Playing Positions in Poker

Position in poker is a strategic concept. We explain the different positions in poker: dealer button, small blind, big blind, under-the-gun, lo/hijack, cutoff, and how to play them properly.

Position in poker has two related meanings: it’s where you are sat on the table relative to the dealer button – and to “have position” means you get to act last.

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of a good poker position strategy. Money in poker flows toward the button. Acting last gives you numerous advantages, and not acting last creates serious disadvantages. Playing out-of-position (i.e. speaking first) poker is a great way to go broke.

What Is Position In Poker

Position in poker is where you are sitting at the poker table relative to the dealer button – and this determines when you will act pre- and post-flop.

How many players act before you, and how many will act after you? The later you act, the better your position.

Post-flop, position can be both absolute and relative. The dealer button has absolute position, as they will always act last post-flop. UTG+1 is early position in the absolute sense, but if they are up against UTG, they have relative position.

A word of warning: there is no central authority on poker. There is no agreement on what constitutes early, middle, and late position – or even what the poker position names should be!

importance of positions in poker
The most basic poker position names: the button, the small blind, and the last blind.

The only general rule is that early position refers to players who have to act first, and late to those that act last, with middle being the rest. But how many seats fall under each category is a matter of debate.

The only way to avoid confusion is to always think about a seat’s location in relation to the dealer button. Nothing else really matters.

Importance of Position in Poker

The importance of position in Texas hold ‘em cannot be overstated. When you have position in poker, you get to act last – and this is a massive advantage.

You get more information about your opponent’s hands. You get to decide when the betting stops and the next street begins – so you can control the pot size. And it’s easier to call when you’re on a draw, because you can accurately calculate the pot odds and nobody else can raise after you.

In sports, playing at home is known to give a big advantage. Think of playing in position as playing at your home stadium, and playing out of position as playing away. And unlike sports, using the right poker position strategy means you can use choose to play all your home games and only play the away games where you are a massive favorite!

One caveat though: position isn’t as important when the stack sizes are small. This is because there is much less room for post-flop maneuvering.

Poker Position Chart

Our chart showing the different playing positions in a full-ring poker game. It also shows the categories as well as the specific position names.

poker position chart
Our poker position chart.

List of Positions in Poker

The position that really matters in poker is the dealer button – everything else is in relation to that spot. The button moves around the table clockwise, so this means that you move anti-clockwise through the positions.

Hold ‘em positions can be divided up into four main groups:

  • the blinds
  • early position
  • middle position
  • late position

This is just one way to think about them though – there is no one correct way to analyze position in poker (other than relative to the dealer button).  

In cash games, you will always start in the big blind and move down the list. The exception is if you post your blind out of position, which is something you should generally avoid.

In tournaments you might start in any position – usually this is determined by drawing cards. All the same, it’s best to think of an orbit as beginning when you post your big blind, and ending when you get back to it. 

The Blinds

  • Small Blind (SB)
  • Big Blind (BB)

The blinds are the two positions immediately to the left of the button. They are uniquely difficult positions to play. You get to act late pre-flop, which is an advantage – but you then have to act first post-flop, which is a significant disadvantage. And worst of all, you have to put money into the pot no matter what cards you hold.

The Small Blind

The Small Blind Position in Poker
The Small Blind Position in Poker

The small blind (SB) is one place to the left of the dealer button, unless you are playing heads up.

The good news is that you only have to post half a big blind, and you act second-to-last pre-flop. The (very) bad news is that you will always be out of position post-flop, even in a blind v blind situation.

This combination of the forced bet, not acting last pre-flop, and always acting first post-flop, means the small blind is the worst position on the poker table overall.

The Big Blind

The Big Blind Position in Poker
The Big Blind Position in Poker

The big blind (or BB) is always two places to the left of the button, unless you are playing heads up.

No matter how good you are at poker, this is going to be your worst position in terms of win-rate. Getting to act last pre-flop is a small consolation.

Posting a big blind will also give you better odds to call than any other position. But think carefully before you do this – unless you are in a blind v blind situation post-flop, you will be out of position.

Early positions (EP)

Full ring:

  • Under-the-Gun (UTG)
  • Under-the-Gun +1 (UTG+1)

6-max:

  • Under-the-Gun (UTG)

As with the middle positions, these differ slightly depending on the size of the game. But the first player to act pre-flop is always early position, no matter whether you’re playing full-ring or 6-max.

Under-The-Gun

The Under-The-Gun Position in Poker
The Under-The-Gun Position in Poker

The most important early position is known as Under-the-Gun (UTG) and this is the player to speak first preflop.

It is named after the idiom that conjures up an image of being forced to act at gunpoint. Not quite that serious at the poker table perhaps. But you are nonetheless forced to act first pre-flop with numerous players yet to act and no information about what they might be holding. And post-flop you’ll be acting first unless one or both of the blinds get involved.

All in all, a pretty bad place to be – hence why you should stick to a tight range. The likelihood of someone waking up after you with a good hand is high, as is the chance of being out of position post-flop.

The next position to act in a full-ring poker game, Under-the-Gun +1 (UTG+1), isn’t a whole lot better, although it is an improvement on UTG! Indeed, you are not the first one to speak pre-flop.

Middle positions (MP)

Full ring:

  • Middle Position 1(MP1)/Under-the-gun +2 (UTG+2)
  • Middle Position 2(MP2)/Lojack (LJ) at 9 players
  • Middle Position 3(MP3)/Lojack (LJ) at 10 players

6-max:

  • Hijack (HJ)/Middle Position (MP)

In a full ring, there can be two or three middle positions, known as MP1, MP2, and MP3. MP1 is sometimes known as UTG+2. Lojack is the MP2 with nine players or the MP3 for poker with ten players.

Lojack

The Lojack Position in Poker
The Lojack Position in Poker

The Lowjack (LJ) is three seats to the right of the button, and MP1 is four seats to the right of the button.

In 6-max, there is only one middle position seat – normally known as Middle Position or MP. This position is two places to the right of the dealer button and will be the second player to act pre-flop.

Middle position is a sort of no-man’s land. It’s a lot better than early position, but then there are still a lot of players to act pre-flop. If you open up the action, you’ll only have position post-flop against the blinds. Anyone else who gets involved after you will have position on you. You can widen your opening range to include more speculative hands – but don’t go crazy. Save that for late position!

Cold calling an early position open raise from middle position is risky because if someone in a later position wakes up with a monster, they can 3-bet and squeeze you out of the pot. If you are willing to call their 3-bet, then why not just make it yourself in the first place?

Late positions (LP)

Full ring:

  • Hijack (HJ)
  • Cut off (CO)
  • Button (BTN)

6-Max:

  • Cut off (CO)
  • Button (BTN)

After the difficulties of the blinds, late position is your reward. You’ll act late both pre-flop and post-flop, giving you a significant advantage.

The Hijack

The Hijack Position in Poker
The Hijack Position in Poker

The Hijack (HJ) is only late position in full ring games. In 6-max, the seat to the right of the Cut Off is more commonly known as Middle Position (MP), and isn’t considered to be a late position. You might still hear it referred to as the Hijack though.

To confuse matters further, some people consider the HJ to be middle position in full-ring as well. This is because, in the earlier days of poker, the HJ was considered to a middle position, but players realized they could ‘hijack’ late position from the cut-off and button by being aggressive. Tommy Angelo is credited with coining the term after it happened to him!

Just remember that if someone’s talking about the Hijack, they are always talking about the seat two places to the right of the dealer button. 

The Cut Off

The Cutoff Position in Poker
The Cutoff Position in Poker

The Cut Off (CO) is one place to the right of the dealer button, and so it’s the second-best position at the poker table. The name is thought to refer to an old tradition of this position cutting the deck after the shuffle.

Pre-flop, you get to act after everyone but the BTN and the blinds, and there are only three players to act after you. Post-flop, only the BTN will have position on you.

The CO is a good spot to steal the blinds from, especially if the BTN is a tight player.

The Dealer Button

The Dealer Button Position in Poker
The Dealer Button Position in Poker

The dealer button (BTN) is by far the best position in poker. Not only will you act third last preflop, with only the blinds to act after you but you are also guaranteed to act last post-flop.

With only two players to act pre-flop, the chance they have a good hand is small, so you can open up wider. The BTN is a prime spot to steal the blinds from.

Unlike other positions, if the players after you do decide to get involved, they will be out of position post-flop. Open from any other position at the table and this will be only be true if the blinds call you.

Poker Positioning – FAQ

The answers to plenty of commonly asked questions about the different poker playing positions.

What are the poker positions called?

The poker positions in a full-ring game are Big Blind, Small Blind, Button, Cut Off, Hijack, Lojack, Middle Position, Under-the-Gun +1, and Under-the-Gun.

In a 6-max poker game, they are Big blind, Small blind, Button, Cut Off, Middle Position, and Under-the-Gun.

How many positions are there at a poker table?

There are as many positions at the poker table as there are players. However, positions fall into one of four categories: blinds, late position, middle position, and early position.

There is no universal agreement as to which seats fall under which categories, or even what names they have.

How are positions at a table determined at the beginning of a poker game?

In Texas Hold ‘em, the position is always determined in relation to the dealer button – and who gets the button first is decided by drawing cards. Aces are high, and suits are used as a tie-break. Clubs are lowest, then diamonds, then hearts, with spades the highest – that’s why Motörhead sang about the Ace of Spades and not the Ace of Clubs

What hands to play in different poker positions?

Play a tight range of premium hands in early position, loosen up a little in middle position by adding more speculative hands, and let rip when you’re in late position. At higher stakes, it’s more important to defend your blinds – but when you’re first starting out, they are just an exercise in damage limitation.

Do positions change in poker when there are empty seats?

Positions in poker are always relative to the dealer button, and any empty seats are ignored.

Why is the poker position called the hijack?

The story is that the position to the right of the Cut Off was christened the Hijack by Tommy Angelo after an opponent sitting there kept ‘hijacking’ his button by being aggressive.

What positions give you the most information in poker?

The later you act in poker, the more information you will have to work with – so overall the button is best-placed because they always act last post-flop and act third-last pre-flop.

Is it better to act first or last in poker?

Acting last in poker gives you a massive advantage over acting first – always try to play hands in position!

What is the best poker position?

The dealer button (BTN) is the best position in poker. You will always act last post-flop, and there are only two players to act after you pre-flop – who you will have position on post-flop. The money in poker always flows toward the button.

What is the worst position in poker?

The blinds are the worst positions in poker – with the small blind being the worst from a strategic standpoint but the big blind being the biggest source of loss. You are forced to bet no matter what and you will be out of position post-flop. Even the best players in the world don’t record a positive win-rate from the blinds over any reasonable sample.

Why is position important in poker?

Playing poker in position gives you several advantages – you get more information about your opponents’ hands, it’s easier to chase draws correctly, and you can pot control.

What does UTG mean in poker?

UTG in poker stands for Under-the-Gun, and it refers to the player that must act first pre-flop.

What does playing out of position mean in poker?

In poker, playing out of position means you won’t act last post-flop. This puts you at a real disadvantage.

What does having position in poker mean?

Having position in poker means that you get to act after everyone else. This will make your life a lot easier and your opponents’ lives a lot harder.

Playing position in poker may not seem important at first, but it is something all serious players are constantly thinking about as they play. Try to play poker in position as much as you possibly can – it will give you a significant advantage.