The Definition of the Button in Poker

min read
The three poker buttons for the dealer, big blind, and small blind, next to several stacks of poker chips.
BetMGM Sep 12, 2023, 12:09 PM

Learning poker terminology goes hand in hand with learning the game. Without a knowledge of poker hand rankings, for example, you can’t even begin to play poker online. Equally important is a solid understanding of player positions. The position you occupy at the table should — if you’re savvy — influence all kinds of important in-game decisions. Of all the positions in poker, the button is the most important. That’s because it’s the most advantageous of all.

What Is the Button in Poker, Exactly?

It may come as a surprise, but in poker, “the button” has two separate but related meanings. First, there is the physical dealer button — usually a plastic chip with “Dealer” written on it — that you find on actual poker tables in land-based casinos. Since the players themselves, for obvious reasons, never deal cards at casino poker tables, the purpose of this button is to help the house dealer keep track of who is supposed to act last after the flop and start the deal on that player’s left. Once the hand is over, the button moves one position to the left.

The second meaning of “the button” refers to the actual player who is now in the last-to-act position. In online poker games, of course, there’s no dealer (the virtual cards are dealt by the software,) but a virtual dealer button still identifies the player in the dealer position, just so there’s no doubt where the buck stops.

Poker Positions 101

Before getting deeper into the topic, it’s worth running through all the positions at the poker table. You’ll come across this poker terminology repeatedly, so it’s worth taking the time to learn and internalize it. A good way to do this is to run through the order of play.

A game of poker starts with the deal. Hole cards are dealt clockwise, starting with the player to the left of the button. After that, the pre-flop betting round begins. At a full-ring table of nine players, the action proceeds clockwise in the following order: Under the gun (UTG,) UTG+1, UTG+2, lojack (LJ,) hijack (HJ,) cutoff (CO,) button (BTN,) small blind (SB,) and big blind (BB.) At a six-max table (the most common format in online poker games,) the order is UTG, HJ, CO, BTN, SB, BB.

As you’ve noticed, SB and BB both act after BTN pre-flop. This can be confusing to beginners as the button is typically defined as the player who’s last to act. The fact is that the button is the last to act when it really counts, which is on the flop, turn, and river. On the flop, the order of play changes as follows:

  • Full-ring: SB, BB, UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2, UTG+3, HJ, CO, and BTN
  • Six-max: SB, BB, UTG, HJ, CO, and BTN.

This order of play continues until showdown. 

The Benefits of Being on the Button in Poker

To be on the button in poker conveys multiple benefits, which the alert player should always seek to exploit. The primary advantage is that, as the last player to act, the button gets to see all their opponents’ decisions before having to decide on whether to bet, call, raise, or fold. In other words, as the button, the other players provide you with valuable information, and you don’t provide them with anything until the last moment. The only exception is the poker blinds, and they’re at such a positional disadvantage post-flop that they will rarely use the information you give them unless they’re holding premium cards.

The most important information you’re looking for at this stage is how confident the other players are feeling about their cards. A solid open raise without hesitation from UTG, for instance, typically projects hand strength. A small, indecisive raise tells you that the raiser is either inexperienced or their hand is middling at best. If they limp into the pot, chances are they’re just hoping to see the flop and maybe get lucky. So you know you can put the squeeze on them when you need to.

Playing From the Button

This information gives you vital clues on how to play your cards. Going back to that confident raise from UTG, if you’re holding air, you’ll probably want to fold and sit this one out. But if you think your hand is stronger, you’ll want to play it cool. Maybe you’ll let them build the pot and ambush them with a check-raise on the flop. The button position gives you the time to weigh up your options.

Importantly, being on the button allows you to play your widest range. Whereas it’s correct for players in early positions to tighten up their ranges, as the button, you should be raising at least 50 percent of your hands when the action folds to you.

Post-flop, having the dealer button means you’re in position on every street until showdown. As a result — in addition to the information advantage that enables you to exploit the mistakes players make out of position — you have much better pot control. If your opponent bets, you can call to keep the pot small with a marginal hand or go in with a raise if you have the best hand.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.