A Thousand Miles of Blinds

Playing the Blinds

Playing the Blinds"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."
-- Milton Berle

The blinds/antes are "the catalyst of poker." This idea cannot be overemphasized -- and even if it can, I'm going to anyway!

Suppose you are playing $20/40 Limit Hold'em. The game is nine-handed, and you play about thirty-six hands an hour (four orbits around the table). Now letís suppose you wish to make about one big bet an hour. To simplify it, letís make that $36 an hour, or an average of $1 a hand. Letís say then that the casino charges you $18 an hour time collection to play. That means you actually have to win $1.50 per hand to manage that $1 per hand win rate. Many players find ďbeating the rakeĒ to be an overwhelming task. In fact, many players actually beat the game for six or seven dollars an hour, but end up being twelve or eleven dollar an hour losers because of the time collection/rake.

But on top of the rake, to achieve this win rate you must place $120 of blind bets into the pot each hour (four orbits, a $20 big blind and a $10 small blind each orbit). Clearly the cost of the blinds overwhelms both the rake and the playerís target win. The player must win $3.33 a hand just to stay even with the cost of the blinds.

While the blinds arenít strictly a ďcostĒ of playing since that money plays for you in pots in which you have equity, when you take all these elements together we see that to achieve a $1 per hand/$36 per hour win rate, we really have to win $4.83 a hand, $174 an hour.

To win our relatively puny $36 an hour, during that hour we need to use the betting rounds to extract $174 from the pots we play. Of course this isnít a rigid requirement every single hour. The point is that the blinds present significant hurdles that need to be overcome every hour. In limit poker the expense of the blinds dwarfs the rake and win rates.

At the same time as we put all this blind money into pots, our opponents do too. They must plunk that $120 an hour into pots just like we do. Thatís $960 an hour in blind bets from our eight opponents.

Successful blind play is a two way street: you have to try minimize the equity you ďgive awayĒ to your opponents when you are forced to make the blind bets, while at other times you want to get what equity you can from your opponents when they have the blinds. If you can turn a big blind situation into one where other players lose $17 but you lose only $12, you are playing both good offense and good defense.

In poker there are many ways to win. Some players are excellent at defending the equity they have in their own blinds, but not so great at snatching blind equity from opponents. Other players play too weak and passively when they are in the blinds, but are relentless in ripping equity out of the hands of opponents in the blinds. And then, there are some players who lose a bunch when they have the blinds because they are way too reckless in protecting their equity, but still win overall because they attack other peopleís blinds extremely successfully.

The idea I am suggesting is to sensibly attack the blinds when you donít have them, and sensibly defend them when you do. But more than that, Iím suggesting this is the un-sexy battle at the core of limit Texas Hold'em (less so in Omaha and Stud). Winning the battle for the blinds is a large part of winning the game.

Many players ignore the importance of the blinds because they are blinded by the great sexiness of big pots. Other players obsess over slight differences in time collection. Both views donít focus on the bet as the fundamental unit in poker -- one bet at a time... one big bet an hour... one small bet as the big blind.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A bet looks so simple and whole when you toss it into a pot, but winning poker comes from cobbling together many pieces of bets from all the hands you play, so that (in this example) you come up with a win rate of one complete big bet each hour.

See also Blind Bargains and Defending the Blinds and more articles on playing the blinds.