One of the most crucial principles in poker is position, which many inexperienced players utterly misunderstand.
To put it another way:
In poker, position refers to the sequence in which players can act. A player who takes the first action is considered “out of position,” whereas a player who does the last action is considered “in position.” Due to the additional knowledge received and the ability to more effectively control the size of the pot, playing in position provides a substantial advantage.
In terms of position, there are two possibilities to consider: preflop and postflop.
You can bet from early, medium, or late position during the preflop round, or from the blinds, with further breakdowns according to your precise seat (which we will get into in a moment).
You are either “in position” if you act last, “out of position” if you act first, or somewhere in between if there are more than two players in the pot if you act first.
The crucial thing to keep in mind is that these two elements are interconnected. You are more likely to have to play out of position post-flop if you play from an early position preflop. When you play a hand from a late position, you are almost always (and in certain situations, always) in position for the remainder of the hand.
The fact that your starting seat influences whether you are more or less likely to play in position post-flop are a crucial aspect that influences our opening strategy.
Let’s get a little more into this and see what the table positions are and why the understanding position is so crucial to playing winning poker.
What are the starting positions in poker?
Each seat at the table is given a distinct name, allowing poker players to quickly recognize the hands they should be playing (more on that later) and how their opponents are likely to play.
These seats are categorized into one of four groups:
- Early position
- Middle position
- Late position
- The blinds
The names of the positions vary significantly depending on how many players are sitting at your table, but let’s start with the most popular casino arrangement, full-ring (9 handed).
Here’s what the acronyms mean in case you’re not acquainted with them:
- UTG: Under the gun
- MP: Middle position
- HJ: Hijack
- CO: Cutoff
- BTN: Button
- SB: Small blind
- BB: Big blind
What are the starting positions in poker?
Under the gun is the first seat to act, and it is positioned in early position. “Under the gun” refers to being “forced to act,” as in “being held at gunpoint.”
This is analogous to the first seat at a poker table, when the player is under pressure to make the first choice of the newly given hand.
There are eight players ready to act after UTG on a full ring table with nine players. As a result, if you opt to play your hand, another player at the table will most likely wake up with a premium hand.
Unless they are in the blinds, you will be playing out of position on the postflop if someone is dealt a poor hand and decides to play.
As a result, you must carefully choose the hands you want to play.
Consider the following scenario: we want to open 66 from UTG. This may appear to some as a rather ordinary open.
However, evaluate the chances that any of these players holds a strong or premium hand of 77+, AJs+, KQs, AQo+, KQo.
This range accounts for 7.5 percent of all hands, and the odds of a player holding one of these hands are illustrated below:
Number of players on the table 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Odds of a player having 8% 14% 21% 27% 32% 37% 42% 46%
77+, AJs+, KQs, AQo+, KQo
So there’s an almost 50% probability that someone has a hand that’s at least 66 and, in many circumstances, dominant. If you go all-in against that range, you only have a 37% chance of winning, but you’ll lose a lot of that equity owing to the possibility of a high card to your pair, making it very tough to play.
So the key takeaway:
You need a really good hand to even consider entering the pot with so many players left to act preflop.
The next player to act is known as “under the gun plus one,” or UTG+1, as the clock moves around the table. Because this seat is so similar to the UTG, these two places are placed together in early position poker strategy.
When starting from UTG+1, you can play somewhat more hands because there are only seven players remaining to act. On a full ring table, a common opening range on a full ring table will be about 9% UTG and 10% UTG +1, which looks like this:
The middle position is the next job category. From here, you should continue to play carefully, but because two players have already folded, you can open a few more combinations of cards than you could in UTG.
- That you will face a powerful opponent
- You’ll be forced to play out of position after the flop.
MP+1 should be approached in the same way as MP, with somewhat less beginning hand requirements.
As demonstrated below, a typical opening range from MP is roughly 12 percent and 16 percent for MP +1:
The late position, which symbolizes the three seats of hijack, cutoff, and button, comes next.
We give each of these positions its own name since they play so differently that there is a significant variation in strategy required.
Although this may appear to be a lot to memorize at first, after you get some experience, you will have no trouble remembering all of the different seat names and acronyms. It has become absolutely automatic for me, and I no longer have to think about it.
With a 19 percent opening range, Hijack will play more hands than MP, but it won’t be until the cutoff and the button that we truly start to expand our range. In the cutoff, for example, we’d prefer to open about 26% of hands, but on the button (OTB), we’d like to open closer to 45 percent of hands if we’re up against acceptable players in the blinds.
Here’s how the button’s opening ring would sound:
The reason for the drastic change in beginning hands is that there are so few players remaining to act (either three for the cutoff or two for the button), and if we do, we’ll be up against the blinds.
Because you will always act last on the button when playing postflop, it is the greatest and usually invariably the most lucrative seat at the poker table.
The blinds are an another kettle of fish altogether. To begin, blind players must pay a modest “fee” before seeing their cards, i.e., they must blindly throw money into the pot, hence the term.
Second, when you play from the blinds, you’ll largely be responding to other players’ raises rather than initiating them. This causes you to change your approach from what we’ve been doing so far — you’ll have to start calling considerably more frequently, especially from the big blind.
The worst seat on the table is the Small Blind (since you will always act out of position and with the least amount of knowledge), and the Large Blind is the least profitable because you must throw a full big blind into the pot without even seeing your cards.
The large blind’s two redeeming features are that we already have 1 bb in the pot, which implies that despite our deficit in position vs all seats save the SB, we will generally be able to “close the action” by calling and seeing the flip.
Closing the action ensures that part of our equity will be realized (potentially allowing us to hit a piece of the flop). The same cannot be true for the SB, where if we call a raise, the Big Blind may reraise us with a squeeze, putting us in a difficult situation.
6-max tables play significantly more aggressively and, in many respects, may be regarded of as a full ring table with the first three seats removed.
However, the naming tradition alters slightly: in a 6max table, the first player to act is still termed under the gun (rather than MP+1 as in a full ring table).
A 6max table’s name scheme is illustrated below.
See my essay here on the difference between a fullring and a 6max table approach.
In a ten-handed table, an additional UTG+2 is applied before MP begins. In this instance, UTG should play a 9-handed table and play significantly tighter.
Poker Position Hand Chart:
In a 6max game, here’s an example of how we’d play pairs:
Because pairs are one of the best starting hands, we should nearly always play them. However, it is less clear with the other hand kinds.
Click here for the 6max starting hand chart and here for the complete ring starting hand chart.