If you’ve played poker, especially no-limit Texas Hold ’em, you know about the power of position. When you have position (meaning you’re last to act in the round) you have a big advantage because everyone else has to go before you do, and you get information from them based on what they do (or don’t do). Or to put it the other way, if you don’t have position you have to act first and you don’t know what your opponent is going to do behind you. Position is extremely important in NLHE, but I was thinking recently about how it’s important in many other games too.
In any game that features only one round of bidding, such as Spades or Rage, getting to bid last is a huge advantage. I talked in previous posts about how your bid in Spades is partially determined by your hand and partially determined by what your partner and opponents have bid. In a game like Pinochle or Bridge where you can bid more than once it’s not as important, but in Spades it’s so important that making a bid such as double nil is almost not possible unless you’re last to bid.
In any game that plays out in tricks, such as Spades, Hearts, Pinochle, or Bridge, position is important in another way: you want a weak player on your right and the strongest player on your left. The reason? That means you’ll always be playing “into” the strong player and having the weak player play “into” you. For example, in Pinochle a very strong maneuver is to play the Queen of trumps into your left-hand opponent (presumably the declarer). Since you always have to beat the trick if you can in Pinochle that means LHO has to either sacrifice a valuable Ten or King or burn a precious Ace. Any of those results is good for the defense. A strong player will make a play like that whenever he can, while a weaker player won’t. Another example is when a player bids nil in Spades. If that player’s RHO is good and paying attention he will do everything he can to prevent the nil bid from being made (such as playing low cards into him, not putting his high cards on tricks, etc.), so it’s easier to bid nil when you’ve got a weak player on your right.
Making sure you have the strong opponents in the right place in poker (“seat selection”) is huge as well, and entire chapters of poker books are dedicated to it.
My grandparents are the ones who taught me how to play Pinochle, and we played a lot until Pa died in 2006. When we played we always sat in the same spots with Pa on my left and Grandma on my right. That of course was a huge advantage for me, since I didn’t have Pa (a grand master of Pinochle), leading into me. It’s funny to think back on the fact that no matter what table we were sitting at or which house it was, we always sat in those same positions. Once you’ve established a routine it tends to stick around I guess 🙂
Another example of a game where “seat selection” could be important is Cribbage (3 or 4 player). If there’s one player at the table who doesn’t pay as much attention and is constantly giving up potential runs or big plays during the counting be sure to sit on that player’s left so you can take advantage!
Oh and one more that just came to mind is 31. Who is discarding to you can make a huge difference. If the person discarding to you is paying attention and noticed that you picked up a Diamond earlier, they’ll try to avoid throwing you any more. But if they’re not paying attention to what you’re doing they might just throw you that Ace of Diamonds even though you’re collecting them!
The fairest thing to do when you sit down for a game where seat selection matters is to have everyone draw randomly for a seat, but it’s probably not necessary unless they’re significant money involved. But the power of position definitely comes into effect in a variety of games, so think about it occasionally, and try to be that strong player that nobody wants sitting on their right! 😉