Position: The Key to Betting
In all variants of poker, the key to making intelligent betting decisions is your position at the table. Games such as Omaha and Seven Card Stud take on a slightly more complex approach to this concept, due to the fact that betting does not necessarily begin with the person immediately to the left of the dealer or blinds.
Arguably, texas holdem is the most simplistic in terms of using your position at the table as a basis for your betting strategy.
I have put together an explanation of the various advantages and disadvantages associated with betting from certain positions at a poker table. Hopefully, this analysis will extend beyond the common belief that last to act is always the most desirable, and first to act is always the least.
1) First to act
Depending upon how you have the blinds set up, you will be immediately after a blind or the dealer. Either way, you will be charged with making the decision to call the blind, bet, or fold.
Advantages: Since you are the first person to potentially put his or her money in the pot, you are responsible for setting the mood for the rest of the pre-flop betting. You can choose to limp in, hoping to see the flop for a cheap price, or pose yourself as an immediate threat to the other players with a large bet. Slow-playing a strong hand from this position is quite easy, and rather effective since it gives you a full round of betting to decide whether to invest more money in the cards.
Disadvantages: By the same token that you are the first person to potentially put his or money in the pot, you have no idea how the other players intend to bet, and your decision must be made rather blindly. The value of a mediocre (but playable) hand is greatly decreased when you are in this position, since you are unaware of the strength of the hands of the other players. Bluffing before the flop from this position is almost impossible, for that very reason.
2) Middle person
Regardless of whether you are actually in the exact middle, you are somewhere in between the person who is first to act and the person who is last to act. Depending upon how the previous players have acted, you must decide whether to call their bets, call the blind, or fold.
Advantages: Since you are not the very first person to act, you have had the chance to get an idea of the strengths of the hands of the players that acted before you. Especially if you are one of the last few players around the table, it is very possible to bluff from this position. Players recognize that there are players having to act after you (one, two, perhaps more), making your bluff much more believable than if you were the last person to act.
Disadvantages: If you are playing in a large game, you may still lack foresight into the hand-strengths of a large number of players having to act after you. Slow playing a hand is harder from this position, since it is likely that a player that acted before you has raised the pot.
3) Last to act
As the last person at the table to act, you were most likely responsible for paying the big blind. Unless another player has raised the pot, you may simply check, or, if you so desire, raise the pot.
Advantages: You have been able to gather the most information possible regarding the hand-strengths of the other players at the table. If all of the players preceding you have simply called the blind, you can guess that most of them are limping in on average hands, and a few may be slow-playing strong hands. From this information, bluffing can be an extremely effective tool. As the last person to act, you have had the luxury of letting the other players decide how to deal with their cards first, and then changed the entire betting situation for them after they called the blind.
Disadvantages: Since you are the last person to decide how to deal with your cards, it is possible to fall victim to the betting of others at the table. Cards that are normally worth keeping until the flop mixed with some large raises from players that acted before you can lead to some extremely difficult lay-downs. Also, while bluffing can put you in control of the flow of chips into the pot, experienced players will recognize that you are in the position that allows for the easiest bluffing, since you are the last to act.