Position represents one of poker’s most important fundamental concepts. Newcomers to the game might hear terms like “under the gun,” “cutoff,” and “button,” and wonder what’s beings described by those words.
Each of those terms describes a particular position at the poker table. Games like Texas Hold’em use a system of blinds, which are mandatory bets that rotate around the table as the game is played.
Your position in a poker game is always relative to where the small blind and big blind sit on the table at a given time. Let’s take a look at poker positions and how they affect a winning poker strategy:
Poker Positions Explained
Before we dive into the different poker positions, let’s take a look at an image from Upswing Poker’s poker cheat sheets. The poker positions explained in this visual can be applied to any game using the system of blinds and a button:
Poker positions are always relative to the button, small blind, and big blind. The small blind always sits one position to the left of the button, and the big blind is always one position to the left of the small blind (with a few rare exceptions).
The button and blinds move around the table, shifting one spot to the left after every hand. The blinds represent mandatory bets each player must put in before the start of a hand, which ensures that there’s already some money in the pot before a hand begins.
In a game labeled as a $5/$10 cash game, for instance, you must put in $5 every time you’re in the small blind and $10 when the big blind comes around to you. For more on how the button and blinds work in poker, check out this section of Upswing’s Poker Rules page.
In any betting round, a player is said to be in position on another player if they act after that player.
Early Position (UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2)
The preflop betting round always starts with the player directly to the left of the big blind. In a nine-handed game, this player is said to be Under-the-Gun (UTG), one of the three early position spots at the table.
These spots are called early positions because they see several players acting after them in the preflop round. After the under-the-gun player acts, the action moves one position to the left, to the UTG+1 player.
The preflop betting round continues in that fashion until all players get the opportunity to call, raise, or fold. In all subsequent betting rounds, the player in the small blind is first to act if they’re still in the hand.
The players in the later positions get a big advantage over the early positions in a game of poker. As such, the early position opening ranges and overall strategy should be much tighter than the late position ranges and approach.
Middle Position (Lojack, Hijack)
The Lojack (LJ) and Hijack (HJ) make up the two middle positions at the poker table. The infographic above shows where these two positions sit in a nine-handed game. In a six-max game, the Lojack acts first preflop and can alternately be called Under-the-Gun.
Like the early positions, the Lojack and Hijack play with several positions still remaining to act after them in each round. You can start opening up your starting hand ranges a little bit more, however.
In hands where the players in late position fold preflop, the Llojack and hijack can employ much more aggressive postflop strategies.
Late Position (Cutoff, Button)
You’ll make most of your money in poker from the cutoff and button, the two late positions at the table. The player on the button acts last in each postflop betting round, giving that position a massive advantage on all opponents.
You can really open up your starting hand ranges when you’re in one of the late positions. Many good players open 40% or more of hands on the Button and this strategy often prompts both blinds to fold, sending the button player an uncontested pot.
More aggressive players might open even more than 40% of hands on the button. While this makes for a very aggressive approach, the power of position can make this a profitable strategy against passive and tight opponents in the blinds.
In a nine-handed game, folding hands like low pocket pairs and small suited connectors makes sense preflop from the early positions. When you’re on the cutoff or button and action folds to you, however, these hands should be raised with impunity.
Poker Positions Final Thoughts
No matter what table spot you’re in when you begin a hand, any situation that puts you in position on other players gives you a huge advantage. When you find yourself in position on your opponent in a heads-up pot, you should use that to your advantage and ramp up the aggression.
The Upswing Poker Lab includes an entire module on the importance of position in poker. The module, titled The Value of Position, features Upswing Poker founder Doug Polk going through various scenarios that reinforce the significant advantage the in-position player enjoys in poker.
For more on how position impacts preflop strategy, click on the link below and download the Upswing Poker free preflop charts.