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Understanding Position in Holdem

In Texas Hold'em, the betting takes place clockwise and understanding the importance of position is crucial. This is far from obvious for novice players. Because there are other things to get used to first, such as hand ranking and betting protocol, this is an aspect of poker that takes some time to sink in, but it is nonetheless essential.

positions in texas holdem (Pokerstars table)
Positions at a Texas Hold'em table

Taking the example of a ten-handed full ring holdem game, the first player to act postflop is the small blind and next is the big blind.

Then comes the "under the gun" (UTG) player, i.e. the player to the left of the big blind. The player to the left of UTG is denoted UTG+1 and to his left is UTG+2.

These three players are first to act after the blinds and as such are called in "early position". The next three players form the "middle position" and are denoted MP, MP+1 and the hijack (MP+2).

Finally "late position" is made of two players. First the "cut off" (CO) is the next to last player to act, and the "button" (BUT) is the last player to act. In Texas Hold'em, the later you are to act, the more advantageous your position because you already know what the players before you have done.

For example, say you are UTG and have 44. This is a low pocket pair and you should toss it almost all the time, as it is certain that someone behind you holds a better hand. On the other hand, if you were on the button with the same hand, your action would depend on the actions of the players before you.

If no one had called or bet and you are first to enter the pot, you could raise this hand as a "steal". Even if one or two of the blinds called you and you were to play this weak hand, you would still have the advantage to be the last to act in all betting rounds.

Conversely if a player had raised the pot preflop, you should usually fold when it is your turn because you know that you will be facing strength with your unconvincing hand.

Being the last to act confers an enormous advantage in hold'em. For example, you are in late position with KT against an early position player who has QJ♠. The board by the river is 9♠J3Q7 and there was some moderate betting along the way. Your opponent has two pairs but there is a possible straight draw on the board, so he knows that he could be beaten.

Being first to act he has to make a difficult decision. If he checks, you will bet. If he bets, you will raise. Conversely you have a perfect position because whatever he does, you will react optimally. If instead you were first to act and bet, he may fold and you would have missed an opportunity to get some of his chips.

Position is such an important factor that you should vary your starting hands depending on your position. If you are UTG you must raise you strong hands such as {JJ+,AQ} and never limp. If in middle position, you can use a looser range such as raising {99+,AJ+,KQs} and limping with {55-88,A9-AT,KT,QJs}. If off the button, you should be even looser. For instance if first to act OTB, raise {44+,Ax,Kx,Qxs}.


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