- SB or small blind; BB or big blind; UTG or under the gun; UTG +1
- UTG + 2 or early middle; MP or middle position; MP or late middle (this seat does not exist in a nine-handed game)
- Hijack; CO or Cut off; BTN or Button
The power of position in poker
Why is being on or near the Dealer button so powerful in poker? Read on, and watch Paul Phua’s video, to find out
In the legends of Camelot, King Arthur made his table round so that no one could sit at the head: each knight would be equal. But though a poker table may be round, it does very much have a head. The Dealer button that orbits the table is the ever-shifting seat of power, and, because of it, the players are far from equal.
Being on or just to the right of the button is hugely advantageous, both before and after the flop. So much so that you should adopt a very different poker strategy, and play a very different starting hand range, for different positions round the table.
Along with knowing the odds, position is one of the most important and fundamental concepts you need to understand in poker strategy to become a winning player.
Pre-flop position in poker
Let’s say you have a near-premium hand such as K-J or A-9 offsuit. Is this a hand you should bet out with pre-flop? The answer is, it depends largely on your position. If you are under the gun (ie first to act; see list of positions below), especially in a nine- or 10-handed game, this is not such a great hand. With so many players still to come, the chances are that one of them may have a hand that dominates yours. In addition, you will be at a disadvantage when you have to play post-flop (see next section).
If, however, you are in late position, ie on or to the right of the Dealer button, and no one bets before you, K-J or A-9 are in much better shape. With only two or three players still to come, it is far less likely that one of their hands will be superior to yours.
If even K-J is not in great shape under the gun, what of hands such as 9-6 or even J-9 suited? In this video for the Paul Phua Poker School, Paul Phua says he would usually fold J-9 suited when under the gun, while he would fold 9-6 suited “nine times out of 10”. Amateur players, Paul Phua says, make the mistake of staying in with far too many hands when in early position.
Post-flop position in poker
The other benefit to being in late position is that it gives you a huge advantage after the flop. If you are last to act, you get to see what everyone else does before making your bet.
If everyone checks to you, that usually means no one has a strong enough hand to bet with. This might give you confidence in top pair with a weak kicker, or it might inspire you to win with a bluff if you have nothing at all.
Advanced position: 3-betting
Once you have mastered the basics of position in Texas Hold ’Em as outlined by Paul Phua in the video, you can experiment with more advanced position-based moves.
One is 3-betting. It has become so common now for players in late position to raise when everyone before them has checked, in order to steal the blinds, that some experienced players in the blinds have started to 3-bet them, realising that the player or players in late position are most likely betting light.
To counter this, experienced players on the button may meet a bet from late position with a 3-bet rather than a call. This will induce all but the strongest blinds to fold, and the initial raiser may well fold, too. And the button does get called by a stronger hand, it has the positional advantage post-flop.
Let’s say the caller has two high cards rather than a pocket pair. He only has a 1 in 3 chance of hitting a pair on the flop. So if he checks the flop, the button is in a good position to take down the pot with a bet regardless of whether or not he has the best hand.
Shoving all-in in late position
Another great use of position is when you are short-stacked in a tournament. When you have fewer than 20 BBs, you are usually waiting for an opportunity to shove all-in. But once you approach 15 or especially 10 BBs, you no longer have the luxury of waiting for a premium hand. The clock is ticking, and the blinds are rising with every level!
So instead of a premium hand, look out for a premium position. If you are in late position and everyone folds to you, you are likely to get away with shoving all-in even with a marginal hand. With few players to come, no one is likely to have a hand good enough to call you with.
Once you begin truly to understand the power of position in poker, there is no end to the ways it might affect your strategy! Watching this video by Paul Phua is just the start.
Please read our video script on the importance of Position in poker here.
Poker position: a guide to seat names
These are the names of the different positions, going clockwise from the left of the Dealer button, together with the abbreviations commonly used in poker strategy guides: