Last time we talked about blind vs blind battles, the focus was on playing as the big blind versus a raise.
This time, we’ll be talking about how to approach playing as the big blind versus an open-limp by the small blind.
Considering how often a player in the small blind should limp (in theory) when the action folds to them, it's absolutely crucial for you understand how to approach this spot.
If you play low-mid stakes live poker games in which blind vs blind play is uncommon, the advice you're about to read won't apply directly to your games, but it will help you improve your skills in other wide-range spots (such as button vs big blind battles).
We will cover both preflop and flop strategy, plus how you should adjust depending on your opponent's skill level.
When the small blind limps, your raising strategy as the big blind should depend on the type of player you're up against. For simplicity, let's divide all possible players into two groups:
- Players with a pretty well thought-out and balanced limping strategy.
- Weak players who limp with a random range.
Let’s first discuss how to play against the tougher player who uses a balanced limping strategy.
Vs a Balanced Limper
Against such a strategy the optimal response is to raise with a range of around 40-45% of the hands. The specific range of hands should look something like this:
Regarding the raise size, you should make it 3.5-4 big blinds. Using this size gives you a good price to steal the pot preflop while also putting a large portion of the small blind’s range is a tough spot, needing ~37% equity to call.
When your raise induces a 3-bet from a balanced opponent, you should look to continue with a range that looks something like this:
Your 3-bet defending range should look something like this:
Interesting side note: This is very similar to the range with which you would continue after raising on the button and facing a 3-bet from one of the blinds. This happens because the ranges and positions are very similar.
Vs a Weak Limper
Now, when playing against a weaker player, you can profitably raise significantly wider than 45%. The exact percentage will depend on how wide the player in the small blind is limping and how much he’s limp-folding and limp-3-betting.
It’s near-impossible to give an exact raising frequency that will be universally correct, but it will almost always be above 50% of hands.
Because we are up against a weaker player, we want to play bigger pots in which their mistakes will be magnified. For this reason, we will raise to about 4.5 big blinds. We use this size because their continuing range will likely be the same as the one they would play against a 3.5 big blind raise. If you are not comfortable raising to this size, 3.5 big blind is good too.
To have a visual representation, you can raise all the hands in red and pink from the table below:
I have good news for you: you probably already know how to handle postflop play after raising over a small blind limp!
When you're playing against good players, because the ranges and positions are extremely similar to button versus big blind situations, the postflop strategy will be very similar.
When it comes to flop strategy in single raised pots, there are multiple ways to go about it:
- You can take a more solver-influenced style of betting a smaller amount (generally 1/3rd of the pot) with a high frequency (aka a merged strategy).
- You can take a more polarized approach using a bigger bet size (2/3 to 3/4 of the pot).
Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong. Both can be right depending on which hands you choose to bet and which boards you encounter.
Unless you own a solver and are willing to invest a lot of time studying the myriad of different board textures to find out how to create a well-built high frequency continuation bet strategy*, I would suggest you try to learn the polarized approach. It’s also much more beginner friendly.
*If you want to learn how to build solver-like c-betting strategies without doing loads of solver work, you need to watch Fried "mynameiskarl" Meulders' c-betting videos in the Upswing Lab training course. His videos are basically a shortcut to a high-level c-betting strategy. Get instant access!
In order to create a balanced polarized strategy, you have to divide the hands into 4 categories:
- Category 1: Strong hands (top pair strong kicker and better)
- Category 2: Medium-strength hands (some Ace-highs up to top pair medium kicker)
- Category 3: Semi-bluffs (draws and strong backdoor draws)
- Category 4: Give-ups (trash hands)
You will be balancing your category 1 hands (value bets) with your category 3 hands (bluffs). Meanwhile, your category 2 hands (medium-strength hands) will protect your category 4 hands (trash hands) from getting bluffed off the pot and not realize their equity share of the pot. (This strategy will sound familiar if you've checked out the $7 Postflop Game Plan.)
If you want to learn more about c-betting, Ryan Fee wrote an amazing, in-depth article on this subject here.
When playing against a weaker player, I suggest that you don’t use a balanced approach when c-betting. You should typically start by:
- Bluffing with more robust draws (gutshots or better) for a small size (1/3 to 1/2 pot).
- Value betting with a wider range than normal (starting from middle pairs and better hands) for a bigger size, around 2/3rds of the pot.
This approach should yield the highest profits against your average recreational player.
You can see now that playing against a player with a solid limping strategy from the small blind is nothing to fear. It might look like something completely new, but it’s actually a situation that will feel very familiar because of its similarities to button vs big blind situations.
Remember to shift your strategy when playing against a weaker player as they are much more likely to make big mistakes postflop than more studied players.
All-righty then! That’s a wrap on raising over limps in blind vs blind situations.
Drop any questions or feedback in the comment section below. Til’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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