Similar to flat calling, players tend to struggle heavily when playing out of the blinds. It’s understandable of course, since you’re out of position almost always (except when defending against an open small blind raise). Almost everyone posts losses from the blinds, but you can minimize your losses, or even show profit with some smart decision making and solid poker thinking algorithms. If you are bleeding heavy money from the blinds, then there are a couple of specific areas you should look at first to make some adjustments.
- Your cold calling range from players who open raise from early and middle positions. If you are primarily playing full ring, then your cold calling range from the blinds really needs to tighten up. That means folding hands like AJ, KQ, QJs, etc., against most regulars and tight players. If someone is opening roughly 9% of their range from early position in a full ring game, and you call with a hand like AJo, you’re already at an equity disadvantage. Plus you’ll be playing out of position against a hand range that when you both connect, you’ll mostly flop the second best hand more often than the better hand. It’s not a profitable situation. In 6-max games, if someone is opening roughly 16% of their range, on average you’re going to be in a 50/50 equity situation, but out of position. So unless you think you can really outplay your opponent a lot, folding these hands is ideal. Also, avoid flatting suited and off suited connectors. Again, you’re at a big equity disadvantage. Unless there are fishy or weak players that have also called, and effective stacks are somewhere slightly over 100 BBs, then folding is more profitable. True, a lot of your money is going to be made by making strong hands with these kinds of starting hands, but the low frequency you do that, combined with not being in position will be a drain on your bankroll.
- Making more definitive decisions against steal attempts, and reducing cold calling range. This basically means 3-betting or folding more instead of flatting. Ideally flatting can be much more profitable since you’ll be ahead of most of your opponents opening range, especially if you’re defending against an open button raiser. Let’s take a common example of you holding KcJs in the small blind and your opponent open raises from the button, and let’s say opens 48% of their hands from there. Even with KcJs you are marginally ahead of their opening range with almost 54% equity. That doesn’t tell the whole story of the value of KJo of course. Most of the value is in the “flopability” of the hand, and the fact that your opponent will flop more second best hands than better hands when you both connect with the flop. However, if you aren’t outplaying most of your opponents post flop, then 3-betting or folding will be more profitable for you at this point in your game. Your goal should be to continue to improve in your hand reading, board texture understanding, and profitable bluffing opportunities so that you can profitably flat call with a hand like KJo from the blinds.
Look at the pre-flop decision out of the blinds as a problem. How are you going to solve the problem? Are you going to flat call, and look for spots to outplay your opponent? Are you going to 3-bet and try and solve the problem by getting your opponent to fold pre-flop? One solution might be more correct for one player, and completely incorrect for another. You have to know your own game. If you are struggling with bluffing in the right spots, or aren’t confident calling down against your opponent’s range of hands, then mix in more 3-bets and folds to eliminate scenarios where you’re playing more of a check / guess game without positive results.
A lot of players watch top pros in an online training videos talk about optimal play in a lot of different scenarios, and try and mimic that play. There is an optimal play for any given scenario given the limited information we have as poker players. That’s what you should strive to achieve. Yet at the same time there are steps you can use to build yourself to playing optimally instead of putting yourself in situations where you have to make more decisions about your hand and compound a scenario that leaves you losing consistently. In scenarios like that, make more definitive decisions and put the onus back on your opponent to make the most optimal play. The reason you’d consider taking sub-optimal, but profitable, lines as you learn, is the same reasoning why people will generally tell you to play tighter pre-flop (tight TAG or even NIT) when you first start playing poker. It’s higher EV to play slightly LAG or very LAG, but it’s not the best plan to just throw yourself into the fire. You’d consistently lose, and probably not have a chance to move up the poker food chain.
Optimal Big Blind Play
When you have a reasonable amount of confidence in your post flop game, look to take more flops. This is always within reason, but look for marginal regulars you think you have an advantage on, and look to outplay them post flop. If you have the slightest bit of doubt though, consider using a strategy like the one on the previous couple of pages. Slowly work yourself to optimal play.
Defending from the Big Blind vs Early Openers
When defending your big blind against early open raisers, you need to pay very close attention to a couple of things assuming you can see the flop heads up:
1. How tight are they? Are you talking about nit tight and opening 6% of their hands or less in full ring, or 10% of their hands or less in 6- max? Are they somewhere in between or are they loose, opening over 14% at full ring and over 21% at 6-max?
a. If they are tight: How often are they continuation betting? Some tight players have a really small or large continuation bet percentage. Very few are somewhere in between. If they continuation bet a smaller percentage of the time, then looking to take a flop with some strong suited or single gapped connectors can allow you to see four cards often enough to hit a big hand or make a move. If they continuation bet a lot, but are passive on the turn, you can call with a similar range and some broadway suited hands like QJs for example, and look to either lead the flop in spots where you completely miss and take their play away from them, or check/call and lead a lot of turns on flops that have potential. This would be “floating out of position” and isn’t very profitable unless you’re very confident in your post flop play and reads. If your opponent is tight and a high continuation bettor and aggressive on later streets, then folding most of your hands is ideal unless there is another really weak player in the pot. Then you can widen your range slightly, but not much.
b. If they are loose: You can widen your calling range to include some more marginal broadway hands like AJo, KQo, ATs, etc., and drop more of the suited connector hand ranges since they will go down in post flop value versus your opponent’s more marginal hand range. Mix in a good amount of leads and check-raises on the flop against these players with made hands and whiffed hands. Since their range is wider, they will have a made hand less often, and you can re-steal a ton against them if you mix in a good amount of value bets and bluffs that have good equity. Most opponents won’t fight back against this strategy, but some will. Make notes on who is being aggressive back, and don’t jump to conclusions too quick about your opponents.
In the example on the previous page, your opponent open raises from UTG+1 to 3 BBs with effective stacks of 120 BBs. Your opponent is fairly tight from this position, opening ~10% of their hands. They have a high continuation bet percentage of around 80%, but they are pretty passive on later streets. You are in the big blind with 8s9s, and call the raise.
You check to your opponent, and they continuation bet as expected. The initial plan when deciding to call the raise to begin with was to call or check-raise certain flops depending on how hard they likely hit our opponent, or how hard we expect them to perceive it hit you. In this case with a gutshot and backdoor flush draw, and stacks being deep enough that if your opponent does have a hand, you can win a reasonably sized pot, calling is the best option. You also know your opponent slows down on later streets. So unless they have Kx+, which will be a fairly small combination of hands, albeit a larger than normal portion of combos for most opening ranges because of their tighter play, they will slow down on the turn and allow you to potentially see all 5 cards.
Calling is preferable over check-raising because unless you’re in a leveling war with your opponent, there are not a lot of hands in our range we’d want to check-raise on this kind of texture. Calling also ensures that you at least see the next card, and won’t get blown off your hand with a re- raise in case your opponent does have a big hand.
You also allow for more options to check-raise the turn if the turn doesn’t supply a helpful card, and it adds a more credible story to you having a strong hand. Depending on the stakes you play of course, how hand strength is perceived to a turn check-raise will vary. For the most part at micro and small stakes games it will be perceived very strongly.
Your range won’t be weighted very much at all to having check / called the flop with a gutshot.
The important points about calling and taking a flop out of the blinds versus a tighter player is that you have to have the proper information. You need to have stats with a reasonable sample size or a very good read that fits the criteria. Otherwise, you’re much better off folding pre-flop.
2. How aggressive are they post flop?
- If they are passive: As said above, you can play more suited and gapped connectors, and when deep enough (over 120bbs) some off suited connectors as well. Don’t overdo it of course. You can look to lead a good amount of flops as well, but lower your check-raising semi-bluff range since they will slow down on later streets if you call the flop and usually allow you to see more cards for free.
- If they are aggressive: Fold a lot more hands. Don’t try and be a hero. There are a ton of better spots to be in than with a marginal hand out of position against an aggressive opponent. You can mix in some 3-bets against the looser opponents however.
3. Does your opponent have a low WTSD (went to showdown), or you suspect they can fold big hands?
a. Low WTSD: If your opponent has a low WTSD percentage, or you suspect they can fold big hands, then there’s a lot of room to outplay or bluff them post flop. If you’re using a HUD, then just make sure you have a fairly large sample size on your opponent. Something in the range of 5k+ minimum unless it’s a really absurdly low number in a reasonable sample (500 hands or more): Something in the range of less than 23% in 6-max games, and slightly lower than that in full ring games.
b. High WTSD: You can really open up your calling range here depending on how high their WTSD and how deep stacks are. When stacks get over 130 BBs against these kinds of opponents, your calling range should really widen. Just kind in mind that you aren’t looking to play a big pot with top pair or slightly better. If there are others that are in the pot as well, then it should incentivize you to widen your range even more. Playing off suited gapped connectors, low suited aces like A4s, etc. You want to put yourself in position to win the big pots as much as possible against your weaker opponents.
The important aspect of big blind play against early opening raisers is paying extra close attention to the opponents that have opened or are in the pot. Don’t look down at 97o and auto muck it because someone opened from early position. Make sure to scrutinize your opponent and have a plan for how to envision the hand to be ideally played.