Blind Stealing

There’s another simple way to gauge whether or not you should make a blind steal. Before I get into this I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say that most people blind steal too much. It was fun minraising and having no one call me back in 2012, but those days are gone. People react much more fiercely to the 2x raise now.

Recently, I was trying everything I could to bring my button BB earnings per 100 up. I thought I’d tried everything. It wasn’t till Apestyles made an offhand comment that I was playing too many hands that it clicked. The era for indiscriminate zero equity steals has passed. However, there are still occasions when you can steal with any two cards. Here’s how you figure out whether a blind steal is profitable or not.

Let’s say you have no hand and you raise from the small blind to 3x the big blind. First off, what do you normally raise to from the small blind? Is it 3x or something like 2.5x? When we raise to 3x how much are we risking? The answer is we are risking 2.5x because the small blind is dead. It does not belong to us. It belongs to the pot. It’s just an added convenience that it gets to be part of our bet.

We risk 2.5x. Now let’s suppose there was 2.5x in the pot before our raise. The big blind and small blind were 1.5x together, and the antes were 1x additional. We are risking 2.5x to win 2.5x. However, to express this mathematically we must divide 2.5x by 5x, the size of the total pot we stand to win. This means our bet needs to work 50% of the time in order to be profitable. What percentage of hand combinations does your opponent need to play in order to insure you can’t just raise with any two cards?

The correct answer is 50%. It is very difficult to achieve this. Depending on how you range it, that could extend to 6-4o! When was the last time you defended with 6-4o versus a 3x raise from the small blind? If your opponent is folding 1% more than 50% of the hands then your raise is profitable regardless of your holding. However, wouldn’t it be convenient to know if historically this player likes to fold in these situations?

This is where Hold’em Manager 2 comes in. It tracks how often your player likes to fold in the big blind. There’s a myriad of statistics you can look at. There’s fold to raise, fold to steal, and fold to small blind steal. Fold to raise just means any raise from any position. Fold to steal calculates how often a player folds from a small blind, button, or cutoff raise – the traditional steal positions. Fold to small blind steal specifies how often a player folds to this specific steal.

You should look at them all when you’re playing if you have the time, but when you’re strapped for time you should have a number on your HUD. It is a box of numbers that appears adjacent to each player you’re playing against when you’re playing online poker. These statistics next to the player give you an idea of how they play. Traditionally, when you click on specific statistics you can get a more detailed breakdown in a “pop-up.”

The surface statistic I use on my HUD is fold to steal. Fold to any raise doesn’t let me know how my opponent reacts to raises from the traditional stealing positions. Many people fold to any old early position raise, but react violently toward someone trying to steal their big blind from the button. The amalgam of these statistics is misleading. Fold to steal lets you know how relaxed a player is about letting go of a hand. However, I must stress this, it’s also a good idea to have fold to small blind steal on your HUD. Many players keep it in their pop-up and don’t refer to it much.

Using fold to small blind steal and fold to steal gives you a great idea as to what a player reacts to. If a player has a fold to steal but has never folded to a small blind raise you know they really respect a player in position. If they fold frequently to small blind raises you know in their poker worldview they consider a player who raises out of position is likely to have something huge.

When stuck for one number just go with fold to steal. This can be immensely helpful. As you do more quick calculations you’ll become better with the fractions. You’ll be able to eyeball it and see your bet needs to work 50% of the time. Then you see your opponent’s fold to steal is 65%, and his fold to small blind steal is 80%! Score!

Now let’s pretend you’re raising on the button and you raise to 2.5x the big blind, and again the pot out there is 2.5x. Again, you need your play to work 50% of the time. How do you know if both players are folding enough of the time to justify raising any two cards?

There is another statistic called fold small blind to steal. You’ll be surprised how many people never bother to play out of the small blind. You can use this number in conjunction with the big blind fold to steal. Say the big blind player’s fold to steal is 80% and so is the small blind player’s. They are both 80%. How often do they both fold? The correct answer is 64% of the time. Your raise that needed to work 50% of the time is clearing a huge profit.

How did we arrive at that number? Make sure you’re writing down a note. I brought this up earlier in the book. I’m deliberately bringing this up to test you, so you can feel your own “purposeful practice.” What you do is reduce them to decimals. Here 80% is reflected as 0.8; 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Both players fold 64% of the time.

When you raise from the cutoff the process is similar, except you have to add one more number. There is a button fold to cutoff steal statistic, but I find it more realistic to ask myself what percentage of the hands I think my opponent is playing. I find that for some reason the button fold to steal varies wildly from actual play. People seem set in their ways when it comes to blind play, but players fluctuate back and forth on how often to rage out when they have the button.

Say I think the player is going to defend 20% of the time. They cold call 9% of the hands and their 3-bet is 11% from this position. That means they do something other than fold 20% of the time, so again their folding range is 80% of the hands; 0.8 x 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.512. Now you’re really skating by. You’re making a small profit, but you shouldn’t rely on your hand as a pure bluff. You should instead have a backup plan.

It is rare now to find players who are folding 80% of the time from all these positions. It is even rarer to find three of them together. For this reason I save most of my pure bluffs for the small blind. From the button I’ll occasionally make a pure steal, but it’s traditionally in smaller stakes tournaments where some regular is 20+ tabling and really is playing nothing but 10% of the hands.

Now that you know this math imagine trying to steal UTG. If everyone is playing just 10% of their hands, which is a very tight range, but you have to go through eight players, everyone together is going to be folding 43% of the time. If they are playing more standardized ranges then everyone folds only 20–30% of the time.

Raising from early position as a steal is generally a hilarious prospect. Even if one has an ace blocker it only adds a couple of percent to the total fold percentage. Just stay away from early position steals, or even middle position ones for that matter. It’s very rare in today’s game for them to be truly advisable.

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