Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is frowned upon in real life. In Poker, however, it’s more than okay. In fact, every official hand of a Poker game requires players to blindly put money into the Pot before the cards are dealt. This provides incentive for others to get into the action and attempt to steal from them.
The structure of a No-Limit Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament is built around the Button, Small Blind, Big Blind and Antes. The Button, also known as the “Dealer Button,” is a circular piece of plastic (in most casinos) that sits in front of the player that is the farthest away from having to pay the blinds. The Button is the best position at the table in a pre-flop situation because when all players to the right fold, you are in position to steal the blinds and antes to your left. Also, you will be last to act in a post-flop situation and have a chance to see what other players do before making any decisions. At the conclusion of each hand, the Button will move one seat to the left so each player has equal rights to this valuable table position.
The Small Blind is one seat to the left of the Button and is a fee that must be paid each time it comes around. The Small Blind is half of the Big Blind, which is one more seat to the left. Take a look at the image below and find the Button, Small, and Big Blinds.
An Ante is a small payment made by each player at the table on every hand. Antes will typically start a bit deeper in poker tournaments. If these foundational elements of poker tournaments are a review for you, great! We recommend playing a few hands to get used to how these table positions and fees work for players with less experience.
Do you like to sit and wait for a big hand? Unfortunately you may get “blinded out” if you do. Being “blinded out” means that you wait and wait and wait for a hand to come while your chips are taken by the antes, small blinds and big blinds on each button revolution. Let’s say you have 20 big blinds and are waiting for A-A, the best hand in the game to go all-in with. The odds of being dealt A-A are about 1 out of every 221 hands. Consider if the blinds are 500/1000 with a 50 ante. Every 10 hands you will pay $500 for the Small Blind, $1000 for the Big Blind, and $500 for the antes. That’s $2000, or 2 Big Blinds to sit and wait for only 10 hands! After 100 hands you’ll have $0 left. We clearly can’t wait for aces, but are there other ways to take advantage of all of this money floating in the pot before we see our hand? Absolutely.
We’ve looked at many types of bets in other blog posts. Here are a few:
- 3-bet: One raise on top of an initial pre-flop raise
- 4-bet: One raise on top of a 3-bet
- Continuation Bet: A player who raised pre-flop continues a bet on the Flop
- Blocker Bet: A small bet to keep our stack above 20 big blinds and slow our opponent down
Today we’re going to discuss a much simpler situation, when all players who are not in the “blinds” (either small or big blind position) have folded and the action is heads up: when we are in the Small Blind.
Players tend to get more loose when engaging in small blind vs. big blind battles. This is because big hands are less likely to occur and a sense of “stealing” blindly invested chips is in the air. Some players will toughen up and announce, “I never let anyone steal my blinds”. They’ll then proceed to call every raise when they are in the big blind, or move all-in with very weak hands to show they will not be bullied. These strategies will lead to failure. Others will be heavily aware that their blind is being stolen and proclaim, “I’m going to have a hand one of these times, buddy”. This type of player will sit and wait for a big hand. When they finally make their move, they usually have it. Others will play the blinds like any other hand and make bad folds. I once observed a player move all-in from the small blind with 10 big blinds and get an opponent in the Big Blind to fold A-Q. “I think you have Ace King”, he said. This is a very bad fold because, as we saw in “You Went All-In With That?!”, the hand range that players will move all-in with from the small big blind with 10 big blinds and the action folding to them is “22+,A2+, KJ+”. A-Q is a favorite against almost all of these hands.
What has worked in The Poker Model when we are the small blind is to widen up your range of starting hands, be aware of your own and your opponents stack, and use similar post-flop tools if you make a hand. For example, you may decide to raise with a hand like Jc-5c from the Small Blind if the action folds to you, which is typically not a hand that The Poker Model Suggests to play (it’s not any 2 cards over 7, any ace, any pocket pair, or any suited connector) from other seats but is fine from the small blind. If the Flop comes, Ah-8h-3h, you’ll make a standard continuation bet, just as if you had 9c-10c (a playable hand from other seats) in hopes of getting a fold from your opponent. But if the flop is Jh-5s-2c, then you’ve just struck dynamite and can bet to get it all-in with your top two pair.
You may also get part of the flop, like Kc-5h-3s (middle pair) or Ac-Kc-4h (flush draw). In these cases, we’ll want to check the flop and make a River Blocker bet (with middle pair), or check/call to see if we make our flush on the Turn or River. Any two cards can become a monster, our goal is to invest the least amount of chips to get there or attempt to make our opponent fold with a continuation bet on a missed Flop.
When in the Small Blind, be aware that players with less than 20 Big Blinds will be going all-in against your min- raise at a much higher rate than from other positions on the table. You can be okay with this because you should have over 20 big blinds in your stack when making the raise. If you are below 20 Big Blinds, it’s fine to open fold to the Big Blind, this is called a walk. Ask yourself if the Big Blind has been raising a lot, will she let you see a flop if you call the small blind? All of these factors play a part in your decision to raise, call, or walk to the big blind. If you have 17 big blinds and the big blind has 12, then we recommend making the raise to apply pressure. If the big blind has 60 big blinds and you have 15, it may make sense to walk as well because the big blind has wiggle room to see a flop. Let’s take a look at a real example.
I’m in the Small Blind with about 33 Big Blinds in my stack holding 9s-Kh. The antes and blinds are 75/400/800. Glancing across the table I see stacks starting under the gun of 20 (8bitkid), 12 (Friscox414), 25 (nbobekov), 15 (stud91124), 38 (SrJOAO1972), 16 (06269), 33 (me) and 10 (jack_wagon) Big Blinds. K-9 will not be a good enough hand to call a raise or all-in from any of the stacks around the table. In “You went All-In With That?!”, we discuss some of the hand ranges that these types of stacks will generally move all-in with. K-9 does not mathematically dominate the majority of those hands so we are not in a position to call. I cannot auto-fold the hand because there is a chance that the entire table will fold to me and I’ll be in a blind vs. blind matchup against jack_wagon.
All of the action folds to me, time to execute. Our goal at The Poker Model is to always be ahead when we are all-in. Many top professionals would advise to move all-in here with your K-9. If you do, then you will most likely get jack_wagon to fold and win all of the blinds and antes. This is a major advantage and allows you to build up chips without ever being called. Another outcome, however, is that you get called by a hand like A-3, or K-J, or 8-8. While you can still win the hand, K-9 is not a favorite and you will be mathematically behind. This is why The Poker Model suggests to make a min-raise and fold to an all-in. With this approach, you may get called or raised and lose a few pots, but you will never be all-in pre-flop and dominated. In some situations, our entire tournament will be on the line and we’d like to move all-in with hands that we will be called and still dominating. For example, if we had A-9, then we would be called by any lower ace, “called and still dominating”. With a hand like K-9, maybe we get called by Q-J, or K-8, but that’s about it. If jack_wagon had 5 big blinds, then moving all-in with K-9 would be wise because now you’ll be called with a much wider range of hands, many of which K-9 is dominating. Taking all of the above into consideration, I make a min-raise.
I raise to 1600 applying serious pressure to the Big Blind. I’m able to pick up tells about jack_wagon in this spot. Most professionals will fold or move all-in with 10 Big Blinds when facing a min-raise from the Small Blind. They are aware that if they make a call, a standard continuation bet is coming on the flop and they’ll most likely need to fold. Calling and then leaving less than 10 Big Blinds in your stack is unwise, those chips could have been used to pay off the blinds and antes that will be coming around every 9 hands. I’m aware that I have plenty of chips left regardless of his move. jack_wagon decides to call.
The Flop comes 8s-4c-3d. I’ve completely missed the Flop because I have no pair or draw, but it’s also likely that jack_wagon missed the flop. I’m going to make a continuation bet to find out because I have over 20 Big Blinds and he has under 10. I’ll learn after the bet if jack_wagon hit the Flop or not. Keep in mind that this is a mini-battle. Hands like this will not make or break your tournament. What we don’t want to do is convince ourselves that jack_wagon is bluffing if he moves all-in over the top of our standard continuation bet. Yes, a hand like 5-6 may make that move, but would he call pre-flop with 5-6? Are we guaranteed to win if we call with K high? Nope, we’re going to make our play and move on to the next hand if unsuccessful. If we make it to the Turn and a K or a 9 comes, then we will have to consider our options at that point, top pair may be good enough to get all-in. I make a small continuation bet of 950 because my opponent has a small stack. This number allows me to put enough pressure on jack_wagon to either move all-in if he has a hand, or fold. If I had made a bigger bet, like 3,000, then I’d be getting the same information but losing 2050 more chips if jack_wagon has the hand. We’ll cover stack sizing in more detail in another post.
jack_wagon folds and we’ve just stolen a pot from the big blind. It appears that he should have folded to my initial min-raise and not hoped for a big Flop. We’ve played the hand well by opening with a min-raise, then following with a continuation bet on the flop. Notice how a 10 Big Blind stack is less prone to make a move against us in this hand because there is less wiggle room with such a short stack. He didn’t have the luxury to call my bet to “see what comes next” because if the cards did not come, he would still be needing to pay all of the fees at this stage of the tournament moving forward. His bluffs become less significant with so few chips behind him.
Playing the blinds is enjoyable because there is an overarching theme that everyone is bluffing and trying to steal from one another. This causes many players to get ahead of themselves and bluff their tournaments away. At The Poker Model we suggest playing a wider hand range when opening, but then falling back on standard principles. You will Flop a big hand once and awhile and have opponents moving all-in on the assumption that you have nothing because you were in the small blind. Try not to get too caught up in the “bluffing” hype or be a hero. Stick to leaving yourself with over 20 big blinds and making continuation bets. Soon you’ll be looking forward to paying your ante, small, and big blind, because you’ll know how to take full advantage of the thieves.