Sub-optimal blind versus blind play is a common leak among amateurs and professionals alike.
Players often neglect this part of their game because blind versus blind situations seem infrequent. But they probably happen a more often than you think.
In this article, we’ll discuss 5 tips for improving your blind versus blind strategy. We’ll look at what hands you should play preflop, and the effect those preflop ranges have on postflop play.
Let’s get started!
A quick word on chopping in live games
If you play low stakes live games (i.e., $1/$2–$2/$5), you may be better off avoiding blind versus blind play altogether by agreeing to chop the blinds preflop. Chopping the blinds allows you to avoid paying costly rake postflop, which can be upwards of 25% of the pot on the flop. Rake this high makes it difficult for either player to profit long-term.
But if you’re playing in higher stakes live games (i.e., $5/$5+), or games with a relatively low rake, you should say ‘no’ to chopping and prepare for a wide range battle.
Tip #1: Play a wide range of hands preflop
This is a pretty simple tip, which doesn’t require anything beyond memorizing two ranges: your small blind opening range, and your big blind versus small blind defending range. The latter range can be further broken down into two sub-ranges: hands you should call with, and hands you should 3-bet with. We’re not going to go into much detail about these sub ranges.
First, let’s take a look at what a small blind opening range looks like. Here is a hand matrix showing which hands the Upswing Lab recommends opening in this position:
That’s a lot of hands—47.51%, to be exact. There’s only one opponent remaining, and he or she can have any two cards. Moreover, most recreational players will over-fold their big blind versus a small blind open, so it’s important to capitalize on that by opening a large number of hands.
Editor’s note: There is also a strong case to be made for limping a wide range of hands–both strong and not-so-strong–from the small blind. This more complex strategy will be covered in a future article.
Now, determining which hands you should defend in the big blind versus a small blind open, and how to defend them, is a trickier process that is still debated today.
Assuming your opponent is opening a wide range like the one above, you should be defending the majority of hands. In fact, there’s an argument to be made for defending 100% of hands against weak opponents.
A good benchmark is defending–either by calling or 3-betting–about 70% of hands against a 3BB open. For reference, here’s the recommended big blind vs small blind open range from the Upswing Lab:
There are three reasons the player in the big blind can defend so wide:
- The small blind will be opening a wide range of hands.
- You’ve already invested a big blind into the pot, so you’ll be getting great odds.
- You’ll be in position postflop, so you will realize most of your equity (you will even over-realize with especially playable hands).
You’ll also want to 3-bet some of these hands. Exactly which of them is a matter of taste, but generally you should use a polarized range by default and against opponents who fold frequently to 3-bets. Versus loose opponents who frequently call 3-bets, it is better to use a linear range (aka merged range), which consists of only good and playable hands. Learn more about these two 3-betting strategies here.
Tip #2: Defend loosely postflop
When playing blind versus blind, postflop ranges are much wider than usual. This is because the preflop ranges are much wider, which means that fewer overpairs and fewer pairs with good kickers will be made on the flop. This has a couple of postflop implications.
Firstly, you should defend much wider against c-bets. This can take the form of weaker made hands, such as bottom pairs and ace-highs, or hands that can improve on later streets. For example, you may want to defend aggressively with hands that have backdoor equity, such as backdoor nut flush draws, or hands that have both a backdoor straight draw and a backdoor flush draw.
Secondly, when you flop top pair, you should call down most of the time. Top pair is a strong hand when flopped in early position, and even stronger when flopped blind versus blind. Of course, this is board-dependent—if the board runs out terribly for your top pair (e.g., all over cards or four-to-a-straight), you can make the fold. Just make sure you still have enough calling hands to avoid being exploited.
Let’s look at an example.
The blinds are $1/$2 and the action folds round to Thomas, who’s sitting in the small blind with a $200 stack. Thomas opens to $6, and Jamie, who is also sitting with $200, defends her big blind with 8♥ 7♥. The flop comes:
Thomas c-bets for $4 and Jamie calls. The turn is dealt:
The pot is now $20. Thomas bets $14.
Now, this is a spot where, if we’re in Jamie’s shoes, we would probably have to fold if Thomas was an early position opener. However, playing blind versus blind, folding opens us up to exploitation.
Jamie calls, and the river is dealt:
Thomas checks, and Jamie checks back. Thomas shows T♥ 8♣–a missed gutshot that would not be in Thomas’ range in earlier positions–and Jamie wins the pot.
Before moving onto the next tip, it’s important to note that ace high (and to a lesser extent, king high) has much more showdown value when blind versus blind than usual. This doesn’t mean you should always call multiple streets with ace high, or never use ace high hands as bluffs. It does, however, mean that you can often times call a bet with ace-high when the board texture is dry (such as 662 or K73), and include a few more ace-highs in your check-calling range.
Tip #3: Protect your weakest ranges by including some medium-to-strong hands
When you’re out of position and check, you need to include some decent hands to protect your checking range. Otherwise, an aggressive opponent will be able to exploit you easily by bluffing versus your unprotected range.
Whenever you check on the flop with a hand that can only call one or two streets, stop and think: “What hands would I call down with, here?” If the answer is none, then you need to consider checking some of the relatively strong hands you might have otherwise bet on the flop and turn.
Good candidates for checking to protect your range include:
- Top pairs with low kickers–think K3s on K-8-7. These hands will have trouble getting multiple streets of value by betting, so including them in your checking range is usually a good move.
- Strong pocket pairs just under top pair–like QQ on K-8-7. These hands are similar to weak top pairs in that they will struggle to extract multiple streets of value by betting.
- Top set–like KK on K-8-7. These hands block top pair (your opponents most likely calling hand) so you’re unlikely to get three streets of value.
Likewise, when in position, you should check back some hands that can call turn probes and/or improve on later streets. This prevents your opponent from exploiting you by probing and barreling on the turn and river.
Tip #4: Try utilizing a small c-bet size
When playing blind versus blind you can use a small c-bet size, around 33% of the pot, as your default bet size. This achieves two things:
- It puts the big blind in a tough spot with their marginal hands.
- It allows you to bet with a merged range.
On the flop, optimal betting ranges tend to be merged (i.e., they contain more medium-strength hands), since the equities of the small blind’s and big blind’s hands run closer. On the river, by contrast, betting ranges should generally be polarized, as aggressors will either have a value hand or a bluff. Betting smaller on the flop therefore makes sense, as it allows you to bet more often to better leverage a merged range.
This is particularly effective against recreational players who often fail to realize how much wider your range is, and so will tend to overfold on the flop. Using a small size takes advantage of this by making them fold hands that retain a fair amount of equity for only a small amount (this is called equity denial).
Now, traditional c-bet theory dictates a more polarized c-bet range, in that we bet our strong hands and bluffs, and check-call our medium-strength hands. If this is something you feel more comfortable doing, then by all means, keep on doing it.
But if you feel like developing a more sophisticated c-bet game, and don’t mind spending a bit of time in the lab, then try using this high-frequency small-size c-betting strategy. (This is something you can learn more about in the “Beyond Core” section of the Upswing Lab.)
Editor’s note: Equities run pretty close together on the flop when playing blind vs blind, so the flop bet size is almost irrelevant in theory because you can compensate for either size on the turn. This is an advanced concept covered in Fried Meulders’ new Blind vs Blind module in the Upswing Lab.
Tip #5: It’s okay to simplify your strategy!
Maximizing EV using a pure game theory optimal (GTO) approach means keeping track of and balancing lots of different ranges, which is very difficult to do. An alternative is using a simplified baseline strategy, which means sacrificing a bit of EV, but also means reducing the possibility of making costly mistakes.
One such simplification is either c-betting 100% of the time or checking 100% of the time, on certain flops–ones that are either very advantageous or disadvantageous for your range.
For example, you can bet small 100% of the time on rainbow or two-tone boards that are 9-high or better, which are favorable for the preflop raiser’s range, while checking 100% of the time on flops that are monotone or 8-high or lower, which are favorable for the caller’s range.
You can then make an exploitative adjustment against weaker players in the big blind by switching to 100% c-bet on the best monotone flops and the least connected lower flops (like 8-3-2). This is advisable if you are playing smaller stakes (e.g., live $1/$2).
Of course, the above simplification is just one suggestion. You should feel free to experiment and use your own. Just make sure they’re strategically sound.
There’s a lot to digest in this article, particularly with the last two tips. I’ll make it a bit easier for you and condense them all into a final simplified, catch-all tip: Leverage the width of blind versus blind ranges to your advantage by playing aggressively.
Keeping this in mind will go a long way to improving your big blind and small blind win rate.
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