Raising In and Out of Position

poker players compete tournament
Players compete during the Winamax Poker Tour. Mehdi Fedouach/AFP

Position is key when you’re at the poker table. We’re not talking about which number seat you’re at (although Seat No. 5 is ideal when you’re playing live), we’re talking about whether or not you’re first to act.

In a game of incomplete information like poker, it’s usually best to act last, and use your opponent’s actions to inform your decisions.

This should be fairly obvious if you’ve been playing poker for more than a day or two. But knowing about position and applying that concept are two different things.

Are you aware of how position affects which hands you should raise with? You will be after reading out latest award-vaporizing poker strategy article.

The Power of Position Compels You

Let’s say we’re playing No-Limit Texas Hold’em – the Cadillac of poker. Everyone’s got 100 big blinds, and someone generic opens for 2.5 times the big blind from early position. What kind of hands do you want to 3-bet with?

Obviously, we need more information before we can decide. But let’s think in broader terms about what hands work best when you’re in position, and what hands work best when you’re out of position.

When You’re in Position

Life is a bowl of cherries when you’re in position. If your opponent decides to call your raise, you’ll be the one to act last post-flop. You’ve got the hammer, as they say in the great sport of curling.

In this scenario, you want to have a polarized raising range. This means 3-betting with your strongest hands, as well as some “bluffs” (using the quotation marks because these lesser starting hands have value, too) that can turn into big hands on later streets.

When You’re Out of Position

Out of position is another matter. Since you’re the one who has to act first, your raising range should be linear, meaning no bluffs.

Instead, you’ll raise with your strongest hands, and you’ll also raise your semi-strong hands, which you can use as bluff-catchers post-flop.

Raising in Position

Now that we have that dynamic established, let’s say your opponent opens from early position, and you’re on the button. Here’s a simplified 3-betting range to consider:

• TT+

• AQ+

• AJs-ATs

• A5s-A2s

• KQs

Among these hands, the strongest are your pocket pairs Ten or better, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen.

These represent the Top 5% hands in Hold’em, in terms of hot-and-cold equity. Ace-Jack suited and Ace-Ten suited fall in the Top 10%, but KQs is only Top 15%, and the baby suited Aces stretch into the Top 20%. They’re the “bluffs” in this scenario.

And excellent bluffs they are – especially those baby Aces. The fact that you have an Ace in your hand makes it less likely that your opponent does, and more likely that they’ll fold pre-flop.

If they don’t fold, you can still make the nut straight or flush post-flop. Both your 3-bet needs are being met.

Raising Out of Position

Time to flip the script. Your opponent still opens from early position, but now you’re in the big blind instead of the button. Here’s your new simplified 3-betting range:

• TT+

• AQ+

• AJs-ATs

Notice that we’ve taken all those bluffs out of our range, and we’re sticking with the strong stuff. This gives us the opportunity to bluff-catch when we make Top Pair-Big Kicker with our high-ranking hands. Even Ace-High can be enough to call one street of action.

What we don’t want here are smaller pairs and suited connectors. Yes, those speculative hands can turn into sets, straights, and flushes, but if the player in position is doing it right, they’re speculating too – and with higher-ranking cards than yours. If the board hits both of you and completes your draws, you’ll be toast.

Of course, you’ll need to expand your raising range by adding some of those lower pairs and suited Aces when you’re in the big blind and someone opens from late position, but you still want to keep things mostly linear, like we have with this simplified range:

• 66+

• AT+

• A9s-A4s

• KJs+

• QJs

Notice we still haven’t included all the suited Aces in this range – only down to Ace-Four suited, which falls within the Top 15%.

Instead, we’re adding those suited Kings and Queens with big Broadway kickers, again for their bluff-catching properties.

So there you have it: A battle plan for pre-flop raising, both in and out of position. Just remember that ranges are more of a guideline than a rule, and should be flexible enough to account for whatever situation arises at the table.

Be willing to raise with any two cards when the time is right, and as always, may the rectangles be with you.