The Catalyst of Poker

The Battle for the Blinds

Battle for the Blinds"If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch."
-- Jesus of Nazareth

Limit poker not only begins as a struggle for the blinds, it normally ends there. In loose games, starting hand selection, betting strategy and pot manipulation become more important, but in moderately tight-ish games, and tough aggressive ones too, the core of the entire battle comes down to a struggle for the equity of the blind bets.

Compared to other aspects of the game, not much poker writing is devoted to blind play -- mostly, I think, because it is a very situational subject and just because it is a very difficult aspect of poker playing.

Arguments can take place over the value of a hand like AKo first under the gun in a $20/40 Holdem game. How much (or little) that hand is worth depends on the type of game, what type of player you are, the player on the button and the players in the blind (among other things). But unless you are playing with truly awful players, raising and taking the $30 worth of blinds is an excellent result. Understanding this helps understand how poker income is earned, because the game is actually quite deceptive.

It’s not rare at all to play in a game where single pots constantly occur that are larger than a player’s expectation for a whole session. For example, many winning players aim to win one big bet an hour, and play sessions of about six hours. Pots of six big bets (and larger of course) happen all the time. This creates an illusion that the process of playing winning poker (as opposed to losing poker where you can easily lose by the bucketful) is much different than it actually is. Good players do not earn one pot (six big bets or a bit more) each hour; good players earn one nice pot every several hours -- even if they win and lose many of these pots each hour.

The key element of poker income then is much smaller than pots. The key element in poker income is the blinds. A $20/40 player earning $40 an hour in a full nine-handed game might play 36 hands an hour, four rounds. The player makes a bit over a buck a hand. Forget about those big ole pots being pushed all over the place. Big pots are sexy, but the process of winning is earning that buck each hand you are dealt in.

The term “defending your blind” has a lot of different meanings in the poker world. Here it means: “defending your equity in the blinds.” Once the blinds go into the pot, they no longer belong to the player. They belong to the pot. That blind money “plays for” the person who put it in the pot before the flop, but it is quite literally gone, unless it is earned/won back. When we are forced to put in a blind it costs us less to play than it does our opponents. If you have the big blind, and the fellow on the button raises by putting in two bets, it only costs you one bet to call, because that big blind you had to give to the pot plays for you. Correctly playing when you have this “discount” -- and trying to make your opponents play incorrectly -- is the elemental battle of poker.

Everyone will lose when they are in the big blind position. A person who expects to make $1 a hand can’t overcome having to put in $20 in the dark while out of position. A winning player’s goal should be to lose less in the blinds, while causing opponents to lose more. If you manage to only lose $12 in the big blind where your opponents lose $20 or $24 or $62, you have done very well.

Despite what many people seem to think, Holdem is a post-flop game. What and how you play after the flop is far more important than the fine lines of starting hand selection. If you don't know what to do with 76o on a 974 flop, don't play it when you are raised in the big blind. On the other hand, if you play well post-flop, you can and should play more hands out of the blind than a person who stinks after the flop.

The blinds exist to create action. They are the catalyst of poker. There are plenty of other things going on in a poker game, but just like in baseball where year after year star players work on the fundamentals, the blinds are the fundamental reason poker hands occur. The blinds are why poker income (and loss) occurs at all. There is a lot of flash in this game, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the battle for the blinds is the nine-to-five, meat-and-potatoes of poker.

See also Playing the Blinds and Defending the Blinds