After writing about poker online for almost seven years, you tend to take certain things for granted, like abbreviations. It’s easy to write a sentence that reads: “I was in the CO when the LAG in the BTN raises 3x the BB, the SB and BB fold, the TAG UTG folds and I 3bet to 10x the BB.” Of course, to someone who is just learning the game, that sentence looks like a random jumble of acronyms. Fortunately, this and future posts will explain some of the more common abbreviations in poker writing. Let’s get started with table position.
Most Pokerist games have tables of either 9 or 5 competitors (including you). The players are obviously arranged in a ring formation, with the button moving each hand one spot to the left. The button indicates the “dealer” for the hand. No, you are not literally going to deal out cards. We have technology (and at casinos, real people) for that. But, being the button/dealer means that you get your cards last and you get to act last in each betting round after the flop. Pre-flop, you will act third-to-last, since the small blind and big blind will act after you (for that betting round only).
So, hand position is all relative to where the button is. It is not a fixed thing.
A brief explanation of the different positions and abbreviations:
BTN or BN is usually used to signify the button or dealer position. As mentioned above, this player gets his cards last during the deal, and bets last during each betting round after the flop. Since the BTN acts last, the BTN has the most information when acting, and is therefore the best possible position. Many players advocate a loose hand selection on the button, simply because there are so many opportunities to steal pots, if all previous players check on the flop, turn or river. Of course, it works both ways. Sometimes, players will give the BTN’s bets less respect because they assume that the BTN is only playing because of position, and likely has weak cards.
SB stands for Small Blind, the player who is to the immediate left of the BTN. The abbreviation for small blind is often used for both the player and the actual small blind. For instance, in a 25/50 game, the small blind is 25. If John is in the small blind, it would perfectly reasonable to write, “John posted the SB” or “The SB posted his blind” or even, “The SB posted the SB” (which admittedly is a bit redundant). Since the SB acts first in every round after the flop, it is a difficult position to play. However, since the SB has to post the SB, it is usually worthwhile to at least call the BB preflop, if no one has raised yet.
BB stands for Big Blind, and can be used in the same was as SB (i.e., for the position and for the actual big blind posted). Preflop, the BB acts last, which is good. Post-flop, they act second or first if the SB has folded, which is not good.
UTG is next, and stands for “Under the Gun.” The term “under the gun” is an old idiom (slang) in the US meaning under pressure. It’s an appropriate name for the position, because when you are UTG, you are first to act preflop, and the pressure is on. Not only do you have the worst position preflop, but you also have a bad position post-flop. This makes UTG one of the hardest positions to profitably play. Many people advocate a very tight hand range when UTG.
UTG+1 is the abbreviation for the player to the left of the UTG player. You may also see UTG+2 if it is a full ring game.
MP stands for Middle Position, and is fairly self-explanatory. In a nine-person table, if the BTN is the first player, the MP player would be 6th player (aka UTG+2) and/or 7th player. Generally, MP is a broad category, and covers everything not covered by the other abbreviations. At times, you may even see MP1 and MP2, referring specifically to the 6th and 7th players from our earlier example.
HJ comes next, and stands for the Hijack seat. It got its name from the fact that some players, particularly over the last decade, have used the HJ position to take control of a hand. If the HJ raises, the other players waiting to act (the CO, explained below, and the BTN, explained above) are likely to fold, giving the HJ position for the rest of the hand. The HJ literally hijacks the hand and position by raising from a position that appears to signal strength. As you may recall from my BTN explanation, when the BTN (or CO) raises, a lot of players assume that the BTN is betting with weak cards because the BTN is trying to take advantage of position. When the HJ bets, he does not quite have position yet (since the CO and BTN have position on him) so it actually looks like the HJ is betting with a strong hand. Hence, the HJ is the perfect seat for exploiting position. You can raise with weaker cards and win position, while everyone assumes you have a solid hand, since you bet with the CO and BTN yet to act.
CO stands for the Cut Off. He is the player to the immediate left of the HJ and right of the BTN. The CO is the second-best position at the table, since the CO gets to see all action other than the BTN’s action prior to deciding what to do. Like the HJ, the CO is a great place to steal position during a hand, by betting preflop and forcing the BTN to fold. While this is not confirmed, I have read that the term CO is derived from the fact that the CO can cut off the advantage of the BTN by raising.
SB, BB, UTG, UTG+1, MP1 (or just MP, or UTG+2), MP2 (or just MP), HJ, CO, BTN
SB, BB, MP (or UTG, or potentially, HJ), CO, BTN
The SB, BB, CO, and BTN are constants in any game. The middle positions vary depending on the amount of players.
If you have read this far, you have now learned all of the various positions and abbreviations. You have taken your first step to understanding what it means when a player complains that the CO is raising his blind every hand, or that the UTG player must be strong to raise preflop. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. More is to come.