POKER TIPS & STRATEGY

Under Pressure: How to Make the Most of the Under the Gun Position in Poker

By David Huber
May 02, 2023

Playing poker “under the gun” with several other opponents at the table can be one of the most pressurized positions in the game.

This can be a daunting position for inexperienced and veteran players alike, as it may require years of study to fully understand “when” one should make a particular decision with relatively marginal or even strong hole cards.

pressure under the gun

What Does Under the Gun Mean in Poker?

The term Under the Gun in poker is defined as being the first person to act preflop (before community cards hit the board) in games such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha.

If you’re under the gun in a game such as No Limit Texas Hold’em, then you have received your hole cards and must now be the first to act – meaning that your options are to fold, limp (commit only the big blind amount), or raise the action with multiple opponents yet to act.

Players may be thrilled to hold premium hands such as Pocket Aces and Pocket Kings when Under the Gun because the action must go through several other opponents (as well as the players in the Small Blind and Big Blind) – which may result in an extra raise being put in before the community cards are dealt.

However, the Under the Gun position is also a common spot in which players with marginal holdings fold their hand, therefore giving up on the pot and allowing action to continue between opponents at the table as they see fit.

Poker Under the Gun: Ante vs. No-Ante Games

There is a mathematical consideration that professional players make from Under the Gun when there are pre-hand antes involved.

For example, let’s say you are in a $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em game in which you have eight opponents – with no antes and everyone at the table has a stack between $200 and $500.

In this case, there are only three dollars in the pot when the hole cards are distributed, meaning that your Under the Gun opening (limp/call or raise) range is likely much tighter than it would be if there are fewer players at the table along with mandatory antes.

With a mediocre holding Under the Gun, you have $0 invested into the pot – and the range of hands in which you will lose expectation equity by NOT FOLDING is much broader as a result. There are eight players behind you to act preflop. The chances of your low-strength hole cards resulting in a long-term positive outcome will, as a consequence of the game’s rules, be lower.

But, let’s say you are in a different NLHE $1/$2 game with stacks between $200-$500, except this time the table is 5-handed and each player (including the blinds) must contribute a $0.50 ANTE before the community cards are dealt.

Now your Under the Gun action range (in which you will lose expectation equity by NOT PARTICIPATING is broader. In this hypothetical scenario, you have already committed $0.50 to the pot. So 6 total players times $0.50 plus the Small Blind and Big Blind mean there is already $6 in the pot to play for (of which you have nearly a 10% – 8.33% to be more precise – commitment in).

The range of hands you will get involved in preflop will expand further if the antes are higher in this case. With a preflop ante of $1, there will be $9 total already in the pot (antes plus blinds), of which you already have a forced monetary commitment of 11.11%.

Two-dollar antes would mean you have $2 (out of $15 total – so 13.33%) in the six-handed pot once you are put to an Under the Gun decision preflop

You can see how these percentages will impact the Under the Gun action range of any player, depending on whether there is an ante, and if so, how much the ante (forced contribution from each player) is, relative to the total preflop pot.

Under the Gun Poker and Postflop Positioning

Once the flop has been dealt, the Under the Gun player might have a position advantage going forward, but this will only apply against the Small Blind or Big Blind player.

Otherwise, UTG competitors will find themselves “out of position” if they’re playing against any opponent to their left – up to the player who has the Button.

For example, let’s say you raise preflop from the Under the Gun position, and get called by one player – who is in the “cutoff” position.

Once the first three community cards are dealt, you will be first to act – and this “out of position” scenario will endure for the remainder of the hand: on the flop, turn, and river.

However, if your UTG preflop raise is called by a player who is in the Small Blind or Big Blind position, you will be the final player to act on the ensuing streets, meaning that you will have position on that player.

Also, in a three-handed game, UTG also has the button. However, UTG becomes a less desirable position with more players at the table.

Keep in mind that being the last player to act on the flop, turn, and river is an advantage.

Should I Just Fold Mediocre Hands When Under the Gun?

Deciphering precisely “when” and “where” and in “what situation” you should fold a mediocre starting hand from the UTG position might be a question that is better answered through poker training.

With this said, you will find players folding poor starting hands from the Under the Gun position relatively frequently, with a preflop fold becoming more prevalent in relation to a greater number of players at a table.

For sure, a player’s action range from Under the Gun will be far “tighter” in a 9-handed No Limit Texas Hold’em game than it would be if the table was 6-handed, and so on.

After all, your mediocre starting hand in a 9-handed NLHE game will need to survive potential preflop action from 8 separate opponents, and the chances of you simply running into a hand in which the opponent is not folding – but rather raising or at the very least not going to abandon the pot – is greater.

This is why you will typically see players have a “looser” preflop action range from UTG when a game is short-handed as opposed to full-ring, but again, the nuances of what, where, and what to fold Under the Gun you may want to seek out more information from the multitude of free and premium resources that are available in physical and digital media.

Under the Gun & “Fast Fold” Online Poker Games

When playing poker online, players may have an option to participate in a “fast fold” game.

These games require a player to enter a “fast fold” pool of dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of competitors in a manner that speeds up the action – by immediately warping an online player to another table once that player has folded a hand.

What this means is, that once your hand is folded in a fast fold online setting, you will no longer be digitally seated to see the remainder of the action of that particular hand. Instead, you will be digitally moved to another table in which another hand will be dealt. If you fold again, then the process will correspondingly repeat. You will only remain at the same online poker table for as long as you are remaining in action with the current hand.

The Under the Gun player in an online poker fast fold game may literally be whisked away to another table within a few short seconds after folding preflop.

Poker Under Pressure: Under the Gun

Despite the fact that Under the Gun preflop action ranges are relatively “tight” for full-ring games, a player will still encounter scenarios (including both premium and less premium hole cards) in which that player remains in action after being first to act.

In a game such as No Limit Texas Hold’em (assuming the game is not a unique satellite, qualifier, or other format in which folding premium hole cards preflop may be justified), the Under the Gun position will still find itself in action for certain situations.

Are you holding “AA” Under the Gun? And did you raise or “limp” the action while being first to act preflop? If that’s the case, then you’re not really going to be “intimidated,” “convinced to fold,” or otherwise “put to a difficult decision” if the action is re-raised by one or more of the opponents to your left. Your decision is pretty much made for you at that point, and players will routinely (and gladly) commit all their chips preflop when holding hands like Pocket Aces or Pocket Kings.

One of the most iconic Under the Gun “Pocket Aces” hands of all time occurred during the 2014 WSOP “Big One for One Drop” (a million dollar buy-in event) between UTG player Cary Katz and Big Blind player Connor Drinan.

But there’s a LOT more to poker playing Under the Gun than looking a so-called “gift horse” in the mouth, and there WILL be times in which you are forced into making a close decision subsequent to opening the action preflop from Under the Gun.

Fortunately for players, there are many resources that are publicly available that can lend insight into how to act/react Under the Gun when your initial preflop action (either a “limp” or a “raise” is raised or re-raised.

Seek out literature that is available within books, forums, as well as multimedia guides or even live poker streams – where you can witness how Under the Gun players react upon being challenged by an opponent.

Making the Most of Under the Gun Positions in Poker

Even the best professional poker players may adjust their preflop “ranges” for Under the Gun play in poker — depending on their opponents’ tendencies/ranges, the format of the game, how many players are at the table, chip stacks, and other factors.

As a hypothetical, a very knowledgeable pro may insta-fold an extremely weak No Limit Texas Hold’em preflop hand without much (or any) consideration if the game is 9- or 10-handed with a maximum buy-in of only 100 (or maybe even fewer) Big Blinds.

But change this hypothetical scenario to a 6-handed NLHE game in which the maximum buy-in is 1000 (or more) Big Blinds, and most or all of the players at the table have close to a maximum stack, and you will see the a professional player will “loosen” the preflop action range accordingly.

This is because the highly skilled player — despite being in the unenviable UTG position without a strong starting hand — will still be able to maximize value depending on what subsequently occurs preflop and then postflop.

Basically speaking, preflop ranges will tend to be “tighter” when there are more players at a table, and “looser” when there are fewer players at the table. This includes players initiating the action preflop from Under the Gun.

Making the most out of the Under the Gun poker position requires study, knowledge, and other skills that superior players have refined over years of first-hand experience.

Seeking out a Beginner’s Guide on the Basic Rules of Poker is one thing — as even the most inexperienced player should be privy to hand rankings as well as the other ins and outs of poker rules before deciding to compete for real money — either live or online.

A poker beginner should KNOW that a flush outranks a straight, that a straight requires five cards (not four as in some other card games), that the Small and Big Blinds must contribute amounts to the pot BEFORE hole cards are dealt, and so on.

However, learning how to play poker (at least in a way that is not excruciatingly non-profitable) is a concept that is much broader than just knowing the rules of the game. It will likely require years of experience (or millions of hands) along with seeking out both free and paid resources that can help shorten the learning curve along the way.

Playing Under the Gun poker can be one of the most vulnerable positions a player can be faced with — depending on one’s own starting hand strength as it correlates to preflop hand ranges.

Play poker, seek out resources, learn from your mistakes, and improve your expectation when playing Under the Gun in order to minimize losses that are naturally incurred due to the unenviable nature of the Under the Gun poker position.

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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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