Poker Positions: Poker Table Positions
Position is one of the most important aspects of poker. Being in position is an incredible advantage because you get to see what your opponents do before you act. This may not sound like a lot, but in a game of limited information (such as poker) any informational advantage you have over your opponents gives you a significant advantage – if you know how to use it.
In poker, there are two types of position – relative position and absolute position. Relative position is whether you’re in position or out of position relative to your opponents in the hand (in position meaning you act last and out of position meaning you act first). There is also an absolute position, which is your position relative to the blinds and button during the hand. While the relative position can change throughout the hand, the absolute position stays the same once the hand is dealt. Let’s take a look at the absolute positions at a 9 handed poker table:
UTG (Under the Gun)
UTG or Under the Gun is the player who is seated directly to the left of the big blind and is the first to act preflop. It’s one of the worst positions at the table as you have 8 other players left to act behind you. This means you have to play very tight as the chances of someone left to act having a strong hand is very high.
This is the position directly to the left of the UTG player and is the second to act preflop. This position plays in a similar way to UTG as these are the two earliest positions you can get at the poker table. You can play a couple more hands from UTG+1, but you still need to play tight.
MP (Middle Position)
Not actually the middle of the table, middle position refers to being in between early position and late position. Some players refer to this seat as UTG+2 and use middle position as a term to encompass this position and the next position on our list. This is another position where playing tight is right.
Even though we’re starting to get closer to the button, the Lojack (LJ) is the awkward in-betweeny position that’s too far round the table to be early position but isn’t late position either. Some people use this position interchangeably with middle position which can get quite confusing for new players! While you still need to be relatively tight from this position, you can afford to play more hands than you would UTG.
So-called as you’re hijacking the chance for the players in the cutoff and button to steal the blinds, the hijack is where players will start to open up their ranges a lot more. While some nittier players will still call this middle position, more aggressive players consider it late position. How aggressive you are at the table will dictate how tight or loose your strategy is from this position.
This used to be the “cutoff” where you’d start to loosen your range, before people started playing wider from the hijack. One seat to the right of the button, you’ll likely be in position post-flop which means you can raise a wide range of hands. You should have one of your highest raise percentages from this position.
Definitively the best seat at the table; when you’re on the button you’re guaranteed to be in position post-flop and if it’s folded to you there are only two players you need to fold out to win the blinds. You should be playing your widest range from the button, raising at least 50% of hands when it folds to you. The button is where you’ll have your highest win rate as a player so it’s important to play a lot of hands from this position
SB (Small Blind)
From the best to the worst, the small blind is arguable the worst position at the table. You have to put in half a big blind before you see your cards so you’re already fighting uphill in terms of win rate, plus you’re guaranteed to be out of position post-flop. You should play a tight but aggressive strategy when playing from the small blind, but if it folds to you you should raise a wide range to attack the big blind.
BB (Big Blind)
The big blind is unique in that you’re last to act preflop from this position and can win the pot straight away if everyone folds. You’ll often be calling raises rather than raising yourself, so it’s important to see where the raise is coming from when considering your hand. The earlier position a player raises in, the tighter their hand will be and the tighter you should be in response.
But what about if you’re not playing at a 9 handed table? Most online games run in a 6-max format where there are 6 players to a table instead of 9. This format is gaining popularity in live games as fewer players means there’s more action. Let’s have a look at how the positions are different in 6max compared to a 9 handed table:
As you can see the key difference is eliminating the first three positions and making the LoJack the de facto UTG position. While the positions remain roughly the same, the big change is in how it changes the action.
Fewer players at the table means that ranges don’t have to be as tight, even from UTG. When players are playing looser, it becomes more profitable to 3bet them, and when people are 3betting more often it becomes more profitable to 4bet them… you can see where I’m going with this right? Action begets more action in poker which is why heads up is the most aggressive format there is. The closer the number of players gets to heads up, the more aggressive the game plays.
What is the Dealer Button?
The dealer button is–surprise–a round item that typically has the word “dealer” on it to denote who is in the dealer position in each hand. In live casinos and online poker games, there is a central dealer who deals the cards for everyone each hand, so in that sense, the dealer doesn’t change, but the dealer position still needs to move clockwise after each hand. You’d know who the dealer is in a home game because of who’s holding the cards. Players need to know who the dealer button is on to ensure they are aware of everyone else’s position at the table.
Strategy for Each Position
While we’ve briefly touched upon them, there are four generalized positions at the poker table: early position, middle position, late position, and the blinds. Each of these encompasses two or three positions at the table, and players will use a particular preflop strategy depending on which position they’re in. Word of warning: these positions are not set in stone; people often have different interpretations of early and middle positions, so don’t be surprised if you’re talking with a friend and they think these positions mean something slightly different!
For most players, early position is UTG and UTG+1. These are the first two players to act at the table, and the best strategy for these positions is to play a tight preflop range. When you’re in these positions, you have either 7 or 8 players left to act behind you, meaning that the chances of someone having a strong hand are high. To counter that, we play a tight range of strong hands in anticipation of at least one of our opponents also having a strong hand.
From these positions, most players play a range of strong pairs (77+), strong Ax hands (AJs+, AQo+), and suited broadway hands (JTs+).
You may be thinking, “But if people expect us to play a tight range, they’ll fold to our raises more, meaning we can raise a wider range to exploit that… right?” You’d have a point! Players will fold more to your UTG raises than to your CO raises, but they won’t every time. They will still play their good hands against you, and when you reach a showdown and see how wide you’re playing, they can exploit that fact by calling you wider and 3-betting you lighter.
Trying to play the metagame is extremely tough as it requires you to know what level your opponents are on and play the level above it. So take the guesswork out of your poker game and play a solid, tight strategy from early position.
From middle position, you can start to expand your range to include some of the weaker pairs, more suited connectors, and suited Ax hands. Middle position is considered by most to be MP and LJ, though some tight players will throw the HJ in there, too. While you don’t need to be as tight as you were from early position, you still need to be mindful that at least five other players are left to act behind you.
When the action folds to you, you’ll want to play a moderately aggressive raising strategy, but play very tight if you’re facing an early position open – only 3-betting your best hands for value and not doing much cold-calling. We don’t want to call very often against early position raises as we know their range will be strong, and we leave ourselves vulnerable to being squeezed from the players left to act.
When raising, throw in more hands like A5s, AJo, 98s, 87s, 66, and 33 to your range that you would have folded when you were in an early position. The value of these hands goes up the later position you play from as they’re less likely to be dominated by your opponents.
Late position is where we can start having some fun! You can play your widest ranges from late position as you’re likely to be in position post-flop, and there are fewer people to fold out to win the blinds. Late position is made up of the HJ, the CO, and the BTN, and each position will play quite differently. From the HJ, we play closer to when we’re in middle position, we raise a wider range and include all pairs, most suited connectors, and suited Ax, but we don’t quite reach the range of hands included in the BTN.
We play our widest preflop raising range from the button – we include hands like offsuit Ax, Kx, Qx, and Jx, most if not all suited hands with a broadway card, all suited connectors, and even some offsuit ones as well. Since we’re guaranteed to be in position and only have two players left to act, it’s highly profitable to play an extremely wide range of hands.
From the cutoff, we split the difference. We don’t raise as many hands as we would from the BTN, but we raise a wider range than the HJ. We include more of the suited Kx hands and Qx hands but not as many suited gap connectors (like 96s and 85s) or as many offsuit Kx and Qx hands. How tight or wide you play from the cutoff should be influenced by the playing styles of the button and blinds – the tighter they are, the more aggressive we can raise into them.
Playing against a raise while in these positions will depend greatly on where the raise originates from. If the raise is from another late position player (for example, we’re on the BTN, and they’re in the CO), we’ll want to play back at them by either 3-betting aggressively or calling and playing in position. If the raise comes from early position, we won’t want to 3bet as often as we know their range is strong, but sometimes it can be profitable to call with a hand that has potential like 66 or 98s. If we hit the flop big, we can win a huge pot against their strong top pair hand, but we can just fold if we miss. The added value of position makes plays like this profitable.
The blinds are the most challenging positions to play in poker. You’re out of position almost every hand, and you’re forced to post money without seeing your cards, putting you at a massive disadvantage in terms of win rate. From the SB, your win rate automatically starts at -50bb/100, and from the BB, it starts at -100bb/100 compared to the blank slat of 0bb/100 that every other position has.
The SB is arguably the worst position on the table, with the 0.5bb disadvantage and the fact you’re guaranteed to be out of position preflop. In cash games, it’s advised that you play a 3bet or fold strategy and avoid cold calling wherever possible to minimize the hands that you play from out of position–3-betting allows you to win the pot preflop, but if you are called, you still have the betting lead on the flop. If the action folds to you, you’ll want to raise a very wide range to attack the big blind, similar to what you’d raise from the button.
From the big blind, you can play more of a call-heavy strategy because of your “discount” –you already have a bet in, and you are closing the action, so you don’t have to worry about being squeezed by players behind you. The hands you should call will depend a lot on the position of the raiser. If you are facing a raise from early position, you should call a much tigher range than if you were facing a raise from the button. If the raise comes from late position, you can defend against it with a more aggressive 3-betting strategy because you’ll know they’re raising with a wider range.
Poker Position Ranges
We’ve covered some of the hands you might raise from in each position, but what do these ranges look like when you lay them out? We’ve come up with a reasonable opening range for each position at a 9-handed table so you can see how it looks.
Open Raising Range
77+, AQo+, ATs+, JTs+
55+, AJo+, ATs+, 98s+
33+, AJo+, ATs+, A2s-A5s, 98s+
33+, AJo+, ATs+, A2s-A5s, A9s, 98s+
22+, ATo+, A2s+, 78s+, KQo
22+, A9o+, A2s+, 54s+, QJo+
22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J3s+, T6s+, 95s+, 85s+, 74s+, 63s+, 53s+, 43s+, A2o+, K3o+, Q5o+, J7o+, T8o+, 97o+, 86o+, 75o+, 65o+
22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J3s+, T7s+, 96s+, 86s+, 75s+, 64s+, 53s+, 43s+, A3o+, K5o+, Q7o+, J7o+, T8o+, 97o+, 86o+, 75o+, 65o+
You can see just how wide you can play from late positions compared to early positions, with the earliest positions folding hands like ATo and 33, which may come as a shock to some people. The reason these hands are folded is because of their lack of value when called. With 33 we’re likely going to need to flop a set to be able to win against our opponent, and with ATo we’re likely to be dominated if we flop an ace and a lot of money goes into the middle.
While you don’t have to use these exact ranges, it’s important to think about what hands you’re including/removing and how these hands play against your opponent’s ranges.
Why Cater Your Strategy to Your Position
So why should you change your preflop strategy depending on your position? It all comes down to why we raise in poker to begin with. In poker, there are blinds (and sometimes antes) posted by selected players before the game begins and they can see their hands. These blinds are our incentive to raise because if we don’t routinely win them, our stack will eventually bleed out from having to post them ourselves. There would be no reason to play a hand other than AA if there were no blinds, as there’d be no penalty for sitting and waiting for a top-tier hand.
But what does this mean for our strategy? First, while we’re incentivized to try and win these blinds, so is everyone else at the table, which means we need to take our opponents into account when we play. The more opponents we have left act behind us, the more players there are who can stop us from winning the blinds, either by having a strong hand and continuing or bluffing us. So we need to have a tight range from early position as we have the rest of the table left to act.
As we get further round the table and closer to the button, there are fewer players between us and winning the blinds. Sitting in late position means we can raise a wider range as there are fewer players we need to worry about waking up with a strong hand. This leads to not only open raising strategies but also 3-betting strategies based on position. If our opponent is raising from early position, we know that they’re raising with a tight range which means that we need to have an even stronger range if we want to re-raise them. However, if our opponent is raising from late position, we know that they can be raising with all sorts of garbage in an attempt to steal the blinds, so we can 3bet them lighter and expect it to get through more often.
When we get to post-flop, our absolute positions at the table are superseded by our relative positions. Playing in position is a lot easier than playing out of position, as you get the luxury of knowing what your opponents have done before you make your decision. By being in position, you get more opportunities to bluff when your opponents show weakness, you can pot control by closing the action, and you can decide to realize your equity and see more cards if you’re on a draw.
Generally, you should be playing tighter out of position than in position, both preflop and postflop. This is because the disadvantage you’re at means you need a stronger range to make up for the handicap of playing out of position. Also, the more hands you play in position than out of position, the more money you’ll make at the poker table.
Poker Position FAQs
When a poker game starts, the dealer deals each player one card face-up, and the person with the highest card starts on the button. If two players have cards of the same rank, the tie is split by who has the best suit (spades being the best, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs).
Most live poker games run with 9 players at the table whereas most online games run with 6 players at the table. However, there can be any number of players between 2 and 10 at a table depending on where you play.
It is better to act last in poker. By acting last we get information on our opponent by seeing what they do before we make our decision. In a game of limited information, such as poker, any informational advantage gives us an edge.
At a nine-handed table, the positions are called; Under the Gun (UTG), Under the Gun+1 (UTG+1), Middle Position (MP), Lojack (LJ), Hijack (HJ), Cutoff (CO), Button (BTN), Small Blind (SB), and Big Blind (BB).
At a six-handed table, the positions are called; Under the Gun (UTG), Hijack (HJ), Cutoff (CO), Button (BTN), Small Blind (SB), and Big Blind (BB).
Having position in poker means that you get to act after your opponent post-flop. This is an advantage as you’re getting an informational advantage over your opponent by acting last.
Playing out of position in poker means you have to act before your opponent post-flop. This is a disadvantage as you’re giving an informational advantage to your opponent by acting first.
A general rule is that you should play tighter from early positions and looser from late positions. However, you should be adapting to your table and if people are playing too tight you should be taking advantage of that and widening your range from all positions.
The worst position in poker is arguably the small blind. You have to post half a big blind every hand, so you’re fighting an uphill battle in terms of profitability. On top of that, you’re guaranteed to be out of position post-flop which puts you at a huge disadvantage.
The best position to play from in poker is the button. You’re guaranteed to be in position post-flop and you only have two people behind you to fold out to win the blinds. This is the position where you will see your highest win rate as a player.
Position is important in poker as it gives you an informational advantage over your opponents. Being able to see what they do before you act is hugely important as you can change your strategy based on what information they give you.