I’m lumping the blinds together. Both the small and big blind have quite a bit in common. In both positions, you’ll play the hand out of position. In both positions, you’re already part-way to the flop.
Yet, the blinds also differ a lot. But the differences between the two positions come to more prominence in tougher, higher-stakes games. Sorting out the details of higher-stakes play is beyond the scope of this book. I want to keep things clear and workable. So let’s start to think about the two blinds in similar ways.
First, I’ll address the one obvious difference between the two. In limped pots, you have the option to fold the small blind, but not the big blind. Naturally, you’ll fold the offsuit junk— unconnected hands with no card higher than a jack. So you’re folding J-4 and 9-6 and 5-2 and T-3. You’re completing the small blind (or raising) with most other hands—meaning any pair, any
suited hand, any offsuit hand with high cards, or a hand with connected value. Don’t think too hard about this. This complete- or-fold decision doesn’t come up that often in the higher-stakes games you’ll eventually be playing. The difference in expected outcome between completing and folding some of these marginal hands at lower stakes is counted in pennies. And it would take a whole lot of complicated math to estimate how many pennies and with which hands. It’s not worth it. Don’t sweat it.
In limped pots, where one or more players will tend to call a raise, just raise the good hands. This looks roughly like the following range:
ATs+, KJs+ AQo+
I tend to raise a few more hands situationally. But this range is fine.
If there’s a decent chance that everyone will fold to the raise, then add hands like A5s-A2s, and K8s, and 76s to the raising mix. Choose suited hands that have either high card or connected strength.
Blind play becomes a little trickier when someone has raised ahead of you. In this case, you’ll often be forced to defend blinds when the raise is small, and when the player doing the raising is likely to have a loose, weak range. You’re under no significant obligation to defend blinds against bigger raises, and/or when the player doing the raising is likely to have a tight, strong range.
The threshold separating “small” and “big” raises is roughly (and arbitrarily) three times the blind. In a 1-2 game, a pre-flop raise smaller than $6 is “small”, and one larger than $6 is “big.” This assumes, as in most cash games, that there are no antes. Blind play in tournaments is very different because there are often antes, and raise sizes tend to be small most of the time.
You may have read that paragraph and thought, “Shoot, Ed, six bucks? I’ve never seen someone raise smaller than six bucks in my game!”
Yup, that’s right. The vast majority of raises in live no-limit games are “big,” so you should follow the accompanying guidelines. This means, in general, that blinds don’t need to be “defended” that often in live no-limit games. You don’t need to play weak hands that you don’t really want to play just because you’re already part-way in. Against a raise, play your blinds with the same principles you use in the rest of your positions. Attack weakness. Avoid strength.
Against tight raises, you can play from the blinds roughly the same hands you play from early position. For reference, here are the recommendations from above on early-position hands.
You’ll reraise with:
And you’ll call with:
ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs-76s
Against loose raises, you should distinguish between those that come from early position, and those that come from a player in the cutoff or on the button. A loose raise from early position is still likely to indicate a reasonably strong hand unless the player is truly wild. Against this sort of raise, you can use the recommendations from early position against a loose raise. They’re repeated below for reference.
AKs, A5s-A2s, T9s, 87s AKo
And call with:
AQs-A6s, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, 98s, 76s AQo
When you’re in the blinds, there’s an even looser type of raise you’ll confront—the steal raise. Typically, this is a raise made by the button, and sometimes by the cutoff. This sort of raise is made nearly without regard to the merits of the hand. Instead, the player who raises is trying to steal the pot either immediately, or with a flop bet.
The prototypical steal raise is when everyone folds to a button raise. Not every button in a 1-2 game will raise very loosely in this situation, but most will. Also, if one or two players limp, and an
aggressive player on the button raises, this raise as well may often be treated as a steal raise.
Steal raises are made with weak, wide ranges. Therefore, they should be attacked. You should be much more inclined to reraise a potential steal raise than any other type of pre-flop raise from any other position.
Blind steal raises have their own terms. Here’s a possible suggested range.
Reraise if you’re holding:
A2s+, KJs+, K7s-K5s, Q9s, 98s-54s, J9s-86s AJo+, KQo
This range represents nearly 16 percent of all hands. This is far more frequently than I’ve suggested reraising in any other situation. Again, I want to emphasize this is the hand set I recommend 3-betting against the player you think is raising as a steal. This means you think hands such as T-9 offsuit and 6-4 suited and T-6 suited might be in your opponent’s very loose raising range.
You’ll find considerable uncertainty in some of these reraised pots early in your career. If you haven’t mastered some of the skills discussed later in this book, you may feel lost in pots where you reraise K-5 suited from the big blind and get called.
It’s okay if you want to skip the loosest of these raises for now. But think about the situation from your opponent’s perspective. How comfortable do you think your 1-2 opponent is trying to play a hand like T-6 suited against an opponent who reraised pre-
flop? Typical 1-2 players have no ability to navigate these situations accurately. To master hold ’em, you must learn to embrace ambiguity. You won’t always know how things will turn out when you put your money in the middle. If you are comfortable in these situations, but your opponents aren’t, you’ll have a consistent advantage.
In my opinion, there’s no better time to get used to playing 3- bet pots than now. Because eventually you’ll have to challenge blind-steal attempts with 3-bets, and you’re better off learning to do that at 1-2 than at 5-10.
Also, this situation shouldn’t arise too often in smaller-stakes games because steal raises aren’t as common. Since smaller-stakes players generally play looser pre-flop, usually many players will have limped, or someone in an earlier position will have raised before the action gets to the player on the button.
So when the situation does come up to challenge a steal raise, just do it and gain the experience competing in these kinds of dynamics.
Enough pep talk. Reraise those hands. In addition to all the reraising, against a steal raise you can call with lots of hands. Here’s a sample range:
KTs-K8s, K4s-K2s, QJs-QTs, Q8s-Q5s, JTs-T9s, 43s,
75s-53s, J8s-96s, J7s
ATo-A8o, KJo-K9o, Q9o+, JTo-98o, J9o
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll defend your blinds 36 percent of the time against a steal-raise. And when you defend, you’re slightly less likely to reraise than you are to call.
These frequencies will protect your blinds from steal raises satisfactorily from 1-2 through 5-10 games and beyond.
Dealing with “small” steal raises like a $4 raise at 1-2 is beyond the scope of this book because you won’t see small raises that often in live cash games. And the math gets complicated.
Most of the time, when you’re playing your blinds in small- stakes live cash games, you’ll either see a flop in a limped pot, or you’ll see a “big” raise that isn’t a steal raise. Against these raises, you don’t have to defend your blinds very often, and you can treat the situation as if you were responding from early position.