Playing Blind-vs-Blind - AVP Strategy

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AVP resident pro Benton Blakeman goes over his suggested strategy for playing in blind-vs-blind situations.

Today I'd like to touch on a subject that most people don't think about too often. We all know that we are forced to pay blinds once a round. What we aren't used to, though, is playing blind-vs-blind when the action folds around to us. In live games, most of us are used to just "chopping" the blinds and moving on. But with so much online poker action in Nevada now, I thought it would be good to discuss the best methods of playing blind-vs-blind, since we aren't as familiar with that scenario.

Let’s begin with play from the small blind. It seems simple on the surface — you already have half a bet in, and you're only against one player, so you should complete the bet and see the flop. Well, yes, and no.

When playing from the small blind, you should adopt a raise-or-fold strategy. Limping is not profitable and will only lead to playing a hand out of position without initiative, which are two things we should try to avoid. Our hand range should vary based on how wide our opponent defends in blind-vs-blind battles. The more liberally they defend, the tighter our opening range should be. The tighter they defend, the wider our range should be. With that said, a "chart" against a standard player would have me raising any ace, any king, any two suited cards, any connectors, any one-gappers down to 6-4, most two-gappers down to 7-4, and any pairs.

While this is a wide range, history has proven through my several million hands played online that this results in a fold by our opponents more than half of the time. The rest of the time, we play a pot with initiative. Overall, this will give us a better chance of profiting from the small blind when playing blind-vs-blind than just limping in and seeing a flop.

Playing post-flop when called is pretty straightforward. You should be continuation-betting a high frequency and expecting a lot of folds. The big difference is that the small-blind-vs-big-blind steal should be a low-variance play that adds to your bottom line. Because of this, you shouldn't be running too many multi-barrel bluffs. So, when your opponent calls your C-bet, I'd highly recommend shutting down your bluffs on the turn and check-folding. Of course, if you actually flopped a hand, then feel free to bet the turn and river for value.

Now that we've covered small-blind play, let's move along and talk about playing from the big blind in blind-vs-blind battles.

Most people don't realize it, but playing in blind-vs-blind battles from the big blind is one of the most profitable spots in poker. The reason is that we are playing in position against only one opponent who has a random hand. Sure, we have a random hand as well, but with position (and hopefully initiative), which makes this a recipe for success!

There are three possible scenarios when in the big blind: 1) the small blind folds and we win, 2) the small blind calls, leaving us the option to check or raise, or 3) the small blind raises, which leaves us in the spot of calling, three-betting, or folding. We don't have to discuss the first option, so let’s jump right in to the second one.

When the small blind just calls, giving us the option of checking or raising from the big blind, we should be raising a range that's similar to our opening raising range from the small blind that I spoke about several paragraphs ago. This will lead to a lot of folds by the small blind, but more important, it will lead to a lot of calls by them in which they just check flops that they miss and fold to our continuation-bets. The only hands that I would check back preflop after the small blind just calls are hands at the very bottom of my range that are all but hopeless (like 7-2 off-suit, 9-3 off-suit, J-2 off-suit, etc.).

The last scenario is when the small blind open-raises in a blind-vs-blind battle. Once again, this is very player-dependent, but I'll speak assuming we're against a random player with standard betting stats and patterns. When the small blind open-raises and we are in the big blind, we should be three-betting a fair amount of the time. The reason is that they are likely open-raising a much wider range than normal, and also will be folding a large percentage of those hands to a three-bet. I would advocate three-betting pairs 9-9+, any pair below 9-9 that you would be willing to get all in preflop with against a loose enough opponent, any suited-face-card hand that you're OK folding to a four-bet (e.g., K-5 suited, J-6 suited), suited two-gappers, and most A-x hands. In other words, this is a good spot to three-bet hands that have blockers to your opponent having a good hand, as well as hands that play OK post-flop but aren't strong enough to call a raise.

I would opt to call in position with hands that play well post-flop but aren't good enough to three-bet and then call a reraise if we get four-bet. Hands like this might include K-J off-suit, A-10 off-suit, K-Q suited, 8-7 suited, J-9 suited, etc. When I decide to call, I would also be planning on calling a lot of flops, including flops where I just flop overcards. This will allow me to float and often win hands on the turn by sheer aggression when our opponent checks or makes a weak bet that we can raise and represent a strong hand. The range of hands that I would fold preflop to the small blind’s raise is the same range of hands that I would check behind if the small blind just called preflop.

As you can see by reading this, aggression is definitely key when playing in blind-vs-blind battles. Solid play can turn a profit in these spots, but well-timed, aggressive play can really add to your bottom line when multi-tabling online.

Good luck in these spots, and as always, please leave any questions or comments in the forum thread.

This discussion continues in our AVP Forum. Please click HERE to join in and read more!

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  1. Just curious if any of you Nevadans who play cash games online (or any other players playing on non Nevada sites) have tried employing this blind vs blind strategy that I wrote about and how it has worked?

  2. You say that your typical raising range from the small blind includes any two suited cards. Does the cards being suited really add very much value? If you are going to raise with a hand like 2-5 suited why not raise with any two cards?

  3. @Krusherlaw

    I am going to give maybe one reason not to raise with any two cards. You must avoid obvious patterns. If you raise with any two cards here, eventually the guy on your left is going to figure out that when you are heads up preflop you are stealing. Not good when out of position!

    I have picked up on similar patterns in my online games. For example, some guys ALWAYS raise the button in the situation when everyone folds around to them preflop. I make a note of who these guys are, because I know that the big majority of the time they are raising with nothing. If am in one of the blinds, and one of these guys bets in this situation, I will three bet them if I have anything at all. And these guys then fold way more than half the time! But, of course, I won't three bet them ALL the time because I don't want them to figure out that I ALWAYS push back . . . .

    Curious to see what Benton says.

  4. great article Benton. Very few people play the SB or BB this way which is what makes your suggestions so profitable when you are playing against them in either spot :wink:

    The only thought I have is a generic one for all. Since most of you will encounter this situation during tournaments (since you don't play online and most live players chop the blinds), make sure you are aware of stack sizes when you employ these strategies. Don't get caught pricing yourself in where stacks are too short. try to execute in a fashion where your opponent is stuck with the fold or all in decision while you are risking much less while putting them in an awkard spot. If you are 3betting or 4betting be very aware of your stack to pot ratio preflop and how it will look after the flop if they flat call. It's all about putting in your opponent in awkward spots.

    But that is a next level thought... great read Benton. I realize I need to be more aggressive in these spots and will do so.

    oh and to add a little math... two unpaired cards only improve to a pair or better about a third of the time (though they do pick up draws, etc.). THat's why aggression is good against a wider range as without the initiative your opponents are more inclined to check/fold when they miss (which will happen a lot).

  5. Aside from raising a ton from late position playing a lot of hands from the BB when the SB raises is one of the biggest changes I made when playing 6max online.

    There is no other situation where you get to play in position against such a weak range where your opponent usually just wants to give up. I like flatting BB vs SB more than any other time.

    I know how I learned how to play out of the BB. From playing out of the SB. Its an absolutely miserable experience against decent players.

  6. Another great article Benton. I try this every now and then but not often enough. I will attempt to be more aware of my cards and the stack sizes when I'm in this situation in the future and try and log how it works out.

  7. @BentonBlakeman

    I do this quite often both online and live -- particularly where I have classified the person on my left as tight passive. The small blind steal works very well, definitely plus ev. Being aggressive heads-up preflop out of the small and big blinds (ie., if the small blind simply called) has the added advantage, I think, that folks in late position on your right see your aggression and are more afraid to try to steal from you, and thus you get to play more blinds!

    I have noticed one, minor negative side effect of this aggressive small blind play. It happens sometimes in the hand immediately following a successful steal out of the small blind. So now I am on the button, and everyone folds around to me. Unless I have a legitamate hand, I am now leary of trying to steal -- because it looks like a pattern of trying to steal. And if I just limp, that looks weak. So I think I then fold more often on the button than I otherwise would. A personal problem, I think. Oh well.

  8. @BentonBlakeman

    I usually play my standard heads-up strategy if it ends up blind-on-blind, close to the one in Harrington on Hold'em: Volume II, which does work fairly well. I'm curious about the differences, though - do you consider that blind-on-blind is similar to HU, or does the existence of the other players change the dynamics?

  9. Sorry for the slow responses all. I'm right in the middle of a move and have been very busy with movers, cleaners, realtors, etc.

    Krusherlaw- LocalDude helped me out here. I will say that you can eliminate some of the trash suited cards from your range until you're very comfortable opening completely up.

    LocalDude- that's exactly how you should be taking advantage of aggro players like myself who typically abuse late position. As long as you three bet these late pos players not too often then you shouldn't have to be worried about them starting to four bet light to counter. Per your second post- don't worry about them three betting you. Raise that button! Most players aren't paying attention as much as you think they are.

    Vook- great comments about tourneys. I was speaking strictly about online cash games bit couldn't agree more with your tourney thoughts.

    TheJacob- I like flatting in position when the sb raises too. And I do it pretty darn wide. Playing post flop in position can be fun!

    Jess- keep it up. Let's see some aggression!

    KingOfWrong- I actually think sb v bb is not like heads up. Obviously it mirrors it in the fact that it's one vs one, but in heads up players are looking for excises to play pots whereas in blind battles I find most players are looking to fold and move on to the next hand

    Thanks everyone for replying and getting this discussion going. Great responses and I'm happy to see that it was a helpful article.

  10. I attempted to apply this theory to both my live tourney and cash game play Friday night, with little success. I was playing in a satellite tourney with a VERY fast structure and just was not able to push anyone off a hand. A lot of loose calls and/or raises with me out of the tourney at the beginning of level 4 (10 min levels with the antes starting at leve 3). There were even fewer opportunities in the cash game as I was not getting any cards and any time I did or when I attempted to make something happen, either someone would come over the top and/or I would completely miss the flop or get rivered. A continuation of my Vegas trip, apparently. lol I did play some online tourneys Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and this worked really well. I just think I need to be more comfortable doing it with bad cards live in order to get it to work.

  11. At least you tried. And this is something that is definitely more geared towards online play rather than live.