How To Play Under the Gun in Poker


How To Play Under the Gun in Poker


A poker player in front of a red wall and piles of poker chips holds his cards over his mouth.

How To Play Under the Gun in Poker


A person slides a stack of chips across the poker table.

Poker is one of those online casino games that involves taking risks with limited information — but what happens when you have no information and you’re out of position to boot? That’s the exact situation when you’re playing under the gun in poker. It’s the most high-pressure position at the poker table, but you can also play it to your advantage. All it takes to minimize your losses and maximize your profits when you’re under the gun is a little poker strategy. Keep reading to learn how best to deal with being under the gun in live and online poker.

What Does Under the Gun in Poker Mean?

If you’re a regular player of poker, “under the gun” is likely a familiar term for you, but if you’re new to the game, then you may not have heard of it before. The expression “under the gun” (commonly abbreviated as UTG) refers to early position in Texas hold’em or Omaha poker. If you’re UTG, you’re sitting immediately left of the big blind. Does seating position matter in poker, you ask? Yes.

When you’re under the gun, it means you’re the first player to act before the flop. The only information at your disposal to help you decide whether to call, raise or fold is what you’re holding; your opponents have given you zilch, nada, to work with. This creates a great deal of pressure, hence the name “under the gun.” All you know for sure is that behind you, there are eight or five players (depending on whether you’re playing live or online). Even if you’ve got a strong hand, chances are good that at least one of those players will also have a strong hand. Another problem is that if any player other than the big blind or small blind 3-bets or calls you, you’ll be playing out of position after the flop.

The Best Poker Hands To Play UTG

Like most casino table games, success in poker is going to be easier to come by if you have a solid strategy in place. That means a strategy for every position you could find yourself in, too. The general consensus is that it’s best to play with a tight hand range when you’re in the UTG poker position. With so little information to work with, you simply don’t have the equity to play too many hands.

In a full-ring game, a good strategy would be to stick to the strongest hands: Pocket pairs as far down as 8s, strong unsuited aces (ace-king, ace-queen,) strong suited aces (ace-king, ace-queen, ace-jack, ace-10), and strong suited connectors such as king-queen or king-jack. If you’re playing 6-max, you can afford to open up your range a little. Add more pocket pairs (down to 5s,) unsuited aces (down to ace-ten,) suited aces (down to ace-8), and small suited aces (ace-2 up to ace-5). The good news is that you don’t have to memorize as many open hands as when you’re trying to understand late position.

Playing UTG Preflop

A thoughtful man looking at his hand at the poker table.

If you’re holding a suitably strong hand, the best thing to do from UTG is open raise. You may be lucky enough to see everyone fold, allowing you to pick up the blinds. Chances are, though, that at least one of your opponents will push back. If they just call, you’ll go on to see the flop, but they may also 3-bet. In this case, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions.

First question: just how good is your hand exactly? You should only continue with the strongest hands, in which case you can call to trap your opponent or 4-bet to grow the pot.

Second question: What position is your opponent in? If one of the blinds 3-bets and you go along, you’ll have position postflop, so you could call with a wider range in hopes of hitting a good flop and taking advantage of your position.

That said, you are playing from under the gun, meaning that most players will expect you to have a strong hand. As a result, a 3-bet from the blinds is likely to have something big behind it, in which case broadening your range may not be the best bet. Is your hand big enough to 4-bet? If not, better to call (losing the chance to gain position), or simply fold.

Postflop Strategy

The two main paths to reaching the flop after raising UTG are being called after raising or calling a 3-bet to see the cards. Against callers, you can generally bet that they’re not holding anything particularly monstrous. If they were, they’d have 3-bet you preflop in hopes of getting you to grow the pot. As a result, you’ll want to continue betting on flops that work well with your opening range. Don’t get carried away, though. There may be unpleasant surprises lurking on the turn and the river, so exercise some pot restraint.

If your opponent 3-bets you, they’re telling you a story about how strong their hand is. Most times, they’ll have position on you, too. Unless your hand is very strong, the best basic approach here is to fold. If you are holding something strong (ace-jacks or better), you can afford to check and let them carry on with their story. How you proceed from here on out depends on how well you connected with the flop, your reads and your stack-to-pot ratio. In general, let your 3-betting opponent be the aggressor. Keep checking and let them grow the pot until you decide it’s time to bring things to an end with a raise.

Tournaments vs. Cash Games

A man holding two cards at a poker table strewn with chips.

You should tweak your UTG strategy between cash games and poker tournaments. Cash games are usually more deep-stacked (100 big blinds plus), and you can always buy more chips, which gives you some leeway to broaden your range as you try to get a handle on the table and read some exploitable leaks. Have a look at this guide to poker cash game strategy. Conversely, tournaments are usually much more short-stacked (20–40 big blinds), so it’s advisable to play super tight from UTG. Only play with strong hands and be prepared to fold before you meet resistance rather than risk chips you can ill afford to lose. 

Although no one wants to play under the gun, poker players need to be prepared for any position, whether you’re playing cash games, in a tournament, online or live poker. As long as you have a strategy and know that you can play 50% of your hands from under the gun, you shouldn’t have too many problems.

If you stick to playing very strong hands for the most part, you should be able to stay out of trouble, as there’s little any other players will be able to do to exploit you in this position. 

Master Every Poker Position at Borgata Online

Hone your poker skills with as much practice as you want at Borgata Online. Register to join a growing community of like-minded players and play poker online in daily, weekly and monthly poker tournaments — and cash games as you progress to higher levels of fun. Don’t forget to check out the online casino, too. It’s packed with slots and table games (including live dealer variants), and variety games to keep you entertained outside the poker room.