds. I move in and Jeh of course has to muck. It turns out that Jeh pulled the worst possible time to try to pull another K8 style bluff as I had JJ for the nuts and threw it on the table face up.

Point is Jeh is much more likely to try to pull this multistage bluff from the button, and it is debatable if this is profitable (although if anyone can do it, Jeh can).

Final hand though not from last night was the only big hand I can ever remember Jeh losing in Vegas. Jeh has one of his usual garbage favorite hands that he typically folds in Vegas but decided to play it because he had the button. I think it was 2,6 suited. He tried a multi stage bluff which of course is typically not profitable at 1/2 in Vegas. Hand had no showdown value and he loses a big pot.

I realize the button can be wonderful when people are betting into you and you have great made hands. But too often I think players get trapped into the psychology of "I have the button", I am not going to lose and make either unprofitable EV plays or play too many holdings with limited showdown value.

UTG is my new "button" type preferred position. Anyone wish to join me?


Marshall said...

Have you ever heard of PokerTracker??

Look at anyones numbers who has played a remotely significant sample and you will see VERY quickly that the numbers on the button are WAY higher than anywhere else.

Marshall said...

Ok I just went over your hands as well.

Are these good examples? I think in every case the hand was played poorly, certainly from a fundamental standpoint. I don't think Jeh or you would argue that.

Here is a real world type analogy.

One guy is born to rich parents, has everything laid out in front of him education wise. He can basically pick a career or life plan, and his parents will take care of the rest.

Guy 2 is born really poor. His community, parents and friends don't care much about the future, and certainly don't have money for anything related to education.

So Guy 1 proceeds to screw around, gets hooked on drugs and hookers, eventually goes to jail and becomes someones bitch.

Guy 2 busts his ass for 6 years to get through school, starts a business, and is a success.

Are you saying that the guy with the money to start with was at a disadvantage when born?

Obviously the guy had a huge edge, but just botched it. But that doesn't mean he didn't have a huge edge.

Sushi Cowboy said...

Jason, I can't tell when you are kidding anymore. It is simply ridiculous to use those two examples to support your case. Having position is generally acknowledged to be an advantage by poker experts. If you want to prove your point you should come up with statistically relevant numbers to do so. If you can prove that it is better to play from UTG than on the button then we can start talking about jumping on your bandwagon.

Marshall said...

BTW Jase, in an effort to help you prove your point, I am willing to play you HU where I get the overrated, probably-not-that-great-after-all button every round. 4 rollz.

jsola said...

Yeah can't agree with any of that, Jason. The fact of the matter is that poker is a game of imperfect information. Every decision you make is based on the information you have at the time, and getting to see what the other players do first is a HUGE advantage.

Imagine you have TT, and you raise it up preflop, getting one caller and a flop of A52 rainbow. In one scenario, you do this from the button and have position. In the other you do it from UTG and are out of position.

Which spot would you rather be in, and why?

jason said...


I appreciate the poker tracker statistics, though I was unaware that they track position. I was aware they track BB win rate, preflop raising and a bunch of other statistics some of which I do not understand. Just wasn't aware that they track position. This could "prove" the point.

I was curious though if there is poker tracker for Omaha. Position is way important in Omaha short handed if there is 1 or 2 other players seeing the flop. I think it is less so when u have 4 or 5 players seeing the flop.

I am not arguing that all other things being equal, position is important. But I would argue that position taken to an extreme is counterproductive.

If 2 players play a statistically significant number of hands, one player plays only Hellmuth's top 10 hands, the other plays 50% of the hands dealt to him, and the nitty guy is always out of position to the loose guy, who would you rather be? Let's say its 10 handed so the nitty guy can wait and does not get eaten up by the blinds.

My point is some players get way too loose preflop when they have the button and it costs them in showdown type games like Omaha.

In fact in the 30 minutes since I started this post I just played an Omaha hand that helps to illustrate my point.

I had KKQ7 single suited from early position and limped in. Player who I don't have much history with limps in behind me. We are both pretty short I have 50 BB he has maybe 40-45.

Flop is Q78, 2 hearts, I have no hearts. This is a good flop for me but not a great flop for me. I bet out he raises me all in (essentially). He had done the same thing on the prior hand and I did not call so I am suspicious. I call, he had J278 with 2 hearts, 8 high flush draw. My point is J278 is a mediocre hand and I doubt he would have played it from early position.

I won the hand as a Q hit the turn.

jason said...

Joe, I am not arguing that all others things being equal position matters. I would much rather have the button in most instances vs. early position.

But even in your scenario, if I make a normal preflop raise from early position, and I just get one caller, let's say its Jeh from the button I am fine with that flop. I bet out, and I get information from Jeh's action. The information Jeh gets is IMO more imperfect than my information.

If I raise preflop and I bet out on that flop, I could have virtually anything. I raise with a huge variety of hands and an ace high flop is a great flop to bet out on with a preflop raise.

Now based on Jeh's action, I will have lots of information. Jeh will either fold (meaningless), call or raise. Let's say he calls. I now know he has a 2,a 5, an open ender a gutter, or a different pair lower than 10's which he is not yet prepared to fold. Higher than 10's is unlikely as he would repop. I doubt he has an Ace. He would likely raise if he has an Ace to see if his kicker is good or to see if I have an Ace. Unlikely he has a good Ace as he would probably reraise with it from the button. He could be slowplaying a set of 2's or a set of 5's. I think that is about all of Jeh's range for a call.

On a raise he either has an Ace, 2 pair, a set, a possible open ender, or unlikely but possible air.

So while poker is indeed a game of incomplete information, in your example I think I know more than Jeh does about the contents of the hands.

Secondly, Jeh will call with a huge range of hands from the button which will have much less showdown value than my 10s.

jason said...


HU position makes a big difference, no argument there whatsoever. Multi handed with more people in the pot position IMO becomes way less important.

jtrey333 said...

I have two comments to make:

1) I can't believe you would use the "2 3 vs JJ" hand as a point of support for UTG position. Trying to outplay you with 2 3 (unsuited) is extremely unprofitable in ANY position BUT when I attempt to do it, I do it for the challenge of it and to have fun playing against you.. and MOST of all when I choose to do these things against you, I do it out of any position, and in this case would probably try a check raise if I was first to act rather than a straight raise "in position". In all honesty, I would try to make the bluff work from first in position as much as I would being last to act.

2) This could be the only time every in history that Woody, Jason, Ryan, and Marshall are mentioned in the same sentence as Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan, and having played "a statistically significant amount of hands". While I can say that our group has played a lot of hands online (esp Jason), the amount of hands played by Ivey and Dwan have to be MUCH, MUCH larger. LOLerz.

Sushi Cowboy said...

I will also add that your rant against the idea that "position is everything" and that being "in position" is of more "value" than being on "the button" looks like it is trying to be a candidate for inclusion in the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotes.

Sushi Cowboy said...

...and thanks to Ryan for the link to the aforementioned blog.

Ryan said...

I'm going to jump right to the end of the debate, to the part where Jason scales back his claim to be way less extreme and we all settle on "position is undeniably valuable in poker in general, but there are specific hands where being out of position allows for greater value extraction."

I'm glad we could all finally agree on that; interesting stuff, guys!

Sushi Cowboy said...

Position is not just important for gaining information but also for maximizing profit on the end. Someone with air cannot call a value bet from someone OOP but can bluff at someone who is in position.

Sushi Cowboy said...

Playing out of position is unbeatable.

Ryan said...

Only if you are at the MGM Grand in the afternoon on a Wednesday with no drunk players at the table.

jason said...


Point well taken on the 23 unsuited hand. You and I both try to outplay each other because it is fun. I realize that. We are not playing bad hands with multi stage bluffs for higher expected value, I agree.

I notice though you did leave out any commentary on the Vegas hand you played where you had a 2x suited hand and decided to play it from the button. In Vegas, most of us have very little motivation other than to increase our pocketbook after we leave the table. Yet your play on this hand was not IMO an expected positive value play. Had you been dealt that hand in early position I think it would have been a virtual certainty that you would have folded preflop.

It is unfair to you that I single out this particular hand but my point is that many players play way too loosely preflop from the button, because of the psychological value that the button offers.

What is the value of the button? Welll several things, you can take free cards if you think this will give you an advantage. Some of this value is diminished with today's style of play, a style where most players avoid taking free cards and instead try the more popular technique of applying pressure or building a pot.

If you are playing the Martin hand A5 suited from the button and the flop is KT8 with 2 spades how many players will check when it is checked around and you have the buttton? Most won't I will argue.

Martin correctly argues that you won't pay off a hand when you have air and your opponent bets into you on the river with an all in. OK I can't argue that one.

Being in position with a second best hand is a bummer though. I saw it last night in PLO. Guy bets out in early position on a QJxx 2 diamond board on the turn. A highly likely hand is KT with 2 diamonds or KTA for a wrap. Set or 2 pair is also possible.

The river is an Ace. Same dude bets out for a pot size bet, button calls with trip queens. Early positon is well paid. OK now lets say the button made the broadway straight. If early position checks to you on the river, you will still throw out a value bet but I think it is less likely that it is pot sized as you really want a call. If early position probe bets, you raise, early position likely folds.

In this specific instance early position's river pot sized bet, which could be a bluff of missed diamonds, maximized value as an OOP bet. I doubt he would be paid the same amount in position.

So again I will have to agree with Ryan (what happened to the days of non stop debates). "Position is undeniably valuable in poker in general, but there are specific hands where being out of position allows for greater value extraction."

Brant said...

I will add that the button is valuable if people don't have a strong read on your game. There is a massive difference between what Jeh and someone like me can expect when playing the button (I assuming a decent showdown hand here) Whereas Jeh is going to get a lot of action based on his style of play and knowledge of the game, I am going to get a lot less action with a good hand because of my image and ability. I don't play ATC on the button just for position because people's read on me is generally correct. Also, stronger players play position against me very well with ATC. So, in the case of moderate to low skilled players (assuming just enough knowledge to understand what the person in position is doing) position is almost another Blind if you choose to enter the pot. I say this as a half joke since I am still not experienced enough to know when to play my button just for the sake of having position as opposed to having a strong hand. I have begun to make more forays into button play but I think the real advantage comes when you have the experience to play it well, not just for position's sake. obvious, I know, but I just wanted to have a post that didn't cause some horrific controversy.

Oh, and Marsh is a terrible player. Crap! did it again.

Sushi Cowboy said...

Jason, you're a big boy now and can play however you want.

For the rest of you though, here is a thread on 2+2 where players posted their stats on how profitable different positions at the table were for them. Surpisingly enough the numbers somehow conflict with Jason's contention that it is better to play from UTG instead of the button but I'm sure that that was because they didn't realize they were supposed to win more from EP.

jsola said...

Martin: That forum post is excellent and should be mandatory reading for everyone.

Sushi Cowboy said...

Mandatory reading for everyone except the Flat Earth Society.