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Poker news | Aug 08, 2023

Poker Positions Explained

By Rtr Lucy

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When hearing poker players talk about their poker games, you will likely often hear them talking about ‘position’. But what is position and why is it so important?

Firstly, position can refer to a couple of things:

You may be referring to the unique names given to seats based on their relative distance and direction to the leader button which gives the positions at the poker table.

Often though people are referring to the order in which players are allowed to act. To be ‘In Position’ (IP) you will be the player who acts last on every street in a round. Conversely, the player ‘Out of Position’ (OOP) must act first on every street in a round.

Ultimately it is always best to be in position rather than out of position, as the earlier you act, the less information you have and the more at risk you are. Likewise, the later you act, the more information you can base your hands on and the safer they are.

But each position at the table has different strengths, weaknesses and requirements and these can change whether you’re playing post or pre flop.

Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned player, prefer online or live games, play cash games or just for fun, this article will provide you with all the need-to-know info to start strengthening your poker position today.

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What are the Positions?

For a 6-handed table / Shorthand table (SH):

  1. Under the gun (Early)
  2. Hijack (Middle)
  3. Cutoff (Late)
  4. Button (Late)
  5. Small blind (Blinds)
  6. Big blind (Blinds)

For a 9-handed table / Full Ring (FR):

  1. Under the Gun (Early)
  2. Under the Gun +1 (Early)
  3. Under the Gun +2 (Early)
  4. Lojack (Middle)
  5. Hijack (Middle)
  6. Cutoff (Late)
  7. Button (Late)
  8. Small Blind (Blinds)
  9. Big Blind (Blinds)

Positions at a poker table are not fixed, their distance to the button determines the position of each seat and the Button (represented physically live, or graphically online) moves one seat clockwise each hand.

An additional aspect to consider is your absolute position compared to your relative position:

  • Absolute position is your position relative to the blinds and button during the hand. It stays the same once the hand is dealt.
  • Relative position is whether you’re in or out of position relative to your opponents in the hand. Rather than a player being last due to the placement of their seat, they are last to act due to the resulting flow of action.

Now let’s review each position and the strategy for them to help you maximise your game play.

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Breaking down the Positions

Under the Gun (UG)

Where: The player seated directly to the left of the Big Blind.

One of the worst positions at the table, this player is always the first to act preflop. Having eight players left to play behind you weakens your position and information immensely.

Under the Gun +1 (UTG+1)

Where: Directly to the left of the UTG player.

The second player to act preflop, this position is not much better than UTG and requires a similar play. Whilst a couple more hands may be available to you, you still need to play it tight.

Under the Gun +2 (UTG+2)

Where: To the left of UTG+1.

Alongside the previous two, UTG+2 is considered an early position at the 9 handed table and alongside UG & UG+1 is one of the hardest positions to play before the flop.

Also referred to as Middle Position (MP), despite not actually being in the middle, this seat refers to being in between early position and late position. Middle Position can also be used as a term to encompass UG+2 and Lojack.

The Lojack (LJ)

Where: To the direct right of Hijack, three to the right of the BTN.

Whilst considered one of the ‘middle positions’ in a FR game, it is an ‘early position’ in SH games. There, it takes on the features of UTG as it is the earliest possible position. The Lojack at a 9-max poker table, is essentially the same as UTG in a 6-handed poker game (and will often be referred to as such in SH games) and requires similar strategies as there are the same number of players behind them left to act.

The Hijack (HJ)

Where: To the direct right of the Cutoff, two to the right of the BTN.

The HJ acts fifth from the last postflop, and on a SH table this position acts second preflop after the LJ. Profitable situations can arise from this position, players can ‘hijack’ the action and steal the blinds. But generally, it would still be best to act cautiously. The four players acting after the HJ in the preflop, mean there is a high chance of running into a premium holding and it is likely that HJ will end up OOP postflop.

The Cutoff (CO)

Where: The position to the direct right of the BTN

From the Cutoff you have the flexibility to play a little looser and can start stealing blinds more aggressively since only one other player In position is left behind you. Although not as powerful as the BTN (as the BTN may elect to cold-call or 3bet), it is still one of the most profitable seats. Should you manage to make the BTN fold, you will be the one able to control the action.

The Button (BTN)

Where: The Position designated by the dealer button

The best position at the poker table, the Button is ideally located to make a steal from the blinds. Whilst the BTN does not get to act last preflop, it is always last to act postflop and remains IP, a massive advantage and one of the reasons the BTN is so profitable. It has the widest range of all positions and has the opportunity to attack open raises from earlier players.

The Small Blind (SB)

Only ahead of the BB, this position acts second to last in the preflop and is required to pay a mandatory preflop payment before even seeing their cards. Despite paying less than the BB, the fact that SB neither gets to close the action preflop nor ever be able to escape OOP postflop, makes this position one of the worst on the table.

The Big Blind (BB)

Where: Two seats to the left of the BTN

Although this position acts last preflop, it too is one of, if not the number one, weakest seat at the table. This is because the BB typically ends up acting first and being OOP postflop, unless the BB is directly playing against the SB and has gained position on it. Like the SB, a blind payment is also required, and this mandatory preflop payment can range in price from casino to casino. There is little way to recover from having to put the whole big blind before even seeing your cards.

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Why is Position so important in Poker?

Free cards

When you have position on your opponent, you will have the opportunity to take ‘free cards’ by checking behind when your opponent checks to you while you’re on a draw.

When you have position on your opponent, you will have the opportunity to take ‘free cards’ by checking behind when your opponent checks to you while you’re on a draw.

Pot control

By acting last on every postflop street, playing ‘in position’ helps a player to control the size of the pot to be played. To play a small pot you can either check behind or call and close the action based on whether your opponent checks or bets. If you want a bigger pot, you can bet or raise when it’s your turn to act.

More bluffing opportunities

If you’ve been dealt a relatively weak poker hand, holding position over your opponent can often compensate for this. Positional advantage is often greater, even than that of a strong hand. Regardless of your actual hand, you will have a lot more leverage when trying to represent stronger hands and thus more chances to bluff when your out-of-position opponent checks on you.

Calculating pot odds

When last to act you can ascertain what your immediate pot odds are. If players are still waiting to act behind you, it is difficult to make this calculation. If out of position, you cannot know if the later players at the table will call or raise and force you to pay out more to stay in the game.

Knowing your opponents

Information on your opponent’s actions is possibly the greatest advantage you can have when playing poker and covers all the benefits listed above. In particular, knowledge on your opponent's planned play is invaluable and will help you make your own decision on how to play it.

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Early position strategy:

  • Play conservatively as the chances are high that someone acting after you has a stronger hand. The position is weaker due to a lack of information, and you need to play tighter to minimise the damage.
  • You have the least information on your opponent’s pre-flop and are not in the best position after the flop. In an early position you should limit your range to around 15% of your hands

Middle position strategy:

  • As with the early positions, the LJ and HJ both have several positions behind them remaining to play and are playing with more limited knowledge on their opponents. To start with it would be best to still play relatively tightly but you can open up your starting hand ranges a bit more than you would in the early positions.
  • If, however, players in the late position fold preflop, you can employ some more aggressive postflop strategies from the middle position.

Late position strategy:

  • Here you can really start opening up your starting hand ranges and make some real profits.
  • In late position you can open 40% of hands on the Button (or more if you’ve spotted yielding and tight players in the blinds), prompting both blinds to fold and winning an uncontested pot.

Blinds strategy:

  • When it comes to the Big Blind you are going to have to play a wide range and defend from your opponents a lot. Due to the reduction on any preflop call (thanks to the pre-payment already invested), wide cold-calling ranges are often more rewarded from the BB.
  • For the SB, despite having a discount also (albeit smaller) on any preflop call, the limitations on the position are such that wide cold-calling ranges are not incentivised. But if all the players before the SB fold, it has an excellent steal opportunity.

To summarise, there are few aspects of poker as important to your play as your position. Being In Position is such an advantage that if I had to choose between that and having a good hand or being the lead, I would always choose position. Ultimately poker is a game of knowledge and the more time you have to figure your opponents out, the better your play will be. But, regardless of the position you find yourself in, a greater understanding of the rules and strategy is going to boost your game. And with our help, you'll surely be raking those chips in soon.