Texas Hold’em: Understanding Position

When beginning to play Texas Hold’em, one of the most important concepts to master is position. While it may seem counterintuitive, where a player is seated is of vital importance in determining how an online poker hand should be played. This installment of How to Play Texas Hold’em will cover poker positions and strategy.

The Positions

On a six-handed table, positions are titled as follows:

Small Blind: The small blind is obligated to put forward a bet (usually half of the big blind) before each hand is dealt. The small blind acts second-to-last to act preflop, but is the first position to act in all postflop betting rounds (if the player is still in the hand).

Big Blind: The big blind posts a mandatory bet before each hand, and acts last preflop. The big blind is second to act postflop.

Under The Gun (UTG): The position directly to the left of the big blind. UTG is the first position to act preflop. You should tighten your range the most when you are UTG. In a nine-handed game, the first three positions to the left of the big blind are known as UTG, UTG+1, and UTG+2. In a six-handed game, UTG is sometimes called the lojack, or LJ. 

Hijack: The hijack, or HJ, sits two positions to the right of the button. 

Cutoff: The cutoff, or CO, acts second-to-last in postflop betting rounds. The position is so named because the player seated in this position can “cut off” the button.

Button (dealer): The button, or dealer, sits in the last position to act postflop. The button accumulates the most information before acting, and so, the button can profitably play looser than other positions. The cutoff and button are generally known as being in late position.

The Theory

The primary advantage of playing in late position (the cutoff and the button) is having more information. A player acting later knows what other players did first. And since poker is a game of partial information, leveraging informational advantage is the key to success.

Think about it. If you wake up to a decent hand from an early position, you have no way to gauge what any other player might have. You could very well have the best starting hand, but you are forced to act blindly without having gathered any information.

For this reason, players in early position should “tighten up” – playing a smaller and stronger range of hands. Marginal starting hands that could warrant a call or raise from a late position should likely be folded from an earlier position.

The opposite is also true. Players in late position get to see other players act before they have to decide how to proceed. As a result, they can “loosen up” when early position players haven’t indicated too much strength.

Even the pros play the majority of their hands – and win the majority of their money – while playing in late position. Learning to “play position” is vital to poker success.

How playing position gives you an edge:

Knowing your opponents’ actions gives you some indication of what they may have, especially on later streets. If a player starts betting into you, you may be able to get away from a losing hand earlier (and with less money lost) than you would have in an earlier position.

Calculating odds: While on a draw, it is usually best practice to calculate your odds (expected value). If you are in an early position you cannot know the odds of your potential call; you don’t know how subsequent players will act. When acting last, you know exactly how much money will be in the pot at the end of the betting round.

Bluffing: By far the best time to bluff is from late position. This can be the classic preflop “blind stealing” – a player in late position, often the button, raises to steal the blinds. Bluffs can also be smart from late position postflop. If you were the preflop aggressor (initial raiser) it is smart to occasionally follow that first bet with a “continuation bet” on the flop, even when you haven’t hit anything. This tends to be a good strategy if there aren’t too many players to see the flop.

An Example

Let’s take a look at how having position on your opponents can increase your chances of winning:

Player A raises preflop from the hijack with A♠K♠ . Player B calls on the button with 98 suited.

The flop comes out 2♠6J♣. Player A checks. Player B bets.

Player A folds.

In this simple, though wholly common, hand, Player B can win the pot with a worse hand because of position. Player A’s check on the flop could indicate weakness, especially after the preflop raise. This lets Player B know he can probably take down the pot, despite having nothing. (Player A could, of course, be “trapping” or “slow playing” with the check on the flop, though that is typically exploitable play).

If the hands had been the same but the positions switched, the pot would likely have gone to Player A.

For players new to the game, mastering position is imperative. One of the biggest tells of poker rookies is playing too many hands, especially out of position. By keeping track of your position and adapting your hand range in accordance, you are guaranteed to become a more profitable player.

About the Author

Chris Blundo

Chris Blundo is a freelance writer based out of Vero Beach, Florida. He holds a BA in economics and writes about Game Theory, poker, and all things gambling and sports betting.