Unusual People and Situations

You will spend more than 20% of your hold’em life posting blinds, so it does not seem so unusual. But proper blind play is highly situational, and many of these situations come up often enough to warrant examination. We will take a look at some of them in this lesson.

You will normally post a blind in one of three circumstances:

  1. Big blind every round
  2. Small blind every round
  3. A late position blind when you are entering a game or when you have missed the blind and wish to get back into the game.

Each of these situations requires a different strategy. This strategy also varies significantly depending on whether the game is loose or tight (see Lessons 2 and 3 for discussions of loose and tight games).

Big Blind: In almost all games, you will post a big blind equal to the amount of the lower limit of a split limit game (e.g., $4 on a $4-$8 game) every round.

Loose games: In loose games, multiway pots are the norm. You will be facing a few different possibilities:

a) There is no raise: In loose passive games, you may well get a free play most of the time. Since you will, of course, see the flop for free in this case, the question becomes when to raise. Assuming your raise will not cause anyone to fold (very typical), and assuming multiway (4+ opponents), raise with AA always and KK a bit less. Never raise with QQ or JJ, and rarely with 10-10. Raise with 99-55 whenever the mood strikes you. Do not raise with any two big unsuited cards (AK included). Raise about 2/3 of the time with AKs, half the time with AQs, and about 1/2 of the time with KQs and JTs. That should build the pots you want to be large, keep the other pots small, and keep your opponents from putting you on a hand.

b) There is a single raise: Call with AK and AQ, all suited Aces, all pairs, and all suited connectors to 65s or single gap suited cards down to 86.
c) There is a double raise: Play very tightly. Call only with JJ and higher, AQs or better. Reraise only with AKs, AA or KK.

Tight games: In tight games, there are seldom more than one or two players in before the blinds get to act. In passive tight games, you will get a lot of free plays in the big blind. Mostly you should take them. An exception occurs when you have a very good hand (raise) or a fairly good hand and you feel that the small blind, who has completed the bet, will now fold if you raise. Yes, this really happens in some games. In general, call a raise with a hand that would raise or call in middle position in a regular game. You do not want to play a mediocre hand, out of position, against a good player with a better hand. That is not the road to riches in poker.

Small Blind: Small blind play is more complex because you still have to worry about the big blind acting behind you. The small blind can be either 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 of a standard small bet. Naturally, the more you have already put in, the less you need to complete the bet and the more hands you should play.

If an early position player raises your small blind, play very tightly and call only with your best hands. But if the raiser is in late position, and could be on a steal raise, then you need to reraise with most of the hands you are going to play (again with the intention of getting the big blind to fold). You need a lot a judgment here. I understand that it’s hard to bring yourself to three-bet with a lot of fairly cheesy hands, but if you are in a tight game with a lot of stealing, you have to play back with some frequency to avoid being run over. Against a likely late position steal raise from an aggressive player, you need to make this play with as little as QJ or JTs. Of course, if you do this every time, and the steals are happening frequently, the big blind will start playing a lot of hands anyway, and you will need to vary your play somewhat. But if the game is so tight that steals are happening often, and you find your blind attacked nearly every round, you are probably better off finding a better game rather than learning to play in this one!

Loose Games: If you have already put 2/3 of a bet in, complete the bet (in an unraised pot, of course) with every hand. [Note: I play very cautiously after the flop in these any-hand scenarios, and only continue if I flop a huge hand. But the times I win 50+ small bets more than pay for the times I throw my 1/3 bet in with garbage]. For half a bet, play only decent hands (hands you would play on the button in an unraised pot) and with only 1/3 bet in, throw away everything except hands you would play in middle position. If the pot is raised, tighten up considerably; generally only play hands you would call a raise with pre- flop from middle position.

Tight Games: In tight games, small blind play becomes more interesting. If there is only one caller, you need to consider raising with a number of hands that might be good. For example, AT, or 77 KQ suddenly become raising hands out of the small blind in this circumstance. The objective is to get the big blind to fold and play heads-up with the limper. Even though you are out of position, the extra dead money and the initiative make this play worthwhile. If the big blind will rarely fold for a raise, then do not make the play, but then the game is not as tight as all that. You can also call a single limper with a lot of hands, but stay away from small connectors, which play very badly in three way pots.

Heads-up Blind Play: Once in a while, everyone will fold and the two blinds find themselves playing alone. In cash games, frequently they agree to “chop” or take back their blinds and move on to the next hand. I recommend you play instead. First, that is pure, correct poker, because after all, the blinds do not belong to you once you have placed them in the pot. And if you always play, you will never get angry because someone who chopped with you the round before now decides he no longer wants to. But the real reason has to do with learning to play poker. Most players want to sit in a comfortable 9- or 10-handed game and wait for a good hand. They do not want to be involved in the messy give and take that comes from being forced to play a blind hand they would usually never play. But from this kind of experience poker players are developed. You learn the relative value of hands, like when a small pair might be good. You learn to bet with nothing because your opponent will probably fold. You learn when your hand might worth a bet on the river even though you only have bottom pair (or no pair).
Having said that, how should you play?

From the small blind: You should give up your small blind (especially if it is half a bet or less) whenever you have a non-playable hand, including most hands with small cards. Hands with an A or K are golden heads-up, as you could possibly win a showdown even if you don’t get help from the board. If your opponent is a very good player, you should surrender a few more hands from the small blind than usual. Raising from the small blind is very popular these days, at least where I play. This is not a very good play, as you will be out of position for the whole hand. It seems to work because most players in the big blind do not know how to exploit that position.

From the big blind: If the small blind calls, you should raise in the big blind if you have decent high cards, especially an ace. When the small blind raises, especially if the small blind is one that raises frequently, you should reraise liberally: any ace and pairs higher than 55 are all OK. You might even call with your best hands and let the small blind lead until the turn, then raise him there. Otherwise, call and play the flop.

Whole chapters and maybe whole books can be written about heads-up play, and maybe I will get around to doing one myself. But my message here is go ahead, play the blinds, make some mistakes, take some chances and have some fun.

Late Position Post: When you enter a game, you will frequently be required a post an amount equal to the big blind to get a hand. Usually, you will elect to make that post in late position. This bet is “live” meaning you are already in regardless of your hand, so that has to affect the way you play.
First, if there are callers in front of you, play normally except, of course, you can’t fold. If there are no callers in front of you, you should raise (yes, I know, you may have a very bad hand) unless you feel confident the blinds will almost always play. If they will, raise only with your better hands. Similarly, with your better hands you should raise if you only have one caller in front of you, trying to play heads up.

Finally, if the pot is raised in front of you, you can throw away your worst hands, but call much more liberally than you would in the blinds. The price is the same you would pay in the big blind, but your better position indicates you can play more hands profitably. But don’t get carried away. Calling raises with trash just because you posted is a pretty good way to start off a loser and put yourself in a poor frame of mind for the rest of the session.

Lesson created by Barry Tanenbaum