Brunson: Accepting a gift


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.


Doyle Brunson

“Don’t accept a gift in the big blind in hold ’em,” Kelly told me years ago. He was wrong.

In hold ’em there are no antes. Without antes or something to replace them, there’s nothing to fight over, and if you’re against wise opponents who are playing perfectly, you should sit hand after hand, badly bored and mumbling mantras about your cattle farm. Finally one hand you’ll find a pair of aces. Logically, only then can you play, because you can defend aces against other intelligent players with equally perfect patience. Against such players, you shouldn’t even start with the second-best hand – a pair of kings. The only time you’d get action would be against a pair of aces and you’d be a decided underdog. All other times, you’d win an empty pot and gain nothing.

That’s why the ante was invented: to give poker players a motive for war. Human nature being as it is, I believe that most players would find reasons to play inferior hands sometimes, even without incentive. They lack patience. But, poker would be a pretty pitiful game without something in the pot to fight over. Well, in hold ’em there isn’t an ante. So what motivates players to enter pots?

Not optional

It’s the blind bets. There are two of them in the seats to the dealer’s left, a small one and a big one, usually twice as large. You must make these bets before seeing any cards. They aren’t optional..

In most hands, there’s going to be a raise before the action gets back to the big blind player. Whether to call or not will be a matter of judgment. But there’s a time when players, like Kelly, often misjudge. And that’s on those occasions when there’s no raise at all. If  opponents just call the big blind, there’s a special rule in hold ’em that can get you in all manner of trouble. Normally in poker, if you’re just called, then the betting ends. You move along. But in hold ’em if the player in the big blind isn’t raised, there’s a peculiar option. That player – who’s been merely called – can continue the wagering by doing the raising himself. It’s called the “live blind” rule.

Free gift

My lesson today is that you should usually treat this situation as a gift when you’re in the big blind. You’re about to see the flop that happens next for free. Yes, it’s sometimes tempting to raise your opponents right out of their chairs, and that sort of aggression is in my nature. But usually, I decline. I accept the gift and see what happens at no cost.

It’s often bad to try to bully the game when you’re in the big blind with the opportunity to see a free flop, because on all following betting rounds, you’re going to act first (unless it was the small blind who called you). That’s a big positional disadvantage, making it harder for you to take charge. Another caution is that players who just call are frequently laying traps. They’re hoping you’ll raise.

Put it all together and you’ll fare better ignoring Kelly’s advice and following mine. Unless you have a powerful hand in the big blind, whenever you’re merely called, think, “Thanks for the present, buddy,” unwrap the flop, and see how you like it. — DB

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