The following lecture was the 15th Tuesday Session, held January 5, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine
Playing the Blinds Correctly: Thousands of Dollars a Year in Pure Profit
It doesn’t matter what kind of poker you’re playing – hold ’em, Omaha, lowball – if there are one or more blind bets, powerful concepts come into play. Often blinds are worth attacking. Often blinds are worth defending. But because so much of the profit you will earn or fail to earn centers around decisions involving the blinds, we should take some time today to examine what’s what.
Blind bets are simply another way of making sure there is something of value to fight over before the cards are dealt. You are required to make these bets in order to stimulate action. An ante serves the same function in games where blind bets are not used. Sometimes both antes and blind bets are used together. The title of my 15th Tuesday Session was…
“Extra Profit in the Blinds”
- The source of profit.
In a blind game, most profit comes from correct play in the blinds and against the blinds. The blinds are a required sacrifice, and except in short-handed games where skilled players can profit, you will lose money in the blind positions. In a full-handed game, this specifically means that if you are required to put up, say, $50 as a blind bet, then even if you play perfectly from that point on, you won’t earn enough in profit expectation to overcome that initial hit. You will lose money and if that is the only hand you will ever play, you should not play at all.
Of course, there is no overall disadvantage to taking the blinds among equal players. That’s because the players sacrifice in turn and everyone eventually has to suffer the same number of blind bets. Despite this disadvantage of making a required blind bet, you can profit greatly by losing less money in your blinds. Since so much of your dollar action comes when you’re in the blinds or in a late position attacking the blinds, learning how to play these situations is monumentally important.
- Many hands.
You’ll play more hands in the blinds than in any other positions. You’ll play more hands attacking the blinds than from early positions – assuming the game isn’t so loose that you seldom get a chance to attack. This may seem obvious, but the implications are harder to grasp. In short, most of the profit you will ever make comes from powerful and frequent decisions you make regarding the blinds.
- Blinds and image.
We talk a lot about the importance of image. For maximum profit, you need to show that you’re willing to gamble. Then, opponents call you with weak hands, supplying you with extra money you wouldn’t earn otherwise. The main flaw in your opponents is that they call too much. For this reason, an image that allows extra bluffs isn’t usually as profitable as one that lures extra calls
One of the best and most economical times to enhance your image is in the blinds. The advantages are that (1) everyone is watching you because you are the “target” who acts last on the first betting round, (2) you can play weaker hands aggressively (although you will usually opt not to do so except against the small blind or in a late-position war), and (3) opponents simply tend not to remember that you were in the blind, so you get “credit” for playing weak hands when you got in for half price or even for free.
- When to attack.
You should attack the blinds more aggressively if they are either too loose or too tight. If they’re too tight, you can sometimes bluff with total garbage. If they’re too loose, you can bet semi-strong, but weaker than normal, hands and still make a profit if they call.
This runs contrary to the almost-universally-accepted, but flawed, notion that you should play loose against tight opponents and tight against loose opponents.
- A great tactic.
Try re-raising with any semi-strong hand against a mid-position or late position player when you’re on or just before the button. You’ll benefit from chasing out the blinds and letting you “split” this money with the original raiser, by enhancing your image, and by putting yourself in a position to act last on all future betting rounds.
- Small blind calling.
When the big blind isn’t particularly aggressive and somebody has just called, you should usually call as the small blind. Even some weak hands will earn money, if you don’t stretch it down to the “garbage hand” range, because it only costs you half a bet to call, and the average loss on those hands is less than that. For the same reason, you should usually call a single raise in the big blind if no one can still act behind you. With borderline calling hands in the big blind – ones you can either fold or play without dramatically affecting your expected profit – here’s how to resolve the dilemma: (1) Call if the first opponent was the raiser; (2) Fold if any other opponent was the raiser. Why? Because if anyone except the first player voluntarily entering the pot raised, this means that others will have a chance to reraise following your call. But when the first player raised and everyone else called, your borderline call is safer and more profitable.
- Don’t raise.
Do not exercise your right to raise with the live blind very often. It’s usually correct to just call with medium-strong hands and see what develops. However, tend to raise often if the small blind is the only caller. You’ll have position throughout the hand.
Also, for the same reasons, you can reraise very liberally as the big blind when the small blind raises. I use this play almost routinely against many opponents. It enhances my image. I will be acting last through all future betting rounds. If I’m against an opponent who almost always raises the big blind given the opportunity, I will sometimes reraise in hold ’em with hands such as Q-7 offsuit or 7-6 suited. The sacrifice here is not what it appears to be. That’s because heads-up play (such as small blind vs. big blind) is like a dance in which you’ll play about 70 percent of your hands and unusual decisions are sometimes profitable if used sparingly. — MC
Note: An edit was made to the last paragraph on 2019-01-26. I noticed a final sentence that didn’t belong, stating that a reraise was nearly as good as calling against many opponents. The rest of the paragraph to which that belonged, discussing a completely different concept, had been removed and the accidentally remaining sentence was out of context. For historical purposes, I’ll quote the stray sentence: “Against many opponents reraising is almost as good as just calling with these fairly-weak hands, and it some cases, reraising is much more profitable.” I replaced that with the final sentence you see above.