McHaffie: MCU lesson 078 / Small blind vs Big blind

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 78: Small blind against the Big blind – How to profit

Today’s lesson is reaping big rewards as the small blind against the big blind.

If you’re in the small blind and everyone before you folds, a strong hand isn’t necessary to call or raise the big blind. Mike teaches, “If you’re holding a 10-8 offsuit, you often should raise or call, and rarely fold, unless the player in the big blind is very aggressive. However, I’d advise against raising or calling with a 9-5 offsuit, especially if you’re up against a skilled opponent. The dividing line falls somewhere in that spectrum.”

50 percent discount

Mike states, “If the small blind is $50, and the large blind is $100, you can call for $50 and get 3-to-1 money odds at this point, provided that your opponent doesn’t raise. In a sense, you’re getting a 50 percent discount over what it would cost you if you had to call that $100 cold.” I asked Mike what he meant by calling ‘cold’. He says it means there has been a bet and a raise and you call with nothing already invested in the pot.

You should consider the 50 percent reduced amount of the call to be a rebate. It means that any hand that would otherwise lose less than 50 percent, if you called cold, is likely to be profitable when that rebate is factored in.

“One reason not to call with the 9-5 (or even with 10-8),” Mike advises, “is because the big blind is still waiting to act.” The chances of the big blind holding better cards than 9-5 or 10-8 are significant. That’s one danger. You could also be against an aggressive or skillful player who will diminish your chances by maximizing his. That’s an argument for folding.”

Another reason not to call is that you’re at a disadvantage position-wise with the big blind, who is waiting to act after you do. Keep in mind, the big blind will act after you on each round, which puts him at an advantage. Mike says, even considering all this, it can still be worthwhile to call. He even suggests that if your opponent is a cautious player you should try raising, because you can afford to challenge a wary opponent easier than an aggressive one.

If your opponent doesn’t take advantage of being in the big blind, you can go after him with potential success. Those are especially the type of players that you want on your left.

Position matters

Against multiple opponents, you’ll usually lose overall to the player to your left, whereas you’ll generally profit from players to your right.

Mike says, “Position matters heads-up, even though it evens out deal by deal.” When you’re playing in a heads-up game, and you’re the small blind you don’t need significant cards to call or raise the big blind. The reason is that, by convention, the small blind is in the dealer position and the big blind acts first, except on the first round of betting. The small blind has the advantage of acting last. This is a huge advantage for the small blind and you’ll play differently than you would if you were playing in a game with more opponents. You can play smaller cards even more often in the small blind heads-up.

Mike advises against playing small cards in the small blind quite so liberally in a full-handed game, since the ones that folded before you did so because they probably didn’t have high enough cards. Therefore the big blind is slightly more likely to have remaining high-ranking cards. But, all-in-all, calling isn’t as weak a play as it seems, and raising isn’t out of the question.

Mediocre hands

This reasoning regarding calling with mediocre cards in the small blind extends to the big blind, too. Think about that discount – that rebate. If you can call the small blind’s raise at a 50 percent discount over what it would cost you to call cold, you’ll profit whenever that hand would have lost less than half your wager had you been forced to put in the full amount.

To sum it up, position does matter and discounts are a major factor. And there are times to take advantage, and times to beware. — DM

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