A lot of players make the mistake of basing their betting decisions solely on the hand they are dealt. However, position in poker is as important, if not more so, than the actual hand you are dealt. Since most poker hands don’t go to showdown, a lot of times it doesn’t matter what you had, but what you represented as having. Position, however, is something you can’t represent; it is what it is.
There is one particular position that is very interesting and discussed in poker. This is the person immediately to the left of the big blind. She is the first to act, and this position is appropriately called “under the gun” for its unique pressures. Playing UTG poses some particular challenges:
- When you're under the gun, you are first to act before the flop, and one of the first to act after the flop. This means you don’t get a chance to get a read on the other players before you must make your decisions about betting.
- The other players can check-raise you, trap you, and get a read on you much more easily when you're in this position at the table.
- You are more likely to get bluffed, pushed around, out drawn, and beat when you're in this position.
So what can you do to address these difficulties? Well, you need to do what you would usually do when facing difficulties at a poker table – tighten your game. You should only choose to play the most premium hands (unless you are on a shorthanded table of course).
Next time you have the gun to your head (not literally, we hope), consider that there are only 2 groups of hands that warrant your attention.
Group 1: AA, KK, QQ, AK
Group 1 is obviously made up of the most premium hands you will ever be dealt in a game. You should raise with those, just like you would do in another position. The chances are minimal that someone is holding something better than you. However, if you are at a very loose table, you might consider just calling with those hands. This will give the opportunity to raise and trap a player with an inferior hand.
Group 2: AQ, KQ, and all pocket pairs below QQ
With the hands in Group 2, you will very often raise from other positions (especially if the AQ or KQ is suited). However, under the gun you should only call with these hands. Your goal is to just limp in before the flop and hopefully hit a monster. If you don’t, be comfortable checking and folding.
You might consider it counter-intuitive that under this strategy you will play pocket jacks in the same manner that you would play pocket deuces (try to limp in and hope for a set). However, a pair of jacks is exactly the type of hand whose value is diminished in an early position. If you raise with it, it is easy for someone to come over the top with a better hand and pot-commit you. Then you are likely to lose all your chips, a situation you’ll wish you had avoided. If you’re playing under the gun, think about the seriousness of the metaphor, and play like the gun is pointed at that pile of chips in front of you. Don’t blow them away.