Poker Positions: How to Get the Most Value from Different Seats at the Table
One of the first things you hear when you start learning poker is that the position is essential.
Almost every single strategy tips article emphasizes the importance of poker positions at the table and tells you that your seat can be even more important than the cards you have.
But what does this really mean?
New players often develop a completely wrong idea of poker table positions, even to the point where they believe to be “in position” when they act first.
This may sound funny to someone who’s been playing for a while or who has a solid fundamental knowledge of the game, but no one knows this when they’re first starting.
In this article, I will go into detail of explaining the importance of having a position, starting with poker position names, over some general strategic considerations, to the breakdown of starting hands for different seats.
By the end of it, you’ll have a much better idea of why exactly position is so important and how it should influence your in-game decisions.
Table of content
Overview of Poker Table Positions and Names
Let’s start at the top, with poker position names. Every seat at the table has its own name, and you’ll often come across this poker terminology in various strategy vids and articles.
So, knowing what these different names refer to is crucial to any further studying of the game.
First of all, there are four main groups of poker positions:
- Early position (UTG)
- Middle position (MP)
- Late position (Hijack, Cutoff, Button)
Players who are first to act before the flop are sitting in early position, the next few players acting after them are in the middle seats, followed by the players in the late position.
Finally, there are (almost) always two players sitting in the blinds if we are talking about a full table.
Poker Position Names
In a standard 6 or 9-handed game, every position is assigned a particular name.
This positional name is referred to in hand analysis even to the point where it’s preferred over the player’s actual name or nickname.
For example, you’ll often hear:
“The UTG opens for three big blinds, the cutoff calls, and the button 3-bets to 15 blinds. Everyone in between folds, and the action gets back to UTG.”
If you don’t know poker position names, this can be very confusing, of course. So, let’s get that part out of the way.
For 6-max, you have:
- Under the Gun (UTG): The first player to act before the flop, seated immediately to the left of the big blind
- Hijack: (HJ) The player sitting to the left of the UTG. Hijack sometimes is also called MP (middle position).
- Cutoff (CO): The player seated to the left of the Hijack and to the right of the Button.
- Button (BTN): The player to the right of the Cutoff and to the left of the Small Blind.
- Small Blind (SB): The player who posted the small blind before the flop sits to the left of the BTN.
- Big Blind (BB): This player sits to the left of the small blind and is the last to act preflop.
For the full ring (9 players), there are more positions (obviously):
- Under the Gun (UTG)
- Middle Position 1 (MP1), often referred to as LoJack (LJ)
- Middle Position 2 (MP2), also known as Hijack (HJ)
- Middle Position 3 (MP3) or Cutoff (CO)
- Button (BTN)
- Small Blind (SB)
- Big Blind (BB)
So, now you have a good idea of what people talk about when referring to cutoff or hijack.
Also, it’s important to memorize these poker position names moving forward as I’ll be going over specifics for each of these positions later in the article.
Why Are Poker Positions so Important?
But, before I move on to particular strategies on how to adjust your play for different table positions, let me briefly discuss the importance of it (once again).
Even if you feel like you’re getting tired of hearing about it, bear with me. There aren’t many poker lessons that will be as important as this one throughout your poker career.
Let me start by asking a simple question. If you had a way of knowing what your opponents had in every single hand, do you think you’d win most pots and walked away victorious in most tournaments?
What a silly question, right? Of course, you would!
Unfortunately (or fortunately, because it would be a rather pointless game otherwise), you don’t get that kind of information.
The amount of info you get on your opponent is limited to what you’re able to extrapolate from their actions and behavior. No more and no less.
And that’s where position comes into play.
A player seated in an early position has no information whatsoever with regards to other players.
The UTG player is, for example, going in completely blind, and can only consider their hand. Then, MP has some information at least about the UTG (they folded or raised or limped in).
As you go around the table, you get to the button. Now, the BTN is the player who has all the information they could possibly need. They saw actions of all other players, and then they can proceed accordingly.
You won’t know the exact hands of your opponents, of course, but you’ll have a much better idea of how strong or weak they might be when you are in position.
Then, there are blinds, of course. They get the last say before the flop, so you could argue that these are the best positions to be in. However, the big and the small blind have two inherent disadvantages that are more important than being able to act last before the flop:
- They are forced to put money in blind (so, on average, with a weak hand)
- They’ll always be first to act after the flop
As you well know, many hands in Texas Hold’em don’t end before the flop. You’ll have to keep playing through the flop and, often, subsequent streets, so that’s another thing to keep in mind when talking about poker positions – which brings me to my next topic.
Relative vs. Absolute Poker Position
Texas Hold’em is a dynamic game. Things change based on the actions of other players. When thinking about poker table positions, this is an essential consideration.
Let’s say the MP player opens, and you decide to call from the cutoff. You have a position over them, so that’s good. However, the button decides to call, as well. Now, you have a position on the MP, but the BTN has a position on the MP and you.
This is the difference between relative and absolute positions.
There is only one seat at the table that can know for sure they’ll have a positional advantage on everyone for the entire duration of a hand, and that’s player on the button.
They have the absolute position, and that’s what makes this seat so powerful. No matter what other players do, they can’t take away the positional advantage from the button, unless you fold.
All other positions are relative. You can hope or expect to have a position over a particular player, but you don’t know what players still to act will do.
If one of them decides to join, you will lose the advantage, and you always have to think about this possibility.
Strategy for Different Poker Positions in 6-max
There is much more that could be said about positions in general, but you should have a pretty good idea by now why they’re so important.
In this next section, I will move on to discussing particular situations, trying to define a range of hands you should be playing when first in from every position.
You will see how your hand range changes as you move around the table. The percentage of hands you’ll want to play from first positions is very narrow compared to the range of hands you’ll play from the button.
The earlier you are, the less information you have on other players and more opponents behind you, which means you need to be more careful.
But, beyond this, the earlier you are, the likelier it is for someone behind to have a big hand. If you’re first to act with eight players behind, the odds of someone having a big hand are quite high.
So, you want to play tight. As you get to the button and only have blinds left to act, you can afford to widen your range.
Players in the blinds have two random cards and are only in the hand because they have to be. So, they are far less likely to have a big hand than someone who voluntarily put money in the pot, which means you can afford to raise with a great variety of hands.
On top of this, you’ll always have a position on them even when they decide to call or even 3-bet, so even when they find a playable hand, you’ll still have the upper hand.
Before I move on to explaining opening ranges by positions, it is essential to note that this is for the games where you’re effectively 100 big blinds deep, and there is no poker ante in play.
Under the Gun Poker Position (UTG)
The first position I will discuss is the earliest one there is, namely Under the Gun or UTG.
There is a straightforward rule to follow when playing from under the gun, and that’s being very tight.
You have five players left to act behind you, each of them with a possibility of waking up with a big hand. So, you want to be conservative.
Looking at Poker Snowie, this is the GTO (Game Theory Optimal) range it suggests you should be opening with from under the gun poker position.
As you can see, you should be opening your pocket pairs down to pocket 8s pretty much all the time, and then mix between raising and folding with pockets between 7s and 5.
The rest of the pocket pairs are simply folds, even though they may seem appealing to play on a 6-max table.
When it comes to big Aces, anything below ATo is a fold UTG. However, you can open all suited Aces, down to A2s.
This is because these hands have excellent playability postflop and also reduce the odds of someone else having a big Ace themselves.
I can imagine that some of you may be wondering what’s happening with all the good suited connectors as the last hand from this category is JTs. The simple answer is, these hands just shouldn’t be played from UTG, even if you feel tempted to do it.
If you start including these hands, your under the gun range will become too broad, and other players will take advantage of this by either calling in position and outplaying you after the flop or 3-betting you more preflop.
Of course, poker is a situational game, and you’ll want to adjust to your table.
If you happen to stumble upon a game where players are generally passive, you might want to expand your UTG range a bit, including hands like T9s or 98s, for example. However, you shouldn’t deviate too much from this opening poker positions chart.
Hijack Poker Position (HJ)
In a 6-max game, the player who’s usually the middle position player is effectively called the hijack or UTG+1.
The most common term for this position is hijack, though, so that’s what I’ll stick to for the most part in this article.
Now, the hijack is a slightly better position than UTG because there are now four players left to act instead of five.
It means that you can adjust your opening range slightly and start adding some more hands.
As you can see, in addition to all the hands found on the UTG chart, you’ll also want to add a few extra hands, like A9 and K8s. On top of that, those smaller pocket pairs like 6s and 5s now become a mandatory raise 100% of the time.
There are also some more unsuited hands you can afford to open from the middle position some of the time, like QTo and JTo.
However, don’t go crazy with these. Poker Snowie suggests you should lean more towards folding, but throwing in an occasional raise instead is also fine.
Cutoff Poker Position
The cutoff is one of the best poker positions, only trumped by the button.
You’ll notice a significant jump in the range of hands you’ll want to open when sitting in the poker cutoff position.
This is because a good player always wants to take advantage of the late position, and you only get to be in these spots a couple of times per orbit.
Just by quickly glancing at the Poker Snowie cutoff poker graph, you can see much more “green,” i.e., there are clearly more hands you’ll be open raising when it gets folded to you.
For example, you’ll be raising all pocket pairs except for deuces, with pocket treys being a raise about half of the time.
Then, there are many more suited connectors in your range and various weak suited hands like K6s and Q8s.
All of these aren’t very strong but play decently well in position, and you’re looking to get a fold from the button and then play in absolute position against the blinds (or win the pot before the flop, of course).
It is interesting to notice how weak unsuited Aces are still a fold. Snowie suggests adding A8o to your cutoff poker opening range about 42% of the time, but that’s it. Anything lower than that is simply a fold.
As you gather more experience, you can expand your raising ranges and start including some non-GTO hands against weaker opponents.
But for a beginner player, these charts are easy to memorize and will help you stay out of trouble. Most poker training sites like Upswing Poker Lab or even Jonathan Little poker coaching suggest to follow these tips, so you should be good!
Button Poker Position
As already explained, the poker button position is the most powerful of all seats at the table.
Playing from the button, you’ll always have the last say on the flop, turn, and river, which makes this seat very powerful.
Talking about preflop, you’re only looking at two players in the blinds once everyone had folded to you.
So, when these two factors are combined, it should come as no surprise that you’ll want to open a vast range of hands from the dealer.
Most players know they should be “stealing” from the button, but what does this mean in terms of actual hands?
I’m guessing that some of you are looking at this chart, thinking no way this is correct. Do you really want to raise with a “garbage” hand like Q6s? How is that a raising hand?
Everything depends on your poker positions. So, while you’d never even consider Q6s from UTG, it becomes very playable from the button.
Since you’re guaranteed to have a position on the small and the big blind no matter what, you can afford to widen your range.
Even if your steal fails, you’ll still have the advantage of being the last to act on every street, and that’s no small matter.
Often, you’ll be able to win pots with a simple continuation bet even when you miss the flop entirely.
Small Blind Poker Position
You’ve probably noticed that so far, there were only two options – raise or fold. With the GTO approach, there is no room for limping first from other positions. If you want to get involved in a pot first to act, you do it by raising.
However, as you come to the SB, things change.
A small blind poker strategy is almost a new game of its own as it entails some extraordinary dynamics.
Once it is folded to you in the small blind, there is just one player left to act. Both of you have been dealt a random hand and are in a pot because you had to be.
So, how does this influence the range of hands you’ll want to play from this position?
The small blind poker chart is definitely much different from any of the rest. Not only it suggests you should be playing more than 60% of your range, but it also indicates that there are many hands you’ll sometimes want to raise and occasionally just complete.
The bottom line is, you’ll want to play many hands from this position as you don’t want to give up the money already invested in the pot, and you are getting great odds to play.
There is no reason to think the big blind has a big hand, so you want to have a strategy that relies heavily on that knowledge.
I won’t go into too much detail on the small blind poker strategy in this particular article. This position merits a significant discussion of its own as it is the most difficult of all poker positions.
Make sure to spend some time analyzing the above graph, though, and keep in mind that you need to fight for your small blind a lot of the time.
Big Blind Poker Position
The final position I’ll discuss for the 6max game is the big blind, and it is the only position that never gets to act first before the flop.
You’ll either win the pot when everybody else folds, have an option if one or more players limp in, or have to find an appropriate response to a raise.
So, there is no “raising first” range for the big blind. Instead, you have a defense range, i.e., hands you’ll want to continue with when facing a raise.
Your defense range will depend on what position the raise comes from, which makes a big blind poker strategy another topic of its own.
You can’t have a generic range to use against every open. You’ll probably have a decent 3-bet percentage against the button, for example, but against a UTG raise, you’ll have to tread lightly.
Without going into too much detail on the topic of big blind poker preflop strategy, here’s the breakdown of Poker Snowie graphs for suggested actions vs. different positions (from UTG to SB, using the 3x raise).
Strategy for Different Poker Positions in Full Ring Table (9 Players)
Strategy for the full ring is different from the one for 6-max, especially when it comes to selecting hands to play. In general, you’ll want to play much tighter, especially from early positions.
Of course, all of this depends on how deep you are or if you have antes in play, but we will discuss a standard 100bb deep situation in a full-ring cash game, and you can adjust from that.
Everything I’ve discussed so far still applies, but now, when you’re UTG or UTG+1, for example, there are seven or eight players to go through, instead of just four or five.
So, the likelihood of someone having a big hand increases even more, which means you simply have to adopt a much tighter range when you’re early.
When you’re first to act in a full-ring scenario, you should only be opening with about 10% of your hands.
Depending on the table and how comfortable you are, you can deviate slightly from the UTG poker chart below, but I wouldn’t suggest going too far off. With so many players left to act, you need to stick to good poker hands.
Some of the hands indicated on this chart probably won’t be in everyone’s range. If you’re not comfortable, I’d say you can remove hands like A9s and 98s to avoid tricky spots.
However, if you feel like you’re one of the better players at the table, there is no reason to avoid opening these holdings and then playing the hand accordingly.
As you move one position to the left, not too much changes. You’re still in a very early position, so your opening range doesn’t change all that much.
You can add a few more hands, but if you were to use the same chart for your UTG and UTG+1 strategy, you wouldn’t be making a mistake.
What you’ve probably noticed is that you don’t want to be playing any weak aces from these positions, with the exception of A5s.
Although they have some blocking value, these hands are bad candidates because they can get you in tricky spots after the flop, as the likelihood of someone having a better ace is quite high.
The UTG+2 poker chart includes some extra hands, bringing your total range to about 13%. You still want to stay very tight, but you can now add more suited aces to the mix and feel more confident with hands like KQo.
Still, you should be very careful with the lower part of your range, especially when faced with a 3-bet.
Unless you have a reason to believe someone is 3-betting you lightly, you should be ready to get rid of weak aces and hands like KQo.
Every now and then, you might consider 4-betting as a bluff, but calling and playing these hands out of position is usually not a good idea.
Middle Position 1 (MP1, Lojack)
As you leave the early position spectrum, you can start to open with more hands. As you can see, the middle position chart for LoJack includes more pocket pairs (down to pocket fives) and the full spectrum of suited aces. Then, there are many more suited connectors like 89s and 78s.
Still, your opening hand range shouldn’t contain too many unsuited A-high hands because you want to have a decent balance and keep the total at around 16%.
On a more passive table, you can probably include hands like ATo and KJo as well, but I wouldn’t go much lower than that.
You can find this position named as MP2 or HiJack, but the technical term you want to use isn’t all that important. It’s much more important to know how to have a good hijack poker opening range.
You should be opening about 20% of your entire holdings from this position, and you’ll want to have a fair number of suited connectors in there.
As you can see, you can now start opening more unsuited hands as well, such as KJo and QJo.
Interestingly enough, you’re still supposed to stay on the safe side with your unsuited aces. I’ve already explained the reasoning behind this, and it still applies when you’re in the hijack position.
While there are fewer people to get through, you could still run into someone with a bigger ace and lose a decent chunk of your chips on an Ace-high board.
The reason why suited aces are preferred is that they offer much more playability. You’ll often have a direct or backdoor flush draw as a backup or maybe even an inside straight draw, which gives you many more options.
Not just in terms of made hands but in terms of staying aggressive with a decent draw and winning a pot that way.
The cutoff is the first of two genuinely late positions where you can start expanding your opening range significantly.
This is because now you only have one player that can have a position on you – the button. Small and big blinds can decide to get involved, but they’ll always be out of position post-flop, which means you’ll have a much higher degree of control in a pot.
The suggested cutoff range is about 26%, but I would say that, in most games, you can get away with opening wider.
Hands like A9o and A8o are more than good enough to open with unless you have a really tough player on the button who regularly plays back at you.
Like in 6-max, there is a significant jump compared to cutoff because now you don’t have to worry about anyone having position over you, so your EV goes up.
You’ll be in the driving seat for the rest of the hand no matter what, so you can open more hands.
That’s why you’ll want to be opening about 40% of your entire range, and as you can see, that means some hands that you wouldn’t consider at first.
The button is always the best of all poker positions, so you need to be taking advantage of that fact by raising hands such as 85s, T6s, and even small suited connectors.
In fact, you’re better off being on the looser side here, i.e., it’s better to be opening with as much as 50% of your range than with just 30%.
When in the small blind, you’ll be opening with almost 50% of your entire range. As discussed in the 6-max section, you’re up against a random hand and already invested in the pot, so you don’t want to give free equity to big blind by folding too much.
Since we covered how limping range from small blind should look in the 6max section, this particular chart doesn’t contain a limping range, so that you could compare two different strategies.
If you do have a limping range, though, make sure to also keep some strong hands in it as well, so to prevent the big blind from always raising when you just complete as they’ll know you’re only doing it with weak hands.
For early position opens, I would suggest playing very cautiously out of the big blind. If players are sticking to tight ranges as they should, you’ll be up against a very strong hand on average.
So stay away from weak aces and trouble hands like KJo and QJo, because it could be hart to realize your equity.
Occasionally, you can defend with smaller pairs and stronger suited connectors. However, only do that when you’re deep enough and believe the opponent will overplay their big pocket pair, for example, when you catch a favorable flop for your range.
Apart from that, you can utilize 6-max charts when playing against later positions, since everything else stays the same as in shorer handed game.
Poker Ante & Positional Considerations
In all the discussion so far, I’ve looked into standard scenarios with the small and the big blind. However, sometimes there will be some extra chips in the pot added via poker ante.
What is ante in poker
Poker ante is a mandatory amount that all players, regardless of their poker positions, have to post before the hand.
Usually, it is around 10% of the big blind but can be more or less. So, for example, players post a small blind (100), a big blind (200), and then everyone, including the small and the big blind, post additional 20 chips and add them to the pot.
So, instead of 300, because of antes, the pot grows to 420 even before the hand starts.
Poker ante is more common in tournaments, but it is also found in some cash games, especially at the higher levels.
Lately, there’s been a practice of just one player posting antes for the entire table (either the button or the big blind) to speed up the process, but that doesn’t change the size of the resulting pot.
When talking about poker ante in terms of positions, the general adjustment you’ll want to make is to expand your raising range from all positions. Since the pot is bigger and there is more to fight for, you’ll want to be more aggressive.
This doesn’t mean going crazy, of course. You can look at the default charts and then adjust by adding a few more hands that are just outside of the range. Or, if Snowie suggests raising a particular hand 40% of the time, you can look to raise 65% to 70% with it due to poker ante.
If you’re playing from the big blind, you’ll want to adjust by defending more in poker games with antes.
This is especially applicable when playing against the button and small blind as you already know these positions will be opening very wide to try and steal the pot, and you will be getting incredible odds to continue.
Adding an Extra Blind: Straddle Poker Strategy
Sometimes in cash games, the action just isn’t enough for the players, or they want to make the game more entertaining. Instead of raising blinds, which isn’t a common practice, especially in casinos, players often choose to post a straddle in poker games.
What is a straddle in poker
It is basically a third blind. Usually, it is twice the size of the big blind, and it is posted by the UTG player.
So, in a $1/$2 game, the UTG player will usually post a $4 straddle if they choose to do it.
Straddle changes the traditional order of poker positions because the UTG now effectively becomes the big blind.
The hijack player will be the first to act before the flop, while the UTG player will have the last action after the big blind acts.
It is essential to know that straddle in poker doesn’t change any postflop rules, i.e., once the action before the flop is over, the order is restored, and the action continues as always.
It is only before the flop that the straddle gets the last action but has to pay for this privilege as they have to post before seeing their hole cards, just like the blinds.
You won’t find straddles in tournaments. These are reserved exclusively for cash games, and exact rules surrounding them may vary.
In general, posting a straddle is a wrong choice because the slight advantage of being the last to act pre-flop isn’t enough to justify putting two big blinds without seeing your cards.
Sometimes you might want to do it to keep a good game going, but that’s an entirely different discussion. If you want to learn more, read my article about the straddle poker games strategy, and you will learn how to adjust.
Summary: Mastering Positions In Poker
Once you’re done with basic rules and hand rankings, understanding poker table positions should be next on your list when starting out.
As you can see, your position has a significant influence on the range of hands you’ll want to play, so without this knowledge, you’re bound to make serious mistakes.
If you make an occasional mistake playing a hand that’s right on the edge, that’s not a big deal. It may be a small mistake, but it’s not the one that will cost you a lot of money.
However, playing without any structure and trying to make up your own ranges as you go can be very dangerous.
Hopefully, this article was able to teach you more than just poker position names. It contains a lot of information, so feel free to come back to it if you feel like you need to study a particular part a bit more. Or you may even get one of the poker books to dive deeper into these topics.
With time and experience, these charts will become second nature to you, and before you know it, you’ll know precisely which hands you should and shouldn’t be playing from every position at the table.
- Understanding poker positions are a crucial part of successful poker strategy
- Being in position provides you with a significant advantage so you can play more hands
- Do not play too many hands from early spots at the table
- Memorize positions and hands to open from every seat at the table
- Adjust these opening ranges based on your competition
- Raise more against recreational players or weak opponent sitting in the big blind