Introduction Defending Your Blinds In Poker Tournaments

Tips For Defending Your Big Blind
- How To Play From The Small Blind When The Action Is Folded To You.

Playing from the big blind and small blind positions can be tricky in poker tournaments. The main problems are that you are almost always first to act after the flop and that you are often ‘priced in’ to see a flop – only to find yourself in an unclear situation when you partially connect with the community cards. 

Avoiding this situation by folding weaker hands only gets you so far. Good opponents will notice who is ‘defending’ their blinds and who is not – and if you do not defend then you can expect someone to raise and ‘steal’ your blinds almost every time.

What you need to do is strike a balance between defending your blinds and avoiding potentially dangerous situations. Once you find the right balance you can add ‘moves’ to your toolkit which can turn blind defense into a profitable spot when the situation is right.

This article starts by looking at when to defend your blinds with a raise, when to flat call and when to fold. Next small blind against big blind (often called BVB) situations are covered. I’ll then look at chip stack sizes, and then the known tendencies of both the ‘stealer’ and you. Finally some situations which make it more or less likely that someone is making a move to steal your blinds are covered.

Blind Defense In Poker Tournaments – When To Fold And When To Defend?

Many times, one person will raise and several others will call before the flop – by the time the action reaches you in the big blind you may be seeing odds of 5-to-1 or more on your call (for example the pot is 500 and your big blind is 50 and you have to add just 100 more chips to call). With odds that good it is tempting to play a wide range of hands, in the hope of hitting an unusually good flop.

There is a case to be made for this. However, while you are learning the game you can often find yourself in dangerous situations if you choose the wrong kind of hands here.

Ideally, you should choose hands which have the potential to hit a hidden monster, small pairs are the classic example, with suited connectors and suited aces also good candidates. What you need to avoid are the kind of hands which can partially hit the flop and can end up ‘dominated’ by exactly the kinds of hands your opponents would raise in the first place. Avoid aces with small kickers, suited cards which are not also connected and hands with a single high card… Once you develop hand reading skills and feel comfortable folding a flopped top pair if the action indicates you should do so, then these hands are potentially more trouble than they are worth.

A Single Raise From Late Position

When the action is folded around to the cut-off or button positions, many players will raise a huge range of hands simply to take advantage of their position and steal the blinds. It would follow that you can defend your blind with a wider range of hands against a ‘known stealer’. There are a couple of issues still to address.

  • If you re-raise and are flat called you will be playing a big pot from out of position. Against an opponent who is capable of calling your flop bet just to see what you do on the turn this can create more problems.
  • If your opponent knows that you are capable of re-raising ‘light’, they may 4-bet you with a light range. Potentially putting you into a pressure situation where you would need to back any further bluff with your entire stack.
  • Even if you 3-bet and your opponent folds, the amount of chips involved can be insignificant, and your opponent might be setting up a future situation where you 3-bet light and build a big pot against a real hand while you are out of position.

Of course, you can always flat call, taking advantage of your opponent’s weaker range of hands when you make a decision on the flop. Many players do exactly this, then fold to a flop bet when they miss the flop, call when they hit partially and check-raise monsters. Experienced players will use this kind of predictable behavior to outplay you over and over again – so make sure you mix it up  sometimes.

I advise beginning players to use a ‘defend less – steal more’ rule of thumb for blind defense. This will mean that those times you are uncertain of the situation you are at least in position and with the betting lead – your next steps are usually far clearer here than when you are first to act.

As you get better at hand reading and post-flop plays like pot control and value betting, you can defend more often. While you are learning the ropes, fold when uncertain and wait to make moves when the stacks are shallower in the mid  to late stages of the game (see below for more on this).

Big Blind vs Small Blind Play

blind defense in poker

When the action is folded to you in the small blind, you have a different dilemma. Here you can raise to steal, though if you are called then the big blind will be the one in last position for the rest of the hand. Since both players might have a wide range when playing from these positions, it is often difficult to get a clear idea of where you are on the flop.

Often, the main determinant of whether to steal from the small blind is the tendencies of the big blind to defend. I actually like stealing from this position, eventually you will be played back at of course. The best thing is if you keep on stealing then wake up with a real hand just at the moment the big blind has had enough! Since you would prefer not to play a pot you can always raise a little more than usual, for example 3 times the blind instead of your usual 2.25 to 2.5 times raise which is better in position.

From the big blind side of this situation, you have the advantage of position and the knowledge that the small blind is more likely to have a weaker hand than a monster (based on card distribution and the number of times they raise). Many times you can flat the flop and put the small blind to the test on the turn or river. Experience is a big help here in deciding whether a mid-strength hand is good enough to bet for value or whether you are aiming for a cheap showdown.

Defending Your Blinds In Online Poker Tournaments – Stack Sizes

How many big blinds you have in your stack makes a huge difference to whether you try and steal blinds, or whether you defend you own. Here are some extreme examples to demonstrate the point, remember that effective stack sizes are what counts. If you have 10 times the blind and your only opponent has 200 times, then you are playing only for the 10x stack.

Very Shallow Stacks

If you (or your opponent) has less than 10 big blinds then any raise will mathematically commit you to call a re-raise. For example, player A has 10 big blinds in his stack and raises 2.5x from the button. The big blind then goes all-in with his own 10x stack. Effectively the button is looking at - 2.5x from his raise, 1.5x from the blinds and 10x more from the re-raise… a total of 14 blinds, it costs him his remaining 7.5 blind stack to make the call. Those are odds of almost 2-to-1, to make this call player A needs to be win against big blind’s range only 36% of the time – considering that both players were in a desperate situation with 10BB stacks, ranges are very wide, and this is an easy call. If you would like more information on how this math works then see my article explaining why all-in play is the norm with shallow stacks.

A better way to steal in this situation would have been for player A to simply push all-in, even when called his hand would win a reasonable percentage of the time – and no second guessing what the re-raise means.

Very Deep Stacks

When you have deep stacks of 100x the big blind or more, those high implied odds hands go up in value from the blinds – I when very deep you could also start to include more speculative hands like unsuited picture cards. While you can win a lot compared to your investment when the stacks are deep, you need to factor in post-flop skills. If you are a beginner playing against experienced opponents, then their hand-reading abilities might negate your ability to win a big pot – in which case you can revert to defending your blinds more cautiously.

Those Tricky Mid-Sized Stacks

15 to 25 big blinds can land you in some tricky spots when it comes to defending your blinds. If you 3-bet then the pot can get large enough to ‘price  you in’ on later streets, if you flat call then the size of a flop continuation bet can leave you with a tough decision.

You can often out-think your opponents with tricky stack sizes. For example, if your opponent believes that your steal or 3-bet re-steal would commit you to the pot, they might well give you credit for a strong hand. If they then re-raise it follows they must have a monster, allowing you to ignore the math and fold your hand. Of course, this ‘levels of thinking’ game can get complicated, so make sure you are not ‘leveling yourself’ into believing that your opponent(s) understand situations which they are actually oblivious too.

With tricky stack sizes you are more likely to re-shove than 3-bet to avoid being priced in to begin with. If you wake up with a monster hand in the blinds then you have a nice problem. I am more likely to slowplay with shallow stacks, most opponents will continuation bet – which can bloat the pot to the point where all of the chips follow on later streets.

Blind Stealing / Defending In Poker Tournaments – Table Image And Player Tendencies

If you have been passive from the blinds, giving many walks and folding to steals – then you should re-shove as a bluff once in a while, especially when shallow stacked. If you only ever do this with monsters then you are losing a lot of value to observant opponents, who will simply fold and move on.

On the other hand, many players get very ‘blind defensive’, with some kind of misplaced ego or pride making them stand up for their blinds in situations where this has a negative expectation over time. These players can be goldmines, and you should make notes and value-bet them to death when you have a hand of some kind. You might also show some weakness on later streets against this kind of player. Since they are used to defending light they will often try a desperate big bluff to try and resolve a hopeless situation on the river – perfect for when you have a monster.

Some opponents have a hard time folding once they enter a pot. They might still try and steal light from later position, but will always (at least) call a 3-bet from out of the blinds. Make sure you note these players too, and 3-bet a little more for value when you have the goods. Likewise someone who always continuation bets after raising pre-flop will be of great help building a pot. You might check-raise them once in a while, but remember this can stop someone putting more money into the pot. If your opponent is the ‘bet, bet and bet again’ type, then stopping them in their tracks might not be the best idea.

Blind Stealing In Poker Tournaments – Situational Factors

The money bubble is often a great time to steal blinds. Especially in the lower buy-in games it seems like the majority of opponents want to wait until the first paying places before defending too vigorously. You can take advantage if you are fearless, by re-stealing light. Since your opponents often assume you would not do this at the bubble without a strong hand, you might get folds that would not have happened earlier. This aside, you should look to take as many blinds as possible at the bubble, especially when you have a big chipstack.

There is often a second bubble just before the final table to take advantage of. When you reach a final table there are still more opportunities – as many players will be far more focused on moving up the payouts than winning and will rarely defend without a good hand.

Whatever the situation, defending your blinds involves a mix of understanding the ranges of hands your opponents will raise, fold and call with. Understanding the tendencies of your opponents and how chip stack sizes affect these – and if you are going to call then this also depends on your skill in post flop play including hand-reading and bet sizing.

Remember, if you are unsure then you should defend less – and steal more!

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