Relative Position In Poker

You may have heard the poker term ‘relative position’ being banded around, but it’s not a well documented subject. Let’s change that! We all know about the powers of playing with initiative in position with clear cbet success rates and the perils of playing out of position especially when defending the blinds. But always considering how your relative position affects the hand can really help you take advantage of some common poker leaks in your opponents.

What is relative position in poker?

Relative position in poker can be both good and bad. Simply put, it is your position at the table relative the preflop raiser. On the immediate left of the raiser with players yet to act is generally bad relative position (like being in MP vs an UTG raise). But being on their immediate right means you are closing the action and are last to act postflop if indeed the PFR makes an expected cbet i.e. it’s just like having position, relatively:


Good Relative position Example

So in this scenario Hero is in the BB and OOP but his relative position is good because he expects UTG to make a cbet a high percentage of the time meaning Hero’s action will close off the action postflop for that betting round. UTG has raised, the BTN called as did Hero leaving him with relative position on the preflop raiser postflop. Although initially Hero will act first, he knows by the time the action gets back round he will be actually have the last say. To clarify, good relative position requires the PFR to be a big cbettor in many situations and the player in the middle (the BTN here) to be predictable in his actions. Otherwise it just becomes another OOP tricky spot.


Bad relative position on the other hand is a situation that many players do just not see even though they may have absolute position:


Bad Relative position Example

Let’s see how this bad relative position in poker often plays out postflop.

Ex: Hero called with T♣J♥ “because he had position”. By not considering his opponents yet to act, he has left himself in a tricky situation postflop and is unlikely to profit with this hand (remember he VPIP – voluntary put into pot here!).

The flop is K♥J♦8♦, the BB checks and the preflop raiser bets as expected (he only has to get through one player now after all). What does Hero do? Call? Raise to see where he stands? The problem here is, both of these players could be strong and we just have no idea. The BB checking to the PFR is not an indication of strength or weakness as he may well be looking for a check-raise opportunity. And if we call and BB comes long we are in the same spot on the Turn and are now in a horrible guessing game. So if you are going to leave yourself with bad relative position, make sure your reads are strong and your hand is playable. Having the BTN doesn’t always guarantee an advantage.

Using Relative Position To Your Advantage

Let’s look at a more in-depth analysis of relative position using our good example from above:


Hero can call decently wide here for a few reasons:

  • We have good relative position
  • Our hand is decent
  • We have reads that the PFR is wide, is willing to fold postflop, AND will cbet a high percentage of the time. 
  • The caller on the BTN is predictable and passive

Ex: We complete in the BB with 8♦9♦. We can see by UTG’s VPIP/PFR he’s no nit by any means and is likely to have a high raise by position, a stat you may find in many HUD pop-up configurations. Not only that, he likes to cbet too, so a cbet from him does not necessarily mean strength. Add to this the predictability of the loose-passive player on the BTN and we should have a profitable call preflop here.

The Flop is 2♠4♥6♦, we check, and the PFR cbets as expected. The BTN folds and we can now act last without playing a guessing game. With our reads and good relative position, check-raising here will be very profitable with our backdoor draws and occasionally overcards. On this board and in this scenario we will look very strong and have an easy time realizing our equity in the hand. UTG knows I can hit this board whereas he rarely does. He thinks then folds.

If your check-raise was to be called it is important to note you are now acting first again on the Turn. That’s why reads are crucial as is some equity in the hand to fall back on.

Relative Position Considerations

  • Your opponent MUST be a high cbettor and/or give up easly postflop
  • Consider your relative position in poker at all times: a BTN call from you doesn’t necessarily guarantee an advantage
  • Know your opponent: Any reads, stats, and notes will help you a ton in making profitable moves
  • Look for spots when your opponent is unlikely to be strong (as in Ex above, or vs a late position raiser)
  • Have a clean image/a non bluffing history with that player
  • Don’t call every time for relative position especially with offsuit mediocre hands
  • Avoid ‘sandwich’ situations where are you not the last player to act: Such as an EP limp, followed by an isolation raise and a call from you in late position. The limper now limp-calling ‘sandwiches’ you and can lead to awkward spots later.


Relative Position Evaluation

To the left of the raiser with others yet to act is generally bad and not always advantagious even on the BTN: Bear this in mind when making loose late position calls for what you perceive as position.

To the right of the raiser is good if your opponent likes to cbet in a variety of situations: When you have good relative position, consider calling a little wider especially with good reads on your opponents.


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