Texas Hold'em Big Blind Play

Playing / "Defending" the Big Blind

Big BlindsOriginally from a Rec.Gambling.Poker discussion.

Everyone should run ideas through the blender of the game they play in. There is no "typical" Holdem game, and any advice that says there is is lousy advice. In some games you should play out of the blinds less; in some games you should play out of them more. In all games you should defend when profitable to do so.

Too many players have an absurd obsessiveness about quality of starting hands, instead of focusing on the $-values and the post flop play. If you lay down 98o headup in the big blind when an early position raiser has raised with AQo, you have made a major error -- if you play good poker, which means playing well after the flop in Holdem. If you play poorly, then perhaps your best choice is to lay down the 98o because it will mean you lose less money. But the focus of your continued study should be on learning to be a better player so that you can play these hands profitably.

To a large degree, a major difference between mediocre players and very good ones is how they deal with the blinds. Mediocre players lose more in the blinds (either by giving up too easily, or chasing too foolishly), and they do not steal equity from the blinds of weaker players (if when holding AKo you do not raise the blind of a weak player who will lay down 98o, you are playing poorly). Everybody loses in the blinds. Where mediocre players lose $40, very good ones lose $32, or $37, or even $39.

Suppose in Holdem an early position raiser who happens to hold AKo raises your big blind. Everyone folds to you. You hold 98o. What do you believe is your most profitable action here? Let's assume no one says reraise, so that leaves call or fold. You are getting 3.5-to-1 on your call. Depending on how the suits are lined up, if both hands always went to the showdown, you would be about a 64/36 underdog, or less than 2-to-1.

But of course there is betting. The AKo has position throughout the hand. But the AK is likely to payoff certain sorts of hands that the 98 won't (98 loses nothing on a KK2 flop but AK pays off on a 992 flop). For me, calling is an easy, clearly profitable situation. Apparently others do not believe this is the case. I'm curious, since the 3.5-1 and 64/36 numbers are clear, among those people who think a fold is appropriate, why do you think that action after the flop will cost your 98o more than the AKo to a degree that offsets the pre-flop odds?

Steve BIA wrote...
> I'm virtually never going to call an early position raiser
> with 98 in the blind. Why? Maybe he has AKo or AQo and
> I have the odds to see a flop against those hands, but I
> don't know that. I have to consider the range of hands
> he could have, including the overpairs. Suppose I get a
> 9 high flop, check-raise him and he re-raises. Now what
> do I do? What do I do if the flop comes Q8x? Even if I
> know this player will go to the river with AK (like too many
> players do) without improving, on balance I don't believe
> this is a profitable call.

You just said there are difficult decisions. That implies you will make the wrong decision most of the time. Why? Why don't you think the raiser will similarly make wrong decisions? For me, playing 98o in the big blind headup against AKo is better than folding it. Whether a person should fold 98o to an early raiser is completely different question. An early raiser can have a whole range of hands. The AKo hands are a subset of those hands, and it seems to me good players should be thinking that they can play the 98o profitably against this particular subset of hands.

Bing wrote...
> I look at the number of flops that I would be happy with.
> They would be 99x, 88x, 98x, flopped straight, flopped
> open ended, and maybe 8- or 9-high mixed... With any
> other flop, I'd hate my hand. Are the odds of a solid payoff,
> when one of these hands comes up, good enough to
> overcome a 3.5-to-1 call now? I don't have the numbers,
> but I really doubt it.

Winning at Holdem isn't about "solid payoffs" or liking a hand. No pair wins plenty of hands. Just because a hand isn't a no-brainer to play doesn't mean you shouldn't play it. (Of course, it doesn't mean you should play it either.)

Winning Holdem means taking more money out of poker games than I started with, over the long run. Some payoffs are marginal. Sometimes you have to call when you are an underdog but getting pot odds. Sometimes you have to bluff. You may have a different definition of "like" than me, but I don't "like" my hand when I bluff. I still do it tho when it is profitable.

> Bing: The whole reason you may make this or that play in
> poker is to get money into the pots you will win and keep
> from putting money in those that you will lose.
> That's a "solid payoff." If you make moves and never
> get decent payoffs as a result, you won't be a winning player.

Again you can have your definitions, but in Holdem you have a lot of situations where you have say a 54% to 46% edge. Is that "solid" to you? The word "marginal" comes to my mind, but you absolutely must take advantage of these small edges when they appear. Nothing solid about that.

> Bing: And the whole concept of "liking a hand" is the core
> of the "dominated" idea. If you have K-Q against A-K,
> you're not gonna like your hand very often after the
> flop. If someone told you, before the flop, that
> "you're not gonna like your hand 95% of the time
> against that other guy's hand", would you play it?

I don't care about my like for a hand. It means nothing. What matters is if the hand is profitable. If it is unprofitable, get rid of it, whatever it is. If it is profitable you play it. I'm not looking to make friends with poker hands.

> Bing: If you purposely play a problem hand, don't
> be surprised if you do get into trouble with it.

Again, why do you care about "trouble"? That's nothing to be thinking about -- except in terms of improving as a player. Some hands are harder to play, but if they are profitable, they should be played. The difficulty level should mean almost nothing, what matters is are you getting the right price.

> Bing: If you play 98o for a raise against a player who raises
> on any two cards Jack and up, and the flop comes K94,
> are you in good shape or in big trouble?

I'm making a tiny amount of money, and I like that. Of course this isn't the best flop for the hand. You get the value out of this hand with better flops than that. Sometimes you lose, but you must look at how a hand performs in the long run. It seems that some people have a hard time understanding that losing pots is not a bad thing if you win your share too. In the case of AKo raising versus 98o calling in the big blind, both hands should be profitable, chopping up the dead bet and half already in the pot.

> Bing: Perhaps a REALLY good player could glean the answer
> from outside clues given off by the player. Most players,
> however, just won't know.

Most players probably shouldn't imagine that their normal opposition gleans information better than they do. If this is true, find an easier game.

See also Posting the Big Blind and Defending and Attacking the Blinds