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Poker Positions Explained - Master Your Play At The Table


After learning poker rules and hand rankings, the second thing you must master is poker positions. This is for a good reason because without understanding how positions in poker work, it is impossible to talk about other poker subjects.

The position is so important in Texas Hold'em that players mention it even before revealing their cards when discussing specific hands and base their decisions on that when playing.

In this article, we break down all the positions at the poker table and explain why it is so important in poker.

Understanding Different Positions In Poker

Most poker tables host anywhere from two to nine players, depending on the format and the game's circumstances. For example, most online cash games are played in a 6-handed format, while the majority of both online and live tournaments in casinos are played in a 9-handed format.

As the name suggests, there are six different positions at the six-max poker table, which fall into different categories:

  • Under the gun (Early)
  • Hijack (Middle)
  • Cutoff (Late)
  • Button (Late)
  • Small blind (Blinds)
  • Big blind (Blinds)

When we move to a nine-handed table, three extra positions are categories are adjusted to reflect it. In such games, players act in the following order before the flop:

  • Under the gun (Early)
  • Under the gun + 1 (Early)
  • Under the gun + 2 (Early)
  • Lowjack (Middle)
  • Hijack (Middle)
  • Cutoff (Late)
  • Button (Late)
  • Small blind (Blinds)
  • Big blind (Blinds)

Before going any further, let's briefly review each position at the table.

Poker Positions Explained - Master Your Play At The Table

The Under The Gun (UTG)

The UTG is the worst position to be preflop because the player in this position has the least information of all players at the table. In most cases, he can only decide what to do with his hand based on the strength of his cards, which is why the UTG has the tightest range of all players at the table.

The Under The Gun + 1 (UTG+1)

The UTG+1 is not much better than the first position at the full table since you only get to see one player act before you and still have 7 opponents waiting for your action. While you can add a few extra hands in your opening range, you still need to play relatively tight because of this.

The Under The Gun + 2 (UTG+2)

The UTG+2, along with two previous seats, are considered early positions at the 9-handed table and are the ones that are the hardest to play before the flop. Players in these positions also have the least information about their opponents' preflop and are not in the best position after the flop, so you should limit your range to around 15% of hands.

The Lowjack

The Lowjack at the 9-max poker table is essentially the same as the UTG in 6-handed poker, as there is the same number of players left to act behind. Because of this, players' range of hands from this position is still relatively tight.

The Hijack

The HJ is slightly better because the player in this position gets to see what early position players do before making decisions. On top of that, he has fewer opponents sitting after him, so he can finally start adding more off-suit hands with blockers into his opening range.

The Cutoff

The CO is where things start to get interesting. This is a position where you actually start stealing blinds more aggressively since you only have one player left IP after you. If you manage to make BTN fold, you will be in position against the blinds throughout the hand and can control the action.

The Button

The BTN is the best position at the poker table. Not only does the player in this position have the privilege to see what the first three positions will do and adjust his play accordingly, but he also has the privilege of being the last player to act on each street after the flop. Because of this, the BTN has the widest range of all players at the table.

The Small Blind

The SB might have the privilege to see what others do before him, but this is not enough to compensate for the fact that he will be the first player to act on each street after the flop and not even close the action since there is still BB left to act. This is why his range is much narrower than the BTNs. In addition, he is forced to put money into the pot before seeing his cards, which is a significant disadvantage.

The Big Blind

The fact that he has to put whole big bling before seeing the cards and that he is the second player to act on each street after the flop make the BB’s position the worst at the table. While you will need to play a wide range and defend a lot, especially with antes in play, you will not be able to make up for putting the whole big blind before even seeing your cards.

As you can see, the position in poker has a significant impact on the players' chances of winning the hand, and because of this, the positions rotate one spot in the clockwise direction after each hand. This is to give all players a fair chance at winning the pot.

Poker Positions Explained - Master Your Play At The Table

What Position Means in Poker

The position is one of the first concepts you must comprehend to become a winning poker player. With this said, there are two ways in which the word “position” is used in poker:

  1. To describe in which position a player is sitting at the poker table
  2. To clarify which player is acting last in a hand

Here is an example of a statement that is used to describe the positions in which the players are sitting at the table.

From which position did your opponent make a raise? The villain raised from UTG, and I flatted on the Button.

In this statement, the player is giving information about the positions of the players involved in the hand.

It can also be used to describe which player is acting last after the flop. In this situation, the player acting last is described as in position (IP), and the player acting first is described as out of position (OOP).

Why Is Position Position Important In Poker?

There are numerous benefits of playing in position, and here are the most significant ones:

  • The position allows players to collect more information
  • The position allows players to extract more value
  • The position allows players to have more control over the size of the pot
  • The position allows players to take free cards
  • Calculating odds is easier and more accurate in position

Position Allows Players To Collect More Information

Because poker is a game of limited information, the opportunity to collect more information than your opponents is the biggest benefit of playing more poker hands in position.

More information means better decisions, and better decisions mean more money in the long run.

Let's look at a straightforward example to give you a good idea of how position impacts the amount of information players collect.

In one hand, a player sitting in UTG is holding A5s, and in another, Button is holding the same hand – A5s.

On the first hand, the only information the UTG has about the hand is his cards, so he must decide whether his hand is strong enough to raise into five people and then play it out of position if either CO, HJ, or BTN decide to play their hands.

While it is one thing to make a decision pre-flop, he will be the first to act after the flop, putting players in a much tougher spot than otherwise.

In the second example, UTG, HJ, and CO fold, and now it’s time for the BTN to decide. His situation is a lot more different because he has information about the three players that acted before him. He knows that if he decides to play his hand, he only needs to beat one or two opponents.

And what is even more important, he will act last after the flop, so he will have more information than his potential opponents SB and BB on each street. Those two factors make the A5s a slam dunk open on the BTN.

As you can see, both players have essentially the same hand, but because the BTN has collected more information before the flop and will collect more information after the flop than his opponents, his hand becomes more profitable than his opponents.

Poker Positions Explained - Master Your Play At The Table

Players In Position Have The Opportunity To See Free Cards

Another great thing about playing poker in position is the ability to use the information to gain even more information or to use the information to deny your opponent from getting more information.

The most obvious example is the opportunity to see or deny free cards.

Let’s say you raise from the BTN with 5c 6c, the SB folds, and the BB calls.

The flop comes Ad Tc 8c, and the BB checks to you as you are the preflop raiser.

In this spot, you have the chance to use your position and check to allow yourself to see the turn for free and gather even more information about the hand.

For example, if the turn is a club, you can then value bet your hand for two streets, and if it’s not, you will still have information from the BB depending if he decides to check or bet the turn.

Now let’s look at things from the BB perspective.

Action is folded to BTN, who makes a raise, the SB folds, and you call in the BB with As 2s.

The flop comes Ad Tc 8c, and you check to the BTN as he is the preflop raiser.

In this spot, because you are out of position, you have to wait and see what the BTN will do. If he decides to check and a club rolls off on the turn, your top pair will become less valuable than it was on the flop. If he checks and the turn is a blank, do you bet for value or check again to your opponent, hoping he might bluff if he missed his draw?

You can see in this example that even though the BB has a stronger hand than the BTN, the BTN has much more options to outplay his opponent or make a better hand with his privilege to take free cards.

Players In Position Can Extract Value More Easily

The ability to extract value is one of the most undervalued things when it comes to playing in-position, and this is especially true when it comes to new players.

We can talk about how position impacts players' ability to extract value in many different ways, but one example will do the trick.

Imagine a situation where UTG, HJ, and CO fold, and the BTN raises with As 7s, the SB folds, and the BB makes a call with 9c8c.

The flop comes Ac 2d 5c, the BB checks to the BTN, who decides to bet 1/3 pot on the flop, and the BB makes a call with his flush draw.

The turn is the Kh, the BB checks, the BTN bets 1/2 pot, and the BB makes the call.

The river is the Tc giving the BB a flush once again, the BB check, and the BTN decides to check back and take a free showdown.

On this hand, the BB put money in the pot when he was behind, and when he made the best hand, he couldn’t extract more value because he was out of position,

If the hands were reversed and BTN had made a flush on the river, he could easily bet again because he would be acting last.

As you see, the power of position that the BTN has in the first hand allowed him to deny the BB from extracting more value from him on the river, while in the second hand, where the BTN had a position on the BB, he was able to extract more value from his hand.

Position Allows Poker Players To Control The Size Of The Pot More Effectively

This goes hand in hand with the positional benefits like taking free cards and extracting more value.

Because players in position are the last to act, they are the ones who have the final say and can decide if they want to keep the pot the way it is or if they want to increase it.

The ability to control the size of the pot is very important in situations where you have the best hand but it can be even more important when you are not sure if that is the case.

For example:

The CO makes a raise with As Ad, and the BB calls with Td 9d, and the flop comes 5d 4d 3s.

The BB checks, CO bets 1/3 pot bet, and the BB calls. The turn is the Ts.

BB checks again, the CO makes a 1/2 pot bet, and the BB calls with his top pair and flush draw.

The river is the Kd, BB checks one more time.

In this situation, because the CO is in position, he has two options:

  • He can check and keep the pot the same size if he is not sure he is beating villan’s range.
  • He can bet and increase the pot size if he thinks he is ahead.

The player in position has the privilege to make that decision, ultimately giving more control over the hand.

Players That Are In Position During The Hand Have An Easier Time Calculating Pot Odds

Pot odds are one of the factors that can make our decision very hard or easy, depending on the situation.

If we are getting the correct pot odds, a call is almost always the right choice. However, if we are not getting the correct odds, there are other factors that we need to consider, such as implied odds, which makes our decision much more complicated.

One of the things that allow us to have all the information about the pot odds and make the correct decision is position. This is especially true for multiway pots.

For example, let’s imagine a flop scenario where three players are in the hand, the SB, the CO, and the BTN.

There are 9 big blinds in the pot, the SB makes a bet of 5 bb, and the action is on the CO. In this situation, the CO knows that there are 14 big blinds in the pot. What he does not know is if the BTN will continue with his hand, so if he is on a draw, the only choice he has is to calculate his pot odds based on the current size of the pot.

Let’s say he makes the call, and the action is now on the BTN. The player on the BTN has all the information about the size of the pot and knows that there are 19 big blinds in the pot, and because he is closing the action, he can accurately calculate if he is getting the right price to call.

In this example, the power of positions allows the BTN to make a more educated assessment of the pot odds and make a more accurate decision. Additionally, because he is the last to act, the BTN does not have to worry that someone behind him will make a raise and completely change the course of the hand and the pot odds.

How To Use Position To Win More Money In Poker

Well, the best advice we can give you when it comes to position in poker is to play as many pots as you can in position and avoid playing out of position too often.

As you can see from the examples above, there are many situations in poker in which the positional advantage is more important than the strength of the hand. This might be hard to accept if you are new to poker, but the more you play, the more you will realize that this is true.

Good poker players try to keep their OOP ranges tight so they can have easier decisions post-flop and avoid getting exploited too much by their opponents. On the other hand, their IP ranges are much wider as they realize that their position can help them outplay their opponents more often.

We hope this article will help you understand why your position is so important in poker and allow you to use this information to gain an additional edge over your opponents.

Poker Positions Explained - Master Your Play At The Table

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