Nobody likes being in the big or the small blind. You have to place the mandatory bets before the cards are dealt – and you must act first on each round after the flop. New players can play their blinds badly in two ways: defend them too often, or fold way too much.
This guide explains why finding the middle ground is the best strategy for improving your win rate over time.
What Are the Blinds in Poker?
Blinds are the compulsory bets that two players must make at the start of every hand to ensure there is something in the pot to play for. The player to the immediate left of the button pays the small blind (let’s say it’s $1), while the next player on the left pays the big blind, which is always twice the small blind (so, $2).
Now, before the dealer begins the game, there is already $3 in the pot. This gives all the players at the table something to play for. Imagine if there were no blinds; in some games, you might see round after round of players simply folding – there is no ready-made incentive on the table.
The game must be fair, so the dealer button moves one place to the left after each round, meaning the small and big blind move around, too. In other words, everyone has to pay their share throughout a cash game or a tournament.
How to Play Your Blinds
It would help if you struck a balance between playing too many hands and limply folding your blinds away. The whole game of poker – cash games and tournaments – depends on the size of the blinds in relation to your stack. Each time you fold your blinds, your stack gets smaller. And in tournaments, the size of the blinds increases, too.
A good way of understanding this is by joining some play money tables online and testing it – US poker players can now play at various sites that offer this facility.
Don’t be too timid
If you are naturally a conservative player anyway, it’s tempting to fold your small or big blind in the face of any aggression unless you have a super-strong hand yourself. You likely fold a lot anyway, but the pressure of being in an early position after the flop means you won’t risk investing further unless you are sitting on a monster.
The problem here is that if you did nothing else during the game, your stack slowly gets smaller as you pay the blinds every round. Another issue is that other players at the table will notice you fold your blinds too much and begin to take advantage. Any player in a late position, if it’s folded around pre-flop, will raise with almost any two cards, safe in the knowledge that you will fold in the big blind 90% of the time.
But also don’t be too aggressive
If being too timid is bad, then so is being too active. Some players in the big blind have the mentality that as they are invested in the pot already, they may as well call any pre-flop raise. Indeed, it might be the case that the pot odds determine that they should. But this play can get you in a world of pain.
You must factor in two things: after the flop, turn and river, you must act first, which can be exploited by the initial raiser; you can so easily be dominated by a better hand. Say, for example, a player in mid-position raises with A-Q. Sitting in the big blind, you look down on A-6 and call to defend. What are you hoping for on the flop? Clearly an ace, but in many cases, the initial raiser will be playing a strong ace and have you dominated.
And as before, other players at the table will note your preference for calling from the blinds, whatever your hand. They can exploit this by encouraging you with value bets, knowing you feel invested enough to carry on throughout the hand.
Be Selective to Profit
The answer to this puzzle is to find that middle ground. Have a set range of hands that you would consider calling or re-raising with from the blinds. Don’t be tempted to widen it unless so many players are in pre-flop that it is worth you calling with anything just in case you hit an unlikely full house.
With this predefined range, which will likely be the highest ace combination hands, pairs, and suited connectors that can give you a well-disguised monster, you can make subtle adjustments. For example, if you note a player is routinely trying to steal your blinds but plays weakly in other circumstances, you can try a three-bet to see if he folds. Right there, you not only get to keep your blind for another round – you pick up two or three more from your donator.
You will find similar advice and strategies in all good poker books. And you can try both extremes out for yourself on low stake games to see how they pan out. Then make a conscious effort to find that sweet middle ground that will keep your opponents guessing and improve your profits.