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ABC of Poker: Position Essentials & Glossary

Poker is a game of incomplete information and that is why you need to watch out for anything that can help you fill in some of the gaps. In terms of information, the first of your assets and vulnerabilities is your position at the table. Essentially, the later you are to act, the more information you will have gained about your opponents. 

Position is a strength and a weakness that cannot be disguised with hoodies, scarves and sunglasses. It is possibly the advantage pros value the most and the key factor that beginners tend to underestimate or completely ignore.

But first things first:

How are the position seats called at a nine-handed table and who acts first before the flop?

The Button is the best position, acting last on the fllop, turn, and river; UTG  has the red light for anything but 'monster' starting hands, and the Small Blind is a very tricky position being first to act on all three streets after the flop.


UTG = 'Under the Gun' (immediately to the left of the blinds, first to act pre-flop)

MP = middle position

HJ = 'Hijack' (as the name suggests, this is considered the best position to 'steal the blinds')

CO = 'Cut-off' (in home games, this is the player who cuts the deck for the dealer)

BTN = 'The button' (the rotating dealer position; refers to the player acting as the dealer in each hand)



In the first betting round, before the three community hands are dealt, the betting will always start with the player immediately to the left of the Big Blind and proceed clockwise: UTG, UTG+1, MP1, MP2, HJ, CO, BTN, SB, BB. 

The dealer button is then passed along to the left in the next hand (even when you have someone physically dealing the cards every time :); the first card is always dealt to the Small Blind. 

At a six-handed table, the positions are: SB, BB, UTG, MP, CO, BTN.

What happens in a tournament when play gets down to heads-up?

Merci @Cedric Michel and @Campok for the screenshot :)

The Dealer Button posts the small blind and is dealt the first card. The Button is the first to act pre-flop. In the next three betting rounds - flop, turn, and river - the player on the button regains his advantage and acts last.

After the flop

A nine-handed table has 'early position' (the blinds and UTG), 'middle position' (seats 4,5, and 6), and 'late position' (Hijack, Cut-off and Button) seats.  

This division refers to the acting order after the flop: SB, BB, UTG, UTG+1, MP1, MP2, HJ, CO, BTN. 

'In position" and 'out of position'

The later your position, the more you know about your opponents.

The fewer players are left to act after you, the better your chances of controlling the pot and the action.

Playing 'in position' means you are acting after your opponents on the flop, turn, and river, and you have an information edge.

Being 'out of position' means you have to act before your opponents on the flop, turn, and river, and puts you at a disadvantage since you don't have pot control and you are the one giving away information. In other words, 'being out of position' most of the time means you shouldn't be playing :)

The number of players in the game has important strategy implications. As it decreases, you will broaden your range to include more starting hands. More about that in future #RKHabc posts!


Your ABC rule of thumb

Play tighter (with premium or 'monster' hands) in early position and widen your range (play more starting hands) in late position. When out of position, you will usually be right to fold if someone in position raises.

Next on #RKHabc: a player who has given us one of the most famous illustrations of the power of 'position poker'! 



Nice post!

Nice post !

Polarized ranges : The preflop 3bet


Range polarization definition


A range is polarized when the hands in said range can be classified in two categories: max (nuts) or bluff (air). Polarization can be applied preflop as well as post flop. This concept, even though quite basic, is a necessary step in your general learning of poker.


But, keep in mind that polarization is useful and necessary only against thinking players. Players who don’t think about your range or have a bad understanding of ranges in general don’t require that much sophistication. They’ll give you action and money anyway.


First, we’re going to talk about preflop polarization, in our 3bets.

Why polarize our preflop 3bet??

-       Its gives value to our bad hands (hands we can’t just call profitably).

Let’s imagine we have Q3o at the big blind, in NL 100. The button raises at 3. What are our options? Folding or raising (calling is obviously not a possibility). We decide to raise to 9. Our opponent folds. We just gave value to a hand that had none. And even if, sometimes, he’ll 4bet or call us, he’s going to fold enough so it’s still profitable for us to 3bet those hands periodically.

What hands should we put in our bluff range?

It depends on the frequency your opponent can raise you. If he folds a lot or calls and then folds on the flop, it’s going to be really profitable to 3bet him with a wide range of hands.

On the other hand, if he he’s a pain (4bets a lot and doesn’t fold much flop when he calls the 3bet), you’ll have to 3bet less and call more often with hands that dominate his range (but can’t bear a 4bet).

-       Polarizing your preflop 3bet give value to your monster hands (hands you want to go all in with as AA-KK-QQ-JJ-AK-AKs).

Because obviously, from time to time we’ll get caught 3betting J4o. Once our opponents realize that, they’re going to give us more action when we’ll 3 bet our premiums. They will be more incline to make big pricey mistakes, to 4bet light or call in order to bluff later in the hand. To sum up, they’re going to give us more money than if our 3bet range was only for value.

-       A polarized range is easier to play out of position. Lots of players get themselves in trouble by 3betting hands between those poles, like, for example, broadways (KQ, KJ, QT etc.). When called, it’s going to be harder for us to bluff or to value those hands when we hit a flop. And when our opponent 4bets us, we’ll have to fold a hand that had real value at the beginning (but just became impossible to play oop in a 4bet pot). With a polarized 3bet range, you don’t get such problems. It will be easy to fold our garbage hands and 3betting those hands will help us getting even more value from our premiums.


It doesn’t mean that you should never depolarized (add hands that are neither premiums or complete rags) your 3bet range out of position or that you can’t polarized in position. Every situation and opponent is different. We’re just looking at the polarization fundamentals here.

Keep in mind:

You have to 3bet as much in value as in bluff, in order to keep your opponents in the dark. If we 3bet more rags than premiums, a thinking opponent will quickly realize that 4betting us with any two is profitable.

Having a polarized 3bet range will give you easy decisions. When you’ll 3bet J4s out of position, you’ll never lose your entire stack just because the flop comes Jack high. On the other hand, if you 3bet QJ and get a call, a board 56Q could cost you a lot against a dominant hand.





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The Toughest Hand I Ever Played

It happened during the 2010 WSOP Main Event on Day 8. Yes, there was a day 8 that wasn’t the final table! It was by far the most intense hand I have ever played and very well could’ve shaped my tourney, career, and life. I do think from a poker perspective, the hand isn’t that tough but outside factors at play made it extremely hard.

So in any tournament, the deeper you go the more emotionally invested you become. It’s just a fact. Bust out first hand, ehhh oh well. Bust out on the final table bubble and doesn’t matter who you ask, it stings. Of course this doesn’t necessarily have a huge effect on how you play your hand and the best players are able to completely detach from their emotions but this attachment is one of the primary differences between a tournament and a cash game

In tournaments there are so many outside factors to consider that sometimes the actual hand can be the least relevant factor (i.e. a satellite bubble). And this is why I consider my hand to be the toughest hand I’ve ever played.

To set the scene, it’s Day 8 of the 2010 WSOP Main Event and we had played down to the final 27 the night before. I ended with 4.7 million at 60k/120k blinds, a little bit below average but a workable stack. First hand I pick up tens and 3bet against @Pascal LeFrancois. He folds. Two hands later utg opens to 300k with 15mill. Pass flats utg+1 also with 15 mill and it folds to me on the button. I 3bet Queens to 1 mill with 4 mill back. Rob, the utg raiser calls my 3bet and then Pass rips it for 15 mill. He didn’t shove instantaneously but it was quick enough that I could tell that there wasn’t much thought. Also the fact that he put his tournament at risk is another thing to consider. I felt he would either flat my 3bet with Jacks or 4bet and not shove 130bbs all in. Regardless, even if he was shoving with Jacks in his spot, he would take more time considering his options than he did.

@Adam Levy WSOP 2010

So it’s on me, there are 27 left, and realistically I will never have this opportunity again in my life. I am making a sweet $317,000 but am 26 players away from $8 million. If I fold I will still have 34 big blinds left at quite a soft table considering this stage of the tournament. Ultimately I think he has AK, QQ+ and there are 16 combos of AK and 13 combos of QQ, KK, & AA. Here is what my equity looks like against his perceived range:


  Equity %  Wins Hi %  Ties Hi %  Wins Hi Count  Ties Hi Count 
QsQh  40.2071%  38.3477%  3.7189%  19042240  1846678 
AA-QQ,AxKx,AxKy  59.7929% 57.9334%  3.7189%  28767898  1846678 

I’m not doing fantastic against his range, but once we add the blinds, antes, 300k call, plus the 2 million, I’m getting a pretty good price. I would have to call off 4 million to win 6.5 million, which means I am getting 1.625:1. If I call off here it is definitely a +EV call but only by a percent. I really disliked being in a spot where I felt I was flipping at best.

@Pascal LeFrancois WSOP 2010

It is important to note that pre-Black Friday making the WSOP Main Event final table was far more lucrative than it is now, especially for Americans. Depending on how marketable you were and your stack size going into the final table you could get paid anywhere from five figures to seven. Nowadays, a sponsor might want slap a patch on you and you’d be lucky to get five figures for it. It’s a completely different time. I had to factor this in to my reasoning. In a way the WSOP Main Event was a nine-person satellite. I wouldn’t think twice about this spot now but then, it was not a spot I wanted to put myself in. Literally flipping for a few million in equity. That’s a scary thought. So after a few minutes I decided to fold.

Shortly after I flopped a set sb, bb and doubled up. I ran up my stack to 12 million but that was my peak. I finished in 12th place for $635,000, by far my biggest lifetime cash. When I busted, I immediately went over to Pass and asked him what he had. He said Ace-King and I shook his hand and said good luck. Who knows what would’ve happened if I decided to call off there, maybe I win the flip, maybe I don’t, maybe I go on to win the whole damn thing, who knows? Life doesn’t work like that but I’m perfectly okay with the result. If anything I’d like my final hand back, not this one. I still think this was the toughest decision I’ve had to make and a lot of players have told me it was incorrect.

I just wanted to show how critical of a hand it was and how much thought went into it as the stakes were basically as high as it gets. This was the most intense hand I’ve ever played by far and I hope one day everyone gets to experience something like that.



Thanks, Adam, just wanted to read on and on (guess with well-written hand histories, it's like tournaments - "the deeper you go the more emotionally invested you become" :)

And here are some links with 2010 WSOP Day 8 coverage for those who come after me:




Really tough decision! 

Greater Than O (or equal)


GTO (game theory optimal) has been an increasingly hot topic over the last few years as you can see from the “gto poker” Google Trends graph. (Other “gto” based searches will roughly give the same graph - oddly enough, it seems that the term GTO, as part of game theory, is not widely used outside poker.)



With the exception of the easy “push or fold” situations, the live tournament scene is the furthest you can be from GTO poker and this will be quite likely the case for the many years to come.

Yet, in case this GTO thing pops up at your table live, you might want to know one or two things about it.

 (This pertains strictly speaking to headsup play, but, possibly, near solutions with more players will behave the same)

First, and this is quite fascinating especially for those not familiar at all with GTO, one can describe explicitly our whole way of playing from every position - if it is GTO - to our opponent, the best he can achieve is break even. This sounds natural for games like chess where there is no hidden information, but maybe not quite for poker. Just simply asking yourself “how can this work in practice for poker” may improve your overall comprehension of the game.


Mixing up - that is playing different hands the same way - is certainly part of a GTO strategy. Mixing up is often part of a good player’s arsenal as well. More technical people see this as a way to strengthen their range when standard plays lead to weaker ranges. Now, some players take this concept way too far.



When playing at the equilibrium (that is two GTO strategies playing against each other), the different lines used to play the same hands will yield the exact same expectation. On the other hand, in practice, players will sometimes have one standard way to play a hand and one way used less often in order to strengthen their range in a specific spot. The question you should be asking yourself is : “under which conditions would those two ways of playing the same hand yield the same expectation (or is it even possible)?”

Quite often, drastic slowplays that I see might yield the same expectation as standard plays only when heavy overbets are in the opponent’s arsenal while it is obviously not the case; or tricky lines used by one player will yield the same expectation as standard ones only if they are used as a bluff far more often than the player does. Generally speaking, many players I face use mixed up strategies that are not at all suitable for the context of the match.


Some people see GTO as the end of online poker. I don’t, at least not before quite a few years for the main variants - people have always been quick on seeing the end of online poker in the past anyway...I rather see GTO as an opportunity, because we are so far away from solutions (unlike what you may have heard), except for the simplest variants that are rarely played anyway.

Still, I believe GTO poker has already somewhat changed the overall picture of the game over the past few years. As recently as two or three years ago, dynamic and metagame were still considered as one of the main assets of a top high stakes player. Today, the most advanced high stakes player would gladly rather have an idea of what a GTO strategy might be, so that he can see where his opponent deviates and make money from those deviations. Metagame and levelling still exist obviously, but players thinking of them as their main asset are gradually becoming today’s weaker regulars at the higher stakes.


I will be blogging regularly here at RKH, bragging about my live tournaments performances, mostly offering an insider look at high stakes online poker (potentially including more concrete stuff  such as coaching videos/articles), stay tuned!

 @Renaud Desferet 


4 Comments Display all

So ok it's not that GTO, I have to get used to it ;).

Thanks for this excellent article Renaud !




amazing and intense thanks bro

You know so much, it's humbling