If you've heard anyone talk about poker, you'll probably have heard them say how important poker playing position is. Some people even say that if you always had position it wouldn't matter what cards you have as you'd be able to repeatedly outplay your opponent.
We'll look into exactly what poker table position is and why it's so important.
Poker Table Position Explained
In poker, there are two types of position - table position and hand position. Your table position is the seat you're in relative to the button at the start of the hand. This stays the same throughout the hand and only changes once the hand is over and the button moves. Table position influences your preflop range as your position at the table should influence the kinds of hands you raise or call with preflop.
Your hand position is your position in the hand relative to your opponents. You can either be:
- in position, or
- out of position.
If you're "in position" to your opponent, you are the last to act on that street and if you're out of position you are first to act.
Being last to act gives you a significant advantage as you see what decision your opponent makes before you have to make your own. As poker is a game of limited information, having this informational advantage over your opponent has a significant impact on your win rate. On the other hand, you will want to fold when playing out of position and your hand is not within the best possible range.
Types of Poker Table Positions
Table positions are often grouped into categories.
At a nine-handed table, early position comprises the first two/three positions at the table - UTG, UTG+1, and UTG+2 (although UTG+2 is sometimes considered middle position). These positions are the first three to act preflop as they're immediately to the left of the big blind and small blind.
From these positions, your preflop ranges should be the tightest you have when it comes to both raising and calling. You should be aware that when your opponents raise from these positions they should have a strong range so you should be more cautious when it comes to calling/3betting vs raises from these positions.
After early position comes middle position and as the name suggests, it's not quite early position and it's not quite late position - it's in the middle. It is comprised of UTG+2, LJ (Lojack/UTG+3), and some people also consider HJ (Hijack) middle position as well. From these positions, you don't have to be as tight as the first two positions at the table but at the same time, you can't go crazy raising a very wide range.
You'll want to start adding some more speculative hands to your preflop ranges that you wouldn't open from early position; such as lower suited connectors, lower pocket pairs and weaker suited Ax hands. You can also be more aggressive when facing raises from your opponents in these positions.
Late position is the last two/three positions on the table where you are not in the blinds and is made up of the HJ, CO, and BTN (the SB can also be considered late position if the action folds to you). These are the positions where you can raise your widest preflop ranges as they're the best positions to try and steal the blinds.
These positions are the strongest at the table as they combine their table position advantage with their hand position advantage. Not only do you have fewer players to get through to win them but if you are called you are very likely to be in position postflop.
Importance of Poker Position
Let's look at the reasons why being in a good position in poker is such an advantage.
Information on Other Hands
The biggest reason being in position is so important in poker is that it gives you information on your opponent that they don't get on you. By being last to act you get to see them make their decision before you have to make yours. Not only do you get to see what their decision is, but if you're playing live poker you get to see how they make it - giving you the chance to pick up tells on your opponent.
On top of all that, it's just a lot harder to play hands out of position because of the fact you don't know what your opponent is going to do. By playing as many hands as you can in position, you can use the information your opponents give you by acting first to make better decisions on how to play your hand.
It allows you to maximally exploit your opponents based on their tendencies. For example, if they only bet when they have a strong hand you can bet every time they check and fold whenever they bet, without having to ever put a chip in bad.
Position to Bluff
Being able to call in position and see a flop is a great thing in poker, that's why you should play a lot more hands from the BTN than you do anywhere else as you're guaranteed to be in position postflop. When you see a flop in position you get to see what your opponent does first and take advantage of any weakness they show.
If your opponent is a 'fit or fold' type of player then you can exploit this right on the flop by betting whenever they check and expecting to win the pot the majority of the time. However, most competent opponents know how powerful a c-bet is and will make one on most flops, often for a small amount. This is where position becomes very powerful.
As flop bets are often so small, you get a great price to call with a wide range of hands and see what happens on the turn. A scare card could come, a card that improves your hand or your range could come, and your opponent can give up on their bluff. By floating the flop we give ourselves the chance to take the pot away from our opponent on the turn if they check. If our opponent does keep betting then we can fold our hand if we haven't improved, having only invested a small amount on the flop.
Deciding Pot Size
Another great advantage to being in position is that you get to have the biggest say in what size pot you play as you can close the action on any given street. You can make sure that a bet goes in on every street, or you can make sure that the minimum amount goes in on every street.
For example, we call a $6 at $1/$2 withon the BTN vs a CO raise and both blinds fold. The flop is - we flop a straight and our opponent checks. As we're in position and want to build a flop with our strong hand we bet $10 and our opponent calls. The turn is the , our opponent checks again, we bet $35, and our opponent calls. The river is the , our opponent checks for a third time, we bet $100 and our opponent calls with .
In this scenario, we were able to make sure a bet went in on every street, whereas if we were out of position we would likely have missed a street of value due to our opponent checking back on either the flop or the river.
Similarly, if we had a more marginal hand in this scenario such as, we could check back the flop keeping the pot small, and just call the turn against a bet and possibly find a fold on the river - saving ourselves money against a stronger hand.
Playing in position as often as possible will make you a more profitable player. The majority of your win rate comes from playing in position so learning how to play it well will give your win rate a healthy boost.
This article was published on December 7, 2021, and last updated on October 26, 2022.