Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Play From the Blinds

Playing from the blinds in poker
Something that I get asked about quite a bit is how to play from the blinds. So I thought I would write a bit on the subject. Before I say anything though it should be understood that nobody wins from these positions. So really this whole post will just be about how to hopefully get you losing less.

But we shouldn't think about this in a negative way because the old adage of a "penny saved is a penny earned" absolutely applies to poker as well. If you can shave off a couple of bb/100's of your lossrate for instance, this will have a noticeable effect on your actual winrate.


How Should You Play From the Blinds?


Blind play is really tricky because it so often depends on how the action plays out before us. Since the blinds act last preflop we will be reacting to others a lot of the time. So the range of hands that I will play (and how I choose to play them: complete, raise, check or fold) will almost always depend on factors such as
  • did someone raise before me?
  • what position were they in?
  • what type of player are they?
  • what is their stack size?
  • were there multiple players?
  • what is my hand strength?
  • what is my image at the table?
  • how much will I need to make my raise?
  • or should I just complete or check?
You just don't need to ask nearly as many questions from the other positions at the table. So that is why giving an exact range or VPIP number is so difficult to do. I will probably need to break down blind play by many different situations.

So fair warning: this blog post will be lengthy

Having checked my stats I can see that I am playing about 16% of my hands from the SB and about 11% from the BB. Now keep in mind that these stats are for full ring and mostly mass multi-tabling. And also keep in mind that I advocate a pretty tight approach to blind play overall. My stats for 6max will probably be something like 20% and 15% repsectively.


Why Do I Advocate a Tight Approach to Blind Play?


Because you lose so much from these positions duh! Well that would be the simple answer anyways. And really I guess that is also most of the answer. If you simply choose not to play that many marginal hands from these positions, then you can't lose nearly as much. I think one of the first things that a lot of people need to get over is this idea of fiercely defending their blinds.

The old saying "some battles just aren't worth fighting" really applies here. And I should be clear that I am talking about the micros here and especially NL2-NL10. Very few people are really going to notice that you are playing super tight from these positions and furthermore have the know-how to take advantage of it. I certainly don't think it has affected my results.

Now I am not saying that you should fold every time somebody raises your blind and you don't have a premium hand. But you definitely don't want to be calling a bunch "because you have an ace" or "because you have pot odds." These are misnomers that cost people a lot of money.

Until you really look at the numbers in HEM or PT over a big sample it is hard to really understand just how important position is in poker. And the same thing goes for initiative (i.e., being the preflop raiser). It is very important to learn to approach poker as a long run pursuit and try your best to stop focusing on particular situations.

We can easily trick ourselves into thinking that a bad play is actually a good play because we happened to flop well and win a couple big pots recently. Position and initiative are the two most important keys to success in poker and that is why I begin my book by talking about them at length.

But this is unfortunately a lesson that it takes many newer players a long time to learn. I know it did with me. It is only in the past couple years that I have really began to develop a total commitment to being aggressive and trying to have position a large amount of the time.


Drills and Experimenting


What I have learned especially is that even if you think you are aggressive and use position well there is probably a lot further that you can take it. I made some videos recently for this blog about abusing late position (Part 1 and Part 2). I was playing around 50% of my hands from the button and cutoff. I didn't really do this on purpose but trying some of these "drills" so to speak at low limits might be a good exercise in pushing your boundaries and experimenting.

Just go to 1c/2c and literally raise or re-raise every time you are in late position and try to severely limit your play from most other positions. Watch how others react to you. See how much easier every decision you have to make is when you have position. Stretch your mind to a new level with regards to position and initiative and your regular game will adjust a little bit in this direction as well.

Anyways back to the topic at hand here of blind play. So my main approach to playing the blinds is to play a fairly conservative range in most situations but not quite as tight as from early or middle position. And the reason is that you have already put a little bit of money in the pot and you should fight for it in some instances. Also, often it will be a steal situation where you know your opponent's range is pretty wide. So a hand like AJ or AT might be played for value versus them.

However as I already mentioned the twin pillars of success in poker are position and initiative. The first one we cannot change. We are in the blinds. It sucks. It is what it is.

But the second one (initiative) we can change. And we will of course do this by 3betting. When called we will still be fighting uphill a little bit postflop due to our positional disadvantage. However by having the initiative we will be able to take down many more pots with a simple cbet. Or even just take it down preflop. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

So I think what I am going to try and do here is go over a couple of common situations in the blinds with examples rather than just toss out some completely random scenarios. Because like I said before the blinds are by far the trickiest positions to play at the tables and cannot be easily discussed in a vacuum. 


Limped Pots


Limped pots will happen quite a bit at the micros, especially the lower sections such as NL2-NL10. And there is even a difference between these limits these days. Every time I play NL2 it still blows my mind how much limping goes on, even in 6max! And it is like an epidemic once somebody does it. Then the whole table gets involved like a domino effect.

As I often preach on about, limping is bad in almost all situations. And in a 6max game I would go so far as to say that you should never limp. Even at full ring there will be very few situations where I would advocate it. 

So how do we react when these spots arise and we are in the blinds? In these situations I like to open up my range a bit and take advantage of all this weakness. That is what limping is. It is weakness.

I can't count the amount of times just in one session especially at NL2 where I will see a bunch of limpers, notice that I have a reasonably decent hand, raise it up and just take down an easy 3 or 4 big blinds uncontested. Either that or one of them calls, I fire a cbet and usually take down an even bigger pot. Win/win. A lot of people will just limp along here instead. I believe this is a pretty big mistake.


Versus a Single Limper


But it depends on the number of limpers of course as well. With just 1 limper I am going to be pretty liberal in the amount of hands that I choose to attack with. Obviously all of my premiums (TT+ and AK), all of my pairs and any ace or suited ace above A8 or so. I will probably also raise a bunch of suited connectors. Especially the decent ones like 78, 89 and JT. And I will raise with most broadways as well.

In the case when somebody open limps from the SB and I am in the BB I will raise about 50% of my hands. This is an incredibly weak play on their part and they will fold a large majority of the time. And when they do call we still have position and initiative, the two keys to success in poker.


Multiple Limpers


Versus multiple limpers I will tighten up my range a bit and maybe ditch some of the weaker aces and get rid of all the suited connectors from the SB. And by get rid of I mean just fold them for the most part. I think the whole complete the SB for "pot odds" idea simply does not stand up to the mathematical data. I will discuss this more in a bit however.

The only time that I will just complete is when I have a small pocket pair just because sets are so valuable and I want to always see the flop with them if I can. These hands can be difficult to play OOP unimproved and so just completing can be ok. But even then, I sometimes still just raise them.


How Much Should You Raise It?


This is an area of concern that I often see with students of mine and players at these limits. And the concern is almost always that they do not raise a big enough amount.  

You always want to put someone to a choice when you make a raise. If they feel 50/50 about calling or folding then you have made it the right amount.

If they insta-fold or insta-call then you have made it the wrong amount. Most of the time people make it too little and their opponent insta-calls. While this isn't the end of the world as you still have the initiative you want to let people know that there is a premium to pay if they want to try and limp your blind. By making your raise too small you are really just encouraging action and building a bigger pot when OOP with a hand that isn't always amazing.

In general I advocate raising 3x (where x is the big blind) in all situations. However you should add 1 big blind per limper. And you should also add one more additional big blind per limper if you are out of position.

So here are a few examples of this. 


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

A♠T♦

There is a single limper from middle position and the small blind folds. 

You should raise it to 5x. 3x as your standard. 1x for the limper. 1x for your positional disadvantage. As an aside, if the small blind had of limped as well I would have made it 6x.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

Q♣J♣

There are two limpers from middle and late position. The small blind also limps.

You should raise it to 9x. 3x as your standard. 3x for the three limpers. 3x for your positional disadvantage.


Don't worry too much about getting all of these numbers correct in every situation. The truth is that I don't count every limper or always make it the same. Just remember to increase your raise size if there are limpers (and depending on the amount) and also if you are out of position. Your raise size from the blinds should always be quite a bit bigger than your raise size from the other positions at the table.

And lastly don't worry about raising it up with some sort of marginal hands like these. Like I said before, you will be amazed at how often they simply fold. But secondly, remember what I said about limpers being weak. Usually these players are fish or SLP (semi-loose passive). They are bad players who just like to limp and fold a lot. You should be taking advantage of this. If they have something they will let you know.


Facing an Early Position Raise


Another scenario that you may encounter is when somebody raises from early position (EP). In this spot your range should be a lot tighter than in the limped pots we talked about above. The reason for this is that a raise from EP usually represents the strongest range for a someone regardless of their player type. While it is true that the majority of opponents that you will play against at the micros will not be positionally aware, I believe that people will just naturally or instinctively play less hands from these positions. So you should respect these raises some more.

Versus an EP raise you should be 3betting with the upper end of your premium range QQ+ and AK and calling to set mine with all your other pairs. I would fold everything else. A few examples.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

3♦3♥

A nit raises in EP.

You should call.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

A♠J♠

A TAG raises in EP.

You should fold.


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

A♦K♥

An SLP raises in EP.

You should 3bet. 


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

J♣J♦

A TAG raises in EP.

You should call.


Facing a Middle Position Raise


Middle position (MP) ranges will generally be a little bit wider than EP raises so we should adjust our play towards them a bit as well. You should 3bet a little bit wider especially against opponents who have a decently wide opening range such as TAG's and some fish. A hand that we folded above like A♠J♠ for instance I might 3bet now from time to time against these player types.

But for the most part my strategy is pretty similar to when facing an EP raise in these spots. That is I am mostly just set mining with my pairs, 3betting most of my premiums and folding everything else.


Facing a Late Position Raise


When facing a late position (LP) raise things change a fair bit. I think from these positions people generally have a lot wider range. You will find many 10/8 nits these days who even know that they should be stealing from the cutoff and button with some pretty light holdings. So I will be 3betting quite a bit more in these spots. But as I said before, my range is still pretty tight overall. We don't want to be going nuts here.

So I may add a few more aces and broadways to my range (as compared with my versus EP and MP raises range) and simply 3bet them. I may 3bet some suited connectors as well. Mostly just the good ones like 78, 89 and JT. I will muck the smaller ones. And lastly, instead of calling to set mine with my small pocket pairs I will often 3bet with them as well.

I should note that I will still just call with a lot of my middle pairs (77-TT). I don't often want to 3bet with these hands specifically because they hold so much value and can't stand a 4bet. However, I won't be playing them strictly as a set mine either (i.e., folding if I miss my set). 

The reason for this slightly wider range and increased 3betting versus LP raises is really simple. Like we said before, having the initiative in the hand is of vital importance in poker. Since we know that our opponent likely has a very wide range we can 3bet him and get away with taking it down or at the very least wrestling back the control a lot more of the time.

The reason we should just call and try to set mine most of the time versus EP and MP raises is because those are versus tighter opening ranges and we will likely have a lot of implied odds. But also our 3bet isn't nearly as likely to work. We will get played back at more often due to their stronger range.

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons to 3bet more versus LP raises is because we do not have anywhere near the implied odds that we think we do. A lot of players at these limits make the mistake of thinking that they can set mine and call with a whole bunch of other speculative hands here, try to flop a monster and win a big pot.

What they fail to consider is that a lot of the time their opponent will have absolutely nothing to pay them off with. If you saw those abusing the button videos that I mentioned earlier you will know that I was in there raising with beauties like K3s, T5s. Even if you finally hit your set or big hand versus me it is very unlikely that I will have anything to give you any action with.


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

A♥T♥

A TAG raises from LP.

You should 3bet.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

8♣8♥

A nit raises from LP.

You should just call.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

J♦T♦

A TAG raises from LP.

You should 3bet.


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

2♠2♣

A nit raises from LP.

You should 3bet


Versus a Raise and Caller(s)


The last situation that I want to talk about is when somebody raises and there are one or more callers. This is a spot where you could consider squeezing and taking down some of the dead money. We touched on this during the limped pot section. Preflop callers are usually weak and can't stand a 3bet so the logic goes that if we can make the original raiser fold, then the others will usually be easy folds as well.

I should mention that I have not included 3bet sizes in this article. The reason is that I don't want to make this thing any longer! But similar to what I discussed before, you should always try and make your raise sizes enough so that it puts your opponent(s) to a real decision of whether to call or fold.

Usually the standards sizings that will get this done with 3bets are 3x the original raise when you are IP and 3.5x or 4x the original raise when you are OOP. Similar to the discussion in the limped pot section though you will need to add more when their are other people in the pot and you are thus "squeezing." And similarly adjust upwards depending on the number of them.

Back to our range in these spots however. For the most part I do not advocate a wide squeeze range at the micros. I think you should experiment in a couple spots but don't go overboard. Similar to our approach before of basing our range on the position of the preflop raiser that should be the main factor when squeezing as well. We don't want to be squeezing versus EP openers very often and only sometimes versus MP ones. It should mostly be versus LP raises.

And lastly, as I mentioned earlier a big problem that I see among players at these limits is "calling for pot odds" in these situations. It really is a big mistake to call with suited aces and connectors and such here just because there is a raise and three callers.

You will not hit the flop anywhere near enough of the time and even when you do it will be difficult to extract due to your having to act first on every street. Also you can get yourself into plenty of bad spots where you hit a pair with a not so great kicker and you end up spewing off some money.

You should be folding in these spots for the most part. If you want to call for pot odds do it when you are IP, not when OOP. There is an enormous difference in your profitability in these two situations. With that said there are of course always some "it depends" situations in every poker spot. If it is a mini-raise that you are facing (which will happen frequently at the micros) then it can be ok to call from time to time with a few speculative hands.

But even further to this try and base your play on who is in the pot. If there is a big fish and especially if you might have position on him (i.e., he is in the SB and you are in the BB) then it can be a call. In general I see people calling too often in these spots though.


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

A♦Q♠

A TAG raises from MP and picks up a caller.

You should squeeze.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

7♣8♣

A nit raises from EP and picks up two callers.

You should fold.


Example:

In the big blind you are dealt,

5♥5♣

A nit raises from LP and picks up a caller.

You should squeeze.


Example:

In the small blind you are dealt,

6♠6♦

A fish raises from MP and picks up two callers.

You should call.


I hope this discussion proves useful for you all. Blind situations are not easy and I should also mention that when I say "You should do X" above there are other options which are sometimes close or just as good as well. This may come down to player type, specific stats, recent history, your image and a whole other list of variables. But I don't want to write another book with this blog post. I hope this post gives you guys a sort of survey of my approach to playing from the blinds.

As always if you have any questions or comments please leave them below. If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

How to Play From the Blinds in poker

8 comments:

  1. Made the ultimate mistake of checking HEM for my results by position after reading this.
    Only red ink of any position, I didn't realize they are the only positions I consistently lose from. I am never calling, completing or raising from the blinds ever again. Just gonna fold that shit outright. No more fancy play, except against Nathan, who we all know abuses position

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  2. Haha, me? Abusing the button? Never!

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  3. Great post! Thanks for the free coaching. I continue to struggle with how to play from the blinds, so this is a great way to start me on the right track to improvement.

    Patrick

    Http://poker.toddsville.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. What if an unknown in the small blind raises and we are in the big blind? How loose should we play here? I think I fold too much in this spot.

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    Replies
    1. Against an unknown I will actually 3Bet quite a bit because I think they will give me credit. I will call fairly wide as well though because I have position. I talk about how to play against unknowns more here.

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    2. Thanks for the quick response. Definitely going to defend more in this spot now.

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  5. HI, in micros, i open, 62% in bu (2bb open) and sb (2,5bb open), i think its the best auto profit, in micros, i play zoom nl2, nl5. grettings!, you are my hero black!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your input Jose and for the kind words! :)

      Delete