Playing from the Blinds

In most poker games, there are two positions classified as blinds: the big blind and the small blind. The big blind sits two positions left of the button, and the small blind sits one position left of the button.

If you track your play, you’ll find that the blinds are your least profitable positions. The obvious reason for this is the enforced payment from the blinds. The less obvious reason is that when sitting in either of the blinds, you’ve got a positional disadvantage relative to players in middle position or late position.

That you lose money from the blinds in the long term isn’t a sign of bad play. It’s typical, and something you should get used to. Rather than try to force a profit from the blinds, you should focus on playing a solid game. Achieve this by keeping your preflop range tight, raising strictly for value, and avoiding limping at all costs.

Play Tight from the Blinds

Upon seeing negative long-term profit statistics from the blinds, some players conclude that they should simply play more hands. Besides, it’s cheaper to play hands from the blinds. This is the exact opposite of what you should do.

Since you never have position postflop in the blinds, your ability to make tricky plays is limited. You will always have less information than your opponents, which automatically puts you at a disadvantage. Thus the name of the game is value, not a wider range.

Play only hands that have showdown value from the blinds. A solid range would look something like:

  • 22+
  • AQs+
  • AKo
  • KQs, QJs

You would bet with any of these hands, and in a perfect world would hope to see a flop. Note that it’s up to you whether or not you want to be aggressive with small pocket pairs. 22 to 88 are hands you’re playing for set value, not immediate value. If you want to play a more conservative game, limping with small pocket pairs is acceptable.

Avoid marginal hands at all costs. Hands like ATo and KJs are basically useless from the blinds, and playing them is the main reason mediocre players remain mediocre. These hands make marginal pair type hands that are easily bested, and since you’re in early position you’ll have difficulty telling when you’re beat. Resist the temptation to play marginal hands from the blinds.

Raise Strictly for Value from the Blinds

If you’re raising from the blinds, you should be doing so for value. That means you should raise only when you expect your hand to be ahead of your opponents’ likely holdings. For most players, getting tricky from the blinds with light raises will not accomplish anything, and will indeed result in bleeding money. Don’t get tricky–stick to a solid game from the blinds.

Remember that as soon as the preflop phase is over, you’ll have to play the rest of the hand from out of position. This makes every hand you have more difficult to play. It makes it harder to read your opponents’ hands and it makes it harder to play draws. It even makes it harder to extract value with your premium hands.

Never Flat Call from the Blinds

I haven’t done a large-scale study on this, but I suspect that the #1 cause of low win rates is flat calling from the blinds. Calling a preflop raise is tempting in this position–who hasn’t seen TJo in the small blind and thought, “ah what the hell, I’ll call and hope to hit.” I know I’ve certainly been there.

The thing is that it’s not profitable. Playing marginal hands is acceptable when you’ve got position on an opponent, since you’ll be in control of the action postflop and can manipulate the pot. But calling preflop raises from the blinds with bad cards is nothing more than indiscriminate gambling. You might as well play roulette, because it’s always a losing bet.

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