The text below is based on Episode 3 of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing Poker coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or by searching “Upswing Level Up” on your preferred podcast platform.
The way you defend your big blind is absolutely critical in No-Limit Hold’em poker.
Playing too loose or tight from the big blind can be disastrous to your poker win rate. Let’s hear what Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Mike Brady have to say about big blind defense:
Defending From The Big Blind
Episode 3 of the Level Up Podcast goes through the following aspects of big blind play:
- Adjusting vs. different raise sizes
- Adjusting vs. different positions
- Adjusting for the rake
- Adjusting vs. different stack sizes
- Constructing a 3-betting range
- Defending in multiway pots
Adjusting Vs. Different Raise Sizes
You have to account for your opponents’ bet size when determining what hands to defend in the big blind. Ideally, you’ll want to defend tighter vs. bigger sizing, while you can call with a wider range against smaller sizings.
According to Blackwood:
Both our immediate and our implied odds decrease versus a larger size, and therefore we’ve got to tighten up a little bit. On the flip side, when our opponents use a smaller open, like a min-raise for example, our defending range needs to get wider as result. Otherwise our opponent is exploiting us and making us fold, when we’re getting a really good price to continue.
Adjusting Vs. Different Positions
The table position of the opponent that raises also affects your big blind strategy. Early position players open with a tighter range, while late position players open with a considerably wider range.
From the big blind, you’ll want to tighten up your calling range versus early-position opponents. You can call wider against late positions like the cutoff and button.
For instance, in a 200NL or 500NL online game, you can defend against the button with hands like:
- 5♠ 2♠
- 4♠ 3♠
- Any suited Tx hand
- K♥ 6♦
Against the hijack in the same game, however, all of those hands should be folded. The bottom of your calling range in that scenario looks like:
- 7♠ 4♠
- 8♠ 5♠
- K♥ T♦
Adjusting For Rake
Rake is a very important consideration for your big blind strategy. Many players, especially at the online microstakes and low stakes live games, probably don’t think about rake as much as they should when constructing their big blind defense strategy.
As Blackwood puts it:
If we’re playing $5/$10 where’s there no rake, but we pay time every 30 minutes, our defending range is MUCH wider than in a $5/$5 game where the casino takes a drop. This is a big leak that people have defending the big blind way too wide in high-rake environments. And these marginal, bottom-of-range calls preflop now become losing calls because of the rake.
Not a lot of people realize this, but the rake of microstakes online games like 10NL and 25NL is ridiculously high, and our defending range is just so much tighter compared to 200NL or 500NL.
Adjusting For Effective Stack Sizes
Blackwood recommends not widening your big blind defense range against deeper stacks. He does, however, recommend tightening your BB calling range against stacks of less than 100 big blinds:
A lot of people watching this might think we defend the big blind wider as we’re deeper, but I actually don’t get wider. Our immediate odds are better, but our reverse implied odds (i.e. how much we can expect to lose in the hand) get worse.
Against shallower stacks, you can still defend the same suited hands you would defend against deeper stacks. Offsuited hands like A3o and K8o become folds though.
Constructing A 3-Betting Range From The Big Blind
Many players don’t 3-bet enough from the big blind, especially when out-of-position (OOP) against the opponent. It’s easy to put some of the following hands in your calling range, and call 100% of the time. You should 3-bet these combos at some frequency, however:
- 6♠ 5♠
- A♠ 4♠
- A♥ 8♥
- Q♥ 9♥ (more often vs. later positions)
Three-betting hands like these give you board coverage on a number of runouts, and also generate fold equity preflop. These hands are low-frequency three-bets versus an early-position raise. As our opponent’s range gets wider, we three-bet them more and more frequently.
According to Brady:
That reminds me of something I heard Nick Petrangelo say in his recent Smash Live Cash course on Upswing. He talked about how you should consider the offsuit combinations of hands that are in your opponent’s opening range that will fold versus a three-bet. And how valuable it is to get them to fold those hands, when you hold a hand that would be dominated going to the flop.
When facing a small blind open, you’re in position (IP) against your opponent when you’re in the big blind. Your three-betting range gets very wide in this configuration, and you can three-bet hands like the following (at a low frequency):
- K♠ 6♦
- T♠ 2♠
- A♥ 2♣
- T♥ 7♠
The small blind opens very wide against the big blind, and as a result will have to fold quite a lot when the big blind three-bets.
Defending In Multiway Pots
Your big blind defending range should tighten drastically when facing two or more opponents in a single-raised pot. Consider the following hands that you would normally call in the big blind against one opponent, but become folds when in a multiway pot:
It’s easy to think “I’m getting a great price” in a multiway pot and call with hands like A2 offsuit, 83 offsuit, and other junky hands. While it might seem like you have odds to call, the odds actually aren’t good enough multiway to justify defending these hands.
Note On Defending The Big Blind In Tournaments
Keep in mind that in tournaments, you don’t have to account for rake, and most levels in tournaments have an ante added to the preflop pot. As a result, you can defend wider in general in tournaments when compared to cash games.
About The Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast
This lesson on 3-betting marks episode #3 of the new Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast.
Hosted by cash game specialist Gary Blackwood and Upswing Poker VP Mike Brady, Level-Up aims to help players improve their skills and make more money in episodes that are less than 30 minutes.
You can suggest new topics for the podcast on Twitter using the hashtag #uplevelup.
If you missed the previous episodes, which covered check-raising and 3-betting, scroll down on this page to find them.