Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
Recently, I held a contest. In sifting through my old files, I had discovered an unfinished lecture. The object of the contest was to finish it, using 250 or fewer words.
The concept covered by the unfinished lecture is one that I’ve discussed many times: Why it’s okay to just call, rather than raise, when you’re the small blind. So, in presenting the rules, I said that winners would be decided by what pleases me and I added, “Criteria considered will most likely be clarity of argument, consistency with my own teachings (unless your submission convinces me otherwise), writing competence, and creativity.”
I guess you could say that’s unfair. I wasn’t really looking for arguments contrary to what I have been teaching for years. Oh, well. Right now, I’m going to repeat the transcript of my unfinished lecture. Then I’m going to show you the winning entries.
The unfinished lecture: Just calling in the small blind
One of the worst things you can do is routinely raise from the small blind position. I’m not saying you should never raise, but if you do it very often, you’re eating away at your bankroll.
And I’m not talking about just hold ’em. I’m talking about Omaha high, Omaha high-low, Lowball, and whatever other poker games use the traditional blind structure in the future. That’s the structure where the small blind is immediately to the left of the dealer position and the big blind is two seats to the left of the dealer position.
Keep in mind that blind bets serve the same purpose as an ante. They guarantee that there will be money in the pot before the voluntary action begins. Without blinds or antes, there would be no reason to bet or call with anything other than a perfect hand, and poker among logical opponents would come to a screeching halt. In order for poker to be poker, there must be something in the pot worth fighting over before the action begins. So, now let’s look at a standard game of hold ’em – although, remember, today’s advice applies to all poker games using the traditional blind method.
It’s a $20 and $40 game, meaning the first two betting round have pre-established bets and raises of $20 and the final two betting rounds have pre-established bets and raises of $40. Fine. How do the blinds work in these games. Typically, the small blind, to the left of the dealer position puts in about half the amount of a full first-round bet and the big blind, two seats to the left of the dealer position puts in the full bet. Sometimes the size of the blind varies and isn’t exactly half. That’s because some games use chips where dividing the amount of the big blind in half is impractical. In these cases the small blind usually puts in an amount that is as close to half a big blind as possible without using chips that are unusual to the game. Therefore, in a $75 and $150 game, the big blind is obviously $75, but since $25 chips are used, there isn’t an easy way for the small blind to put in $37.50, half the big blind, so either $25 or $50 becomes the norm – usually $50, just more than half.
This is important, because the larger the small blind is in relation to the large blind, the less difference it takes to complete a call, and the more valuable it is for the player in the small blind to make up that difference by calling.
Now I’m going to tell you the most important thing you can ever learn about playing the small blind: You should usually just call if you have a playable hand, even a fairly strong one. Even if you have a pair of aces to start with in hold ’em, you should often consider just calling. You’ll usually overrule this consideration and decide to raise, but a call isn’t out of the question. An exception would be if you have a pair of aces and there are at least two other callers already involved in the pot or if the lone caller came from a late position, making your raise seem like a natural power play, whether or not you have a strong hand. Then you should almost always raise.
Let’s examine exceptions first, then I’ll tell you why you should routinely call in the small blind.
That’s where it abruptly ended.
This entry from Alan Nakamura might have won, and I want you to see his poem, but it’s a few too many words, by my count, even if I allow hyphenated combined words, plus SB (“small blind”), and BB (“big blind”) to count as a single words.
Non-qualifying, honorable mention entry
In poker as in war,
the high ground rules the low,
so those in top position are,
beating those below.
The SB’s down payment,
makes calling laudable indeed,
but raising is tantamount,
to foolishness or greed.
The SB is Blind,
because it cannot see,
the acts of all the others,
before IT acts initially.
The BUTTON sees the weakness such,
that it can win with nothing to reveal,
but SB’s raising sets up nothing much,
because IT has no chance to steal.
On the other ‘hand’, please understand,
there is compensation in a call –
for when you hit your hand,
a check-raise can beat them all!
A call begets a lesser chance of pain,
and greater power to deceive –
what is lost in immediate gain,
can in later rounds achieve.
So just pay the current fare,
and wait for cards to come –
just because the Blind can read Braille,
doesn’t mean IT’s deaf & dumb.
Don’t neglect to raise some
hands like big pairs when many come a-callin’,
or when short-handed and the Blinds become,
of greater value than deception.
And to mix up play of hand,
fold a few in passing –
for not every hand is grand,
and not worth the backing.
So if you find yourself raising in the red,
while playing in the Small,
grab your cellphone instead,
and force yourself to call.
When confronted with the raising choice,
a rule-of-thumb I opine:
“Raise your child, blood pressure, or your voice,
but not your Small Blind.”
Thanks, Alan. Great submission! Also ineligible, because he’s a Poker Player columnist, is one of my favorite poker people, George “The Engineer” Epstein. (Entry not shown here.)
Third place (wins Caro’s Professional Poker Tells DVD) is John Standiford. He wrote:
The key words to remember are: limit and position. In addition to the
mandatory half bet, the small blind is forced to act first in every
betting round. Moreover since it is a limit game, the small blind is
unable to size a bet to the point to chase away potential competition.
The unfavorable position limits your options in the next three betting
Acting first is an especially precarious position in a multi-way hand.
With limited bets, simple odds will compel others to stay in the pot to
have the chance to improve their holdings. The exception, already
mentioned in this lecture, is with limited callers. Should everyone
fold back to you without a call or raise for a “battle of the blinds” or
if only one caller participates, then take the initiative and raise but
only with a strong hand.
Calling is a much better approach in the small blind because of
subsequent actions. Calling ensures that you don’t bring attention to
your hand and should the flop hit you correctly, you could be in
position to either attack via a check-raise or by betting out. If you
raise pre-flop and if you hit a favorable flop your options are limited.
If you bet, you likely will get few callers if any, if you check the
chances are that your competitors will check behind you hoping to catch
a free card on the turn that might convert your post-flop dream into a
Second place (wins signed hard copy, special MCU edition of Caro’s Book of Tells – The Body Language of Poker, plus Caro’s Professional Poker Tells DVD) is Anthony de Jesus. Here’s his entry:
In exceptions such as the pair of aces, you have a robust hand that
is happy to show strength because it is unlikely to fear most
flops. If there is a single late-position limper who is showing
weakness, then you often want to raise to take the initiative in the
hand and knock out the big blind just as you would any other time
when raising will allow you to win with a bluff when you miss the flop.
But often, if you have a playable hand such as two big cards or a
medium pair, you don’t want to raise, even if you probably have the
best hand. On the flop, you will be first to act. If you raised
before the flop, you will often bet the flop. When you miss the
flop, you will often lose more bets than if you had just called
because you feel obligated to bluff, sometimes on multiple
streets. When you hit the flop, you will often win fewer bets than
if you had just called because your opponents fear you have a good
hand. An opponent may throw away an ace with a small kicker on the
flop if you raise before the with ace-jack, but call you down if just
call in the small blind. You also lose the opportunity to protect
your hand with a check-raise and charge players two bets in some
cases in a large field.
And first place (wins a collector copy of the hard cover, signed and numbered, special edition of my Book of Tells, plus the related) is TDLKING. Here’s the winning entry:
In the small blind, the only raises that I consider are isolation and
Isolation bets occur when you have a “maniac” in late
position who raises a majority of hands. If he raises prior to your
turn, re-raising with a strong hand and forcing the big blind and
limpers to face two bets could put you in a favorable position, heads-up
against his “random hand.” I assume you have a tight image and your
opponents are not serial calling stations.
Value raising from the small blind can only be done with AA,
KK and maybe QQ. Before doubling my pre-flop investment out of
position, I want to have over a 50% chance of flopping at least an
overpair. With three loose limpers in an unraised pot, I might raise
from the small blind with AK suited as my odds of flopping top pair now
exceeds my number of opponents.
All other raises from the small blind have two negative
effects. By increasing the size of the pot, they give you and your
opponents sufficient odds to draw and put “Lady Luck” in charge of the
hand. Against two opponents, your small blind raise puts six small bets
in the pot pre-flop. That’s makes calling a bet on the flop correct for
many draws for both you and your opponents making you a “dog” to an
opponent betting with top pair and giving draws and chance to make their
hand on the turn or river bleeding your bankroll.
Although I don’t agree with everything our contestants said, you get the idea. Don’t let anyone say you must either raise or fold when you’re in the small blind
That common advice doesn’t hold up against careful analysis. It’s perfectly okay to call. Do it often. — MC