Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2007.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 99: Playing from the small blind
Today we’re going to discuss how to play from the small blind. I know, you don’t have to tell me: Mike just held a contest on a similar topic. But since he declared me ineligible, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about related ideas that he’s taught me.
For those of you who are new to the game, the small blind is located immediately left of the dealer. The big blind is the second seat to the left of the dealer. If you’re in the small blind and everyone has passed, Mike encourages you to raise or at least call the majority of the time to prevent the big blind acquiring it for free. You don’t need as strong a hand as you might think to justify playing. In fact, Mike says many players fold way too often.
A good decision
Beyond the advice of not folding, Mike also says most players raise too often, rather than just call. Why do you want to call the big blind when you’re the small blind? Well, if you’re in a $50/$100 hold ’em game, the big blind has been forced to put up $50 already, and you’ve had to put up $25, as the small blind. So, since you’re already in for half, and your other opponents have chosen to pass, except for the big blind, you only need to call for $25. You’re only risking $25 to pursue the $75 already in the pot, and that’s 3-to-1 on your money. Now, if you had to call the entire $50, it may not be such a bargain.
Suppose your opponent then raises? Mike says you’d still call with most hands because, once again, you’re getting 3-to-1 money odds.
When raising from the small blind, you should consider whether your opponent passes frequently against a raise. Or does he consider it a challenge and come after you? Unless you have an extremely strong hand, the best case scenario, after you raise, is that your opponent passes. If the big blind will surrender 20 percent of the time or more when you raise, Mike advises raising quite often with semi-weak to medium strong hands.
If the opponent in the big blind is aggressive and doesn’t like to give up without a fight, then it’s usually not in your best interest to raise with secondary hands. Consider calling instead. If your hand is rather puny, don’t attempt a call, just fold.
As the small blind, if you have other opponents to contend with, who have also joined in, then you should enter the game as cheaply as possible. You probably shouldn’t consider raising or reraising. Mike says the reason is that you’ll be first to act on all future betting rounds, and that makes you too vulnerable to justify the first-round raise.
If an aggressive opponent is in late position and has raised or called, it is possible that he’s not holding the impressive hand that he’s trying to portray. This allows you the chance to be the aggressor in the small blind.
I’ll remind you once more: As the small blind, if you raise or reraise, you’re going to be playing from a non-enviable position for the remainder of the betting opportunities. You are going to be the first to act. That makes it a rather daunting task to become the aggressor.
Mike advises saving this tactic for when you’re holding huge pairs. He goes on to suggest that although you may be holding notable cards like Ace-King or Ace-Queen, they’ll make more profit for you in the long run if you simply call.
Finally, you don’t want your opponents to find you predictable, so once in a while you may wish to throw your opponent a curve ball, and raise. But usually, you should be quite content to just call. — DM