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I'm somewhat perplexed on the positions in poker. As I browse, some websites give different/contradicting versions on the description of the positions.

For example, some sources say the early positions consists of the small blind, big blind, and UTG (under the gun), while others say it is made up of UTG, UTG+1, and UTG+2 and that the SB and BB are considered separately as the blinds. Another example is the middle positions, which are described as consisting of two seats in which the first seat is the MP1, the second the Hijack, while other sources say it is made up of three seats in the order of MP1, MP2, and MP3.

This is just two of the several contradictions I find. So what is the correct positioning in poker, or is it applied differently in different places?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

When it comes to seat positions in poker, you have to keep in mind that it varies depending on how many players there are at the table.

So, here they are:

  • 2 players: Dealer, Big Blind (in this case, the Dealer is also the Small Blind). The Dealer acts first preflop, but last post-flop
  • 3 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind
  • 4 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG (Under the Gun)
  • 5 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG, Cut-Off
  • 6 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG, UTG + 1, Cut-Off
  • 7 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG, UTG + 1, Hijack, Cut-Off
  • 8 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG, UTG + 1, UTG + 2, Hijack, Cut-Off
  • 9 players: Dealer, Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG, UTG + 1, UTG + 2, UTG + 3, Hijack, Cut-Off

(There are some variations on this, from place to place. This is normal since these positions are not actually formally and officially defined; they're just based on intuition and informal agreement. For example, sometimes you'll find that, in the case of 5 players, there is no Cut-Off, but UTG+1 instead.)

So the early/middle/late positions depend on how many players you have. Also, when it comes to the blinds, it depends on the context: if we're talking about pre-flop, then the blinds are part of the late positions; otherwise they belong to the early positions.

You will find in most places that the blinds are part of the early positions. There are 2 reasons for this:

  • it's easier to form a mental picture this way because you start counting from the Dealer and the first positions you encounter are the blinds. So they are in early position
  • There are 4 streets in the Hold'em games (Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo): preflop, flop, turn, river. In 3 of these, the blinds act first, only in one do they act last. So the preflop tends to be more the exception than the rule. Therefore, the blinds are in early position.

All this matters from a theoretical point of view. When it comes to strategies and decisions, position is obviously a crucial factor. But the name of these positions don't matter at all at this point. All that matters is:

  • How many players act before me and which are they ?
  • How many players act after me and which are they ?

You can see this tendency in advanced poker strategy: the complexity rises and the precision goes down. Everything becomes more nuanced instead of exact numbers. This includes all the odds. Suddenly, the difference between a 2.5 pot odds and 2.9 pot odds is completely irrelevant. You don't hear about UTG+1 and Hijack anymore; instead you hear about "early position / late position" or maybe "in position / out of position". The actual mechanics, hand ranges, mental processes and body languages behind the strategy are what's important, not the cold precise mathematics.

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Interesting, I agree with this, but I always add the Cutoff (CO) and Hijack (HJ) first (so a five player game is Dealer, Small blind, Big blind, Hijack, Cutoff). The reasoning is that with a 5 player game, the first position after the big blind acts a lot like the Hijack in a 9 player game, and not much like Under The Gun would act in a 9 player game. –  Cory Kendall Jan 4 '13 at 1:30
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