Poker Positions: The Importance of Positions in Poker
We all know how important being in position is in poker, but you may need to learn that your position at the table is just as important. 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.
We’ll look into exactly how you should play from each position, why it’s important, and how being positionally aware can make you a better poker player.
What are Positions in Poker?
When you play poker, you’re sat in specific seats at the table (or the virtual felt). These seats can be referred to as your “position” at the table. Your position at the table should influence your strategy each hand.
In poker, there are two types of positions: Relative Position and Absolute Position.
Relative position is whether you’re in or out of position relative to your opponents in the hand (in position means you act last, and out of position means you act first).
Absolute position 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.
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 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 eight other players left to act behind you. This means you should play conservatively, as the chances are high that someone acting after you has a strong hand.
This is the position directly to the left of the UTG player and is the second to act preflop. This position plays similarly 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 LoJack. Again, this is a position where playing tight is right.
Even though we’re starting to get closer to the button, the Lojack (LJ) sits in that awkward in-between spot–it’s too far around the table to be in early position, but it isn’t in late position, either. Some people use this position interchangeably with middle position, which can confuse 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 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.
Before people started playing wider from the hijack, this used to be the “cutoff” where you’d begin to loosen your range. 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.
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. Therefore, you should be playing your widest range from the button, raising at least 50% of your hands when it folds to you. The button is where you’ll have your highest win rate as a player, so it’s essential to play a lot of hands from this position.
SB (Small Blind)
From the best to the worst, the small blind is arguably 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 the last to act preflop from this position and can win the pot immediately if everyone folds. You’ll often be calling raises rather than raising yourself, so it’s important to see where the raise comes 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 with six players at a table instead of nine. This format is gaining popularity in live games as fewer players mean more action. So let’s have a look at how the positions are different in 6max compared to a 9-handed table:
1. BB – Big Blind
2. SB – Small Blind
3. BTN – Button
4. CO – Cutoff
5. HJ – Hijack
6. UTG – Under The Gun
As you can see, the key difference is eliminating the first three positions and making the LoJack the de facto UTG position. So while the positions remain roughly the same, the significant change is the action.
Fewer players at the table mean ranges can be less tight, even from UTG. When players are playing looser, it becomes more profitable to 3bet them, and when people are 3-betting more often, it becomes more profitable to 4bet them… you can see where we’re 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.
Why are Poker Positions Important?
Knowing poker positioning and how to adjust your strategy based on your poker table positions is a crucial part of becoming a winning poker player. The reason that poker positions are essential is that each one is different from another. They vary on how many players are left to act after you and your likely relative position postflop.
Variables of Each Position
For example, if you raise from UTG (Under The Gun) at a nine-handed table, you have eight players to act after you. With eight different combinations of hands, someone will likely have a strong hand. You need to anticipate that and only raise strong hands from this position, as if you play too many hands, you’ll be crushed by the stronger ranges of your opponent. Also, the UTG position is far from the button, so you’ll likely be playing out of position postflop. Playing out of position is a disadvantage, so you must increase the strength of your range to compensate.
However, if you raise from the BTN (Button) at a nine-handed table, you only have two players left to act behind you. In this scenario, it’s unlikely that one of the two remaining players has a strong hand, so you can raise a much wider range of hands to try and steal the blinds. You’re also guaranteed to be in position postflop, which puts you at an advantage during the hand; therefore, you can raise an even wider range of hands.
How Strategies Affect Profitability
If you were to play the same range of hands in both positions, you would find your stack slowly (or quickly) disappearing in front of you. This is because the two strategies you should use in each position are vastly different. If you were to play your BTN strategy from UTG, you’d lose most of the hands you’d play, as all your opponents will be playing strong against your wide range. On the other hand, if you were to play your UTG strategy from the BTN, you wouldn’t be stealing the blinds often enough, so your stack would die a slow death from being blinded off.
The key takeaway is that each position is unique, so a different strategy must be applied.
Strategy for Each Position
While we’ve briefly touched upon them, here are the four generalized positions at the poker table:
1. Early Position
2. Middle Position
3. Late Position
4. The Blinds
Each encompasses two or three positions at the table, and players will use a particular preflop strategy depending on their position. 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!
EXPANDFor 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 seven or eight players left to act behind you, meaning 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 solid 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 think, “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?” And 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.Playing 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.
EXPANDFrom middle position, you can expand your range to include some of the weaker pairs, more suited connectors, and Ax hands. Most consider middle position to be MP and LJ, though some tight players will throw the HJ in there, too. While you don’t need to be as conservative as you were from early position, you still need to be mindful that at least five other players are left to act behind you.You’ll want to play a moderately aggressive raising strategy when the action folds to you. However, play very tight if you’re facing an early position open – only 3-betting your best hands for value and avoiding a lot of cold calls. 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 real 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 comprises the HJ, CO, and 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 which includes 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. Here, 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. 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 raise fewer hands than we would from the BTN, but we raise a wider range than the HJ. We include more suited Kx hands and Qx hands but fewer 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 greatly depends on where the raise originates. Suppose the raise is from another late position player (for example, we’re on the BTN, and they’re in the CO). In that case, 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 with 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 fold if we miss. The added value of position makes plays like this profitable.
EXPANDThe 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 every other position’s blank slat of 0bb/100.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 3-bet 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, you’re closing the action, and 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 tighter 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.
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, blinds (and sometimes antes) are posted by selected players before the hand begins and players can see their cards. 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 consider our opponents 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 by 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 around 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 open-raising strategies and 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, suppose our opponent is raising from late position. In that case, 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 postflop, 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 play 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 compensate for the handicap of playing out of position. Also, the more hands you play in than out of position, the more money you’ll make at the poker table.
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 devised 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 shock some people. These hands are folded because of their lack of value when called. With 33, we’ll likely need to flop a set to win against our opponent. 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 consider what hands you’re including/removing and how these hands play against your opponent’s ranges.
Advantages of Playing in Position in Poker
We’ve frequently mentioned throughout this article that playing in position gives you a postflop advantage, but what exactly are those advantages?
Better Pot Control
EXPANDWhen you play in position, you’re the last player to act on each preflop street. This means that you often have the final say on the size of the pot for that street. For example, if everyone has checked to you, you can decide whether or not to take a free card or if you want to make a bet. Similarly, if your opponent has made a bet, you can decide whether you want more money to go in with a raise or if you want to call and keep the pot small.This control you have over the size of the pot allows you to inflate them when you have the best hand and keep them small when you have a marginal hand.
Better Bluffing Opportunities
Being in position allows you to pick up all the pots that no one else seems to want. You know the kind–someone’s raised preflop, there’s a couple of callers, but everyone checks down to the river. When you’re last to act, you get the best bluffing opportunity at the table. Take advantage of this and bluff at pots where your opponent(s) show little interest in continuing.
More Time to Evaluate the Hand
Another benefit of being in position is more time to evaluate the hand! You have more time to analyze your opponent’s ranges, calculate the pot odds, and figure out where your hand falls within your own range. There’s a lot to think about during a poker hand–any additional time given to you is precious, and that’s what you get when you play in position.
Get More Optimal Information
The primary benefit of playing in position is that you get to see what everyone else does before making your decision. This allows you to study your opponents and gauge their general interest level in the hand. It’s much easier to bluff at a pot when you’ve already seen your opponent disinterestedly check to you. You’ll find that playing in position gives you lots of opportunities to steal pots from other players.
Ante and Poker Positions
Commonly found in tournaments, an ante is a mandatory bet that each player must make in a hand. These are similar to the blinds but smaller in size and placed directly into the pot rather than in front of each player. In addition, some casinos have introduced a “big blind ante,” where the player in the big blind pays the ante for the whole table. Doing this speeds up the game, as you don’t have to wait for nine players to post an ante at the start of each hand.
The presence of an ante increases the amount of “dead money” in the pot preflop and gives players more to fight for. As there is more money to be won, the overall success rate of a steal attempt can be lower while still being profitable. For example, if you raise 3bb to win 1.5bb (the small and big blind). Here, you need your opponent to fold 66% of the time for the steal attempt to be breakeven (not taking into account any postflop action). However, suppose you’re raising 3bb to win 2.5bb. In that case, they only need to fold 55% of the time for the steal attempt to be breakeven (again, not taking into account any postflop action).
Having an ante in play also means that the price of playing a round of poker has increased from 1.5bb per round to 2.5bb per round. This means you should widen your range from every position whenever an ante is in play. The more you can steal the blinds and antes, the less effect they’ll have on your stack when you’re forced to pay them.
A good rule of thumb is to widen your positions more the closer you get to the button. Just because there’s an ante in play doesn’t mean that raising 30% of hands from UTG becomes a good strategy! Start with minor adjustments to your early position ranges, then make more significant adjustments as you get closer to the button.
The straddle is a self-imposed position in poker, often found in live games. Still, more and more online poker sites are starting to implement this feature. The straddle position is where the player who would have been UTG decides to post 2x the size of the big blind as another blind bet. This allows them to be last to act preflop, making the player to the left of the straddle first to act.
Adjusting To Straddles
If people are straddling in your games, how should you adjust to it? The first thing to be aware of is that your raise sizes will be bigger when there’s a straddle in play. As it’s essentially the third blind, your minimum raise must be at least 2x the straddle, which means the smallest raise you can make is 4bb.
Most players assume that a straddle is like an ante, where there is dead money to be won and your EV of stealing greatly increases. This is not the case. When you raise preflop with an ante in play, you’re raising 3bb to win 2.5bb – a big increase over the 3bb to win 1.5bb. However, with a straddle in play, you need to increase your raise size, so you’re raising 6bb to win 3.5bb – not much better than a standard open raise.
There is, however, some EV to be gained by stealing more frequently when a straddle is in play. Just note that you should make smaller adjustments to your opening ranges and not widen them as much as when there are antes in play. Unless the player in the straddle is a complete nit or a total maniac, add one or two more hands to your opening ranges when a straddle is in play.
Knowing each poker position and how it affects your strategy is a big part of becoming a winning poker player. After reading this guide, you should know each position in poker, why we adjust our preflop strategy based on our position, and how to adjust to different variables at the table. However, knowing how to adjust your ranges based on your position is one thing; knowing how to construct your preflop ranges is another thing altogether. Check out our guide on poker ranges to find out how to do that.
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.
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.