Blind Man's Bluff

Texas Hold'em Big Blind Play

Defending the Blinds"If it is true that people turn over in their graves, then Thomas Jefferson and George Washington should be sources of perpetual energy." -- Peter Camejo

Solid play from the blind positions is crucial to being a winning poker player, especially in limit Texas Hold'em. Yet few players focus on blind play nor consider it of anywhere near the same importance as starting hands outside the blinds.

If you were simply to be away from a brick and mortar Hold'em table when it was your turn to take the blinds, you would lose about three big bets in an hour (assuming the button orbits the table four times an hour). In contrast, a solid win rate is one big bet an hour. Clearly then, to make that win rate, you would have to make four big bets an hour when in the other positions -- not counting the additional amount you would need to win to offset the house rake.

A difference between good Hold'em players and less-good ones is that a good player will more often bet second pair when good and fold it when it's a loser. Thus, even though everyone gets approximately the same cards in a game with very high short-term random luck, the good player will extract a little positive value from marginally good situations and save from losing a little negative value in marginally bad situations. That phenomenon is not difficult to understand (even if challenging to do).

What occurs in blind play is very similar. Better players take more value from their opponents' blinds while losing less while in their own blinds. Some players mistakenly only try to do the first: attack other blinds. But that is actually the less important skill. Playing from the blinds well not only has the benefit of earning us some profit, it encourages weaker players to similarly play from the blinds, where they will tend to play in an unprofitable way -- not just because they will play relatively poorly from out of position, but because the more hands weaker players play, the more likely they are to get frustrated and go on tilt. It's an absolute: if you play with players who do go on tilt, doing small things to encourage them to play more hands directly leads to them going on tilt more often.

Some players simply are unable to comprehend the concept of playing when you are an underdog, but have pot odds to do so. This is one enormous difference between great players and merely good ones. If someone raises your big blind and everyone folds, you're getting 3.5 to 1 on calling the raise. It does not matter at all if your opponent is a favorite in this situation. What matters is if mathematically those 3.5 to 1 pot odds are profitable to you. You don't have to win anywhere near half the time to make this call be profitable. You merely need to extract more value from the pot than you put into it. That's it. Get some of that 3.5 bets worth of value. After you call there will be 4.5 small bets in the pot. You should be quite happy to regularly get back the equity of 1.5 or 1.7 or 2.1 small bets. Even 1.1 is a good return. It makes no difference at all if your opponent does better than that. What matters to us is we took the most profitable action available to us.

One of the most intimidating plays in Hold'em is to call a raise before the flop from the big blind, and check/call after the flop when the flop comes out a bunch of low rags. Watch this sometime. You can almost hear the pre-flop raiser's brain say: "Uh-oh". The point here is not to advocate that you often make this play, but only to emphasize that playing against a player in the big blind (much less so in the small blind) is a difficult thing to do -- especially if they are solid player. The range of hands the blind player could have is not easy to pinpoint, for one thing. People often say they hate playing from the blinds against a pre-flop raiser because it is hard. It's hard to play against a player who has better cards than you. That's true, but the reverse is also true. It's very difficult to play against a tough/solid/tricky player in the big blind (assuming the raiser doesn't flop a no-brainer hand) who could be playing a wide variety of cards.

But this is the game. This is Texas Hold'em when played in a limit structure. Tiny edges exploited time and again. The blinds are the catalyst of poker, and play involving them is the foundation of profitable poker.

See also Playing the Blinds, Posting the Blinds and Finding Bargains in the Blinds