Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
A few readers are probably speculating about the most-likely theme of today’s word, “Variety.”
Maybe they guessed that this entry will be about the benefits of mixing up their poker decisions, so they won’t seem predictable. Or maybe they’re expecting this entry to be about the ability to master many forms of poker, so they’ll be prepared to play the biggest-money game of the night, no matter whether it’s seven-stud, Omaha high-low, hold ’em, or draw poker.
Those are noble guesses, but actually I chose “Variety” simply because there’s no theme to today’s questions. Whatever flits into my mind — and at this moment I have no idea what that will be — will constitute the next questions.
As usual in this recent series, I get to ask my own questions and then answer them. And although each column is totally independent of all others, we keep the sequence of question numbers alive. Instead of starting over at 1, we continue right after we left off at 118. So, here’s question 119…
Question 119: Is there a big secret to playing the small blind in hold ’em?
It’s that — unless you’re heads-up against just the big blind — you almost always should be thinking in terms of either calling or folding and almost never about raising. That may sound strange, so let me explain why it’s true.
There are two main factors at work when you’re the small blind: position and price. Let’s investigate position first.
The small blind is immediately to the left of the dealer position (button) and will act first on all rounds of betting, except the first. As we’ve discussed in previous columns, acting first in poker isn’t just a trivial disadvantage. Having to give opponents the opportunity to know your decision before making theirs is a huge obstacle to overcome.
Fine. So, that means when you’re in the small blind before the flop, you need to think about more than just your immediate situation and the strength of your hand right now. You need to realize that you’re going to be at a positional disadvantage on the final three rounds of betting — and, on average, that costs money. That’s why you need a significantly stronger hand for raising than you might assume.
Now let’s examine price.
There’s compensation for the disadvantage of worst position when you’re in the small blind. It’s the fact that you’ll always get a discount to call.
If the blinds are $50 (small) and $100 (big), then if someone else has called, you can potentially play for half price — a 50 percent discount. If you were forced to come in for the full price, it would be $100, but since you already have $50 out there, it’s only $50.
If an opponent has raised to $200, you can call for $150 more, instead of the full $200. That’s a 25 percent discount.
What happens if you raise? It’s important to understand that anytime you raise in a blind position, you’re reducing your discount. For instance, if a player has just called the big blind for $100, your raise (assuming no one reraises) means you’re getting a 25 percent discount, rather than the 50 percent discount you’d enjoy by just calling.
Works against you
You can see that the positional-disadvantage factor works against you and pushes any decision from raising toward calling and from calling toward folding. And you can also see that the price factor works for you and pushes any decision from folding toward calling, because you’re getting a discount.
However, neither position nor price pushes any decision from calling toward raising. Remember, raising diminishes the percentage of discount.
So, when you’re in the small blind, there are forces at work that push you toward calling or folding. There are no small-blind-specific forces, however, that push you toward raising.
And that’s why, whenever another player has already voluntarily entered the pot, you should usually think in terms of folding or calling in the small blind. Only rarely should you raise.
Question 120: Your previous advice applies to situations in which someone besides just you and the big blind is competing. What if everyone else folds and you’re in the small blind against the big blind?
You should be more willing to raise, but the previous concept still applies.
If you raise, you’ll reduce your discount. If you play the hand, you’ll have the worst position on the next three betting rounds.
However, since there are just two players remaining, you might want to take an aggressive stand by raising, anyway, especially against an opponent who is often too timid in defending the big blind.
Question 121: What is the ratio of losers to winners in poker?
I don’t know.
I’ll make an estimate, but first we need to agree that everyone is either a winner or a loser at poker in the long run. You could argue that many players approximately break even over years of play, but for this answer we’re forcing these players to fit into a winning or losing category, although only slightly so.
The actual ratio of winners to losers varies by type of poker, size of game, location, and more. So this is a general estimate.
I’m betting that at the lower-limit public casino games (including online), where rake tends to be high as a proportion of the bet, it’s about 49:1, losers to winners. In medium-size casino poker games, 8:1; in large-size casino poker games, 3:1.
Note that most serious players prefer the public poker environment where they have a large choice of games and other amenities. However, the cost of rake or seat rental means many players who might otherwise be moderate winners, end up losing.
In home games, I’m guessing the ratio of losers to winners is about 5:2. That’s because a few accomplished players tend to gobble up the chips from a much larger group of average and weak opponents. However, there are times when a game may have only one truly reckless (and rich) player and all the others have a winning expectation.
Put it all together and the ratio of losers to winners in poker is 6:1. One in seven win for their lifetimes.
Question 122: Is it dangerous to bluff into a player who checks?
Usually, but it matters who checks. The biggest key to success in this regard is in realizing that deceptive players who check make bluffing unprofitable.
You seldom should attempt to bluff against any player who checked into you, unless you have a specific reason to think the risk is worth it right now. But it’s especially bad to attempt to bluff into a deceptive opponent who checks.
Why? It’s because deceptive players often bluff with hands they think are weak. What remains when they check are overwhelmingly hands they’re happy to call with and some hands strong enough to raise with — hands that make your bluff disastrous.
Let’s talk again soon.
. — MC
Next self-interview: Pending