If you’re at all familiar with poker strategy, you’ll have heard how important your position is. However, there are two types of positions in Texas Hold’em poker games, relative position and absolute position. Relative position is whether or not you’re last to act postflop, whereas absolute position is about how your position at the poker table affects your game. In this article, we’ll be talking about the latter, so read on to find out more about these poker position names and how your seat at the table should affect how you play.
Poker Positions and How To Play Them
In a full ring table, there are nine positions that you can be in. These positions rotate one position clockwise at the end of each hand, so if you start the game in the Big Blind (BB), the next hand you will be in the Small Blind (SB). It’s important to know how to play well from every poker table position, as you’ll end up playing each of them multiple times a session - whether you want to or not!
Of the three groups of different poker positions, an early position is the hardest to turn to your advantage. It means you're at the forefront of the betting round. This is the worst position to be in because it makes it hard to implement a formidable preflop strategy. Also, other poker players can more easily calculate pot odds and predict your next move.
Because you're close to the dealer position and the first to make a move, the early position is also known as being under the gun.
UTG - Under the Gun
The first position we’re going to look at is the first player to act preflop. This is called under the gun, or UTG for short, and is positioned to the left of the Big Blind. From this position, you have every single other player sitting at the table left to act, all with the possibility of having a strong starting hand.
This possibility means you should play a very tight range from UTG, only playing the top 10-15% of hands. Not only do you have all the players left to act behind you, but given its position relative to the button, you’re more than likely going to be out of position postflop. Being out of position postflop puts you at a disadvantage, another reason to play a strong range from this position.
UTG+1 - Under The Gun +1
The next position at the table is UTG+1, and it plays very similarly to UTG. While there is one less player to worry about, you still have to be concerned about the seven other players at the table, so we still need to play a tight range from this position. However, you can loosen up a little bit, playing around 12-17% of hands, depending on your personal playing style.
HUTG+2: UNDER THE GUN +2
The poker table positions at a nine-handed table are more than when playing a game with fewer hands. In this scenario, you may encounter the UTG position +2. It's similar to UTG and UTG+1, and you can apply a similar strategy if you're in this position.
MP - Middle Position
We now move away from the “UTG” positions to the middle position (MP). As a warning, sometimes players group the table positions into four groups, split thusly.
Early Position - UTG, UTG+1
Middle Position - MP, LJ, HJ
Late Position - CO, BTN
Blinds - SB, BB
So if someone is talking to you about the middle position, be sure to clarify whether they mean the position at the table or the group of positions. It can get very confusing, especially considering that MP is part of the middle position!
However, now that is out of the way, while MP isn’t considered an early position, that doesn’t mean you can start raising a wide range of hands. You should still play fairly tight from this position, only raising between 14-19% of hands, and you should play very tight if either UTG or UTG+1 raises before you.
LJ - Lojack
Sometimes called MP+1, depending on who you’re talking to, the LoJack (LJ) is quite a tricky position to play. As you’re getting closer to the button, it can be tempting to widen your range to try and steal the blinds, but there are still five people left to act behind you, so you can’t widen your range too much. It’s recommended that you play around 16-20% hands from these positions,
HJ - Hijack
This position, called the hijack (HJ), is where people start to widen their ranges more. It’s on the cusp of the middle position and late position, so if the players left to act are on the tighter side, you can open up your range in an attempt to steal the blinds. Even if you have no information on your opponents, you can still open around 20-24% of your hands from the hijack. However, you should still play cautiously against raises from players in earlier positions.
If you manage to get one of the late positions in poker, you're right where you want to be. While a low position is the worst position to be in, the button position and cutoff position comes with many advantages. You won't have to participate in many (if any) forced bets, and you'll often be able to read the other players better.
CO - Cutoff
The cutoff (CO) is where you can really start having some fun and opening a much wider range of hands than you could before. You only have three people left to act preflop, and you’re almost guaranteed to be playing in position postflop. This combination of factors makes a lot of hands more profitable to play. Most players will open between 26-30% of hands from the cutoff, but if the players on the button and in the blinds are tight, you can get away with raising even more.
BTN - Button
The dealer button (BTN) should be everyone’s favourite position to play. You’re guaranteed to be in position postflop, and only two people are left to act after you, so you should raise around half the hands you’re dealt when the action folds to you.
Given that you’re guaranteed to be in position postflop, you can afford to play more hands against raises from your opponents, either by calling their raises or 3betting them. You’ll find that your highest win rate is from the button, so make sure you’re playing plenty of hands to leverage that positional advantage to the maximum.
SB - Small Blind
The small blind (SB) is an odd position, as you should play a lot of hands from this position even though you’re guaranteed to be out of position postflop. The driving factor behind this is the 0.5 blinds that you’re forced to post whenever you’re in the SB. You have to try and claw back some of that dead money by playing aggressively and with a wide range. When the action folds to you, you should play a similar range to that of the button, as only one player is left to act after you.
Also, when facing a raise from your opponents, particularly those in late position, you should be 3-betting very aggressively, particularly in cash games. In fact, against the BTN and the CO, you can 3bet between 15-20% of your hands profitably. Remember, when you’re in the SB, be aggressive, and don’t call when you can 3bet.
BB - Big Blind
The big blind (BB) is a unique position, as you very rarely get the chance to open raise yourself and are often reacting to the raises of your opponents. You’re also posting a whole big blind every time you play in this position, making it even harder to play well.
The key to playing the BB well is knowing how to react based on the position of your opponents. The earlier position they raise from, the tighter you should play against them. For example, if you have a hand like T9o, you should fold if you’re facing a raise from UTG+1, but it’s a standard call against a raise from the BTN.
You must also remember to be aggressive when playing from the BB. It’s tempting to call most of your hands, given the great price you’re being laid, but you should be 3betting aggressively (around 10-12%) against late position raises. If you only call from the BB, you’re forcing yourself to play out of position without the betting lead, which is a very unprofitable situation to be in.
Why Positions Are Important
Positions in poker are important as they give you an indication of the range of hands you should be playing. It makes sense that you should play fewer hands when you’ve got the whole table left to act, and you’ll likely be out of position postflop. So, if you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself losing money by playing hands that should be folded.
This is called being "positionally aware." If you're positionally aware, you will know how to adjust your ranges based on where you are at the table. Eventually, you'll find that you tend to make more money than people who lack positional awareness.
There is a range of reasons why positions in poker are essential, and poker table positions affect many different things, including the following:
When you're positioned well, you get more free cards - Sometimes, having one of the early positions is a disadvantage. If your opponent checks to you while you're on a draw, you can take a free card. If you're in a late position and everyone else checks, you can also check a card without any additional investment.
It helps with pot control - As with many other aspects of this list, later positions in poker have a significant advantage over early positions. By changing when you call and when you bet, you can effectively manage the pot size to keep it in your ideal range.
Better bluffing opportunities - When you have an early position, it makes it much easier to bluff your way through a weak hand. The best position for bluffing is right at the end because you get to read the other seven or eight players' expressions. It also makes it easier not to show tells since you have time to prepare yourself. More so than those in early positions.
It affects how you calculate the odds - If you hold an early position at the table, it makes it much harder to calculate the pot odds. Middle positions have an advantage, but late positions hold the trump cards. If everyone else (or nearly) has already gone, you don't have to try and guess whether they're going to bet or call. If you're a later player in the betting round, you can easily calculate the odds.
It can make it easier to predict other players' moves - The best position in a poker game allows you to observe the other players and predict their moves. If you have a late position in poker, it's easy to use the check/bet actions of other players to predict their future moves.
Learning To Make The Most Of Your Poker Position
No matter what your position at the poker table is, you can turn it to your advantage with some time and effort. One of the best ways to do this is to visit poker training sites and start playing poker there. After a while, you'll be able to progress to online poker games at other sites.
You won't always get a desirable position at the table, but a winning poker player knows how to leverage any poker positioning to their advantage. Here are a few tips for making the best of your position at online poker sites or in-person games.
As an early player, leverage your poker position by doing the following:
Play tight ranges of starting hands, focusing on premium hands like high pairs, strong Broadway cards, and suited connectors.
Avoid playing speculative hands like small suited connectors or small pairs.
Pay careful attention to the table dynamics and adjust your strategy as often as necessary.
Try to keep the pot controlled and avoid bloating it unnecessarily by playing with marginal hands.
Utilize strong hands well, and bet for value when you know you have a premium hand.
Minimize bluffing since later players are in better absolute positions to accomplish this.
As a middle player, you can leverage your position in poker by doing the following:
Play a wider range of starting hands than players in early positions, but don't be overconfident. Players in later positions still have the tactical advantage over you.
Pay careful attention to the players in earlier positions. If they show strength or raise regularly, you know to exercise caution and play a tighter hand.
Try to keep track of the table dynamics. By reading both early-position players and late-position players, you can take advantage of their weaknesses.
Seize any opportunities for stealing blinds. The middle positions are ideal for taking advantage of passive or tight players to raise and steal blinds.
Remain cautious with marginal hands. Even though these positions are slightly better than early positions, this isn't the right position in poker to play marginal hands. Practice caution and leave marginal hands to the late positions.
As a late player, you have an extremely wide range of things you can do to maximize effectiveness. Try implementing the following:
Earlier players must play a much tighter range of opening hands, so play a wide range of starting hands when you're in these late positions.
Capitalize on blind steals by raising. Doing so will add chips to your stack without showdown.
Use your position to bluff and semi-bluff. You're in the perfect position to make the most of bluffing, so use it well.
Defend your blind well since many other people will be trying to steal it. Incorporate both strong and speculative hands for the best effect.
Now that you've had poker positions explained to you, you understand the importance of positions in poker and why it's best to avoid an early position if at all possible. It's not always possible, though, so be prepared to learn how you can make the most of your position, whatever it may be.
We hope that you're now prepared to capitalize on your poker positions and that you'll use playing in position to your advantage. From Small Blind to Button, there's always a way to make your position in poker work for you.