poker blinds strategy

4 Skills That Will Help You Win More Money From the Blinds

Your strategy from the blinds will have a huge impact on your winnings.

It’s an indisputable fact that you will lose in the long-term from the blinds. After all, you are forced to commit money to the pot regardless of the hand you’re dealt. When you add in the blinds’ positional disadvantage and account for the rake, it’s no wonder that even the strongest players cannot turn a profit from the blinds over an adequate sample of hands.

Consequently, your strategy from the blinds needs to capitalize on edges — even marginal ones — wherever you can find them in order to minimize losses.

If you make the following 4 strategic adjustments, you will improve your play the blinds and boost your overall win-rate.

#1: Steal more frequently from the small blind

By open-raising a wider range of hands, you can steal dead money in the pot more frequently. This is, without question, the simplest way to mitigate losses from the small blind. 

Stealing at a high percentage exploits a widespread tendency among players to over-fold their big blind. In taking down the pot pre-flop, you not only steal the big blind’s 1BB, but also the 0.5BB you committed from the small blind.

When attempting to steal from the small blind, it’s usually best to use a larger raise size than from other positions. Otherwise, you give your opponent too good of a price on a call—something you need to prevent given that you are out of position with a relatively wide opening range.

A proper raise size is approximately 3BB. Any smaller and the big blind has incentive to call.

Stealing is even more profitable when antes are in play. Depending upon the size of the ante, anywhere from 1bb to 1.5bb is added to the pot, which almost doubles its size.

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It is important to note that stealing wide is an exploitative strategy, and so you must change your game plan if the player in the big blind correctly adjusts. If it turns out that they are aggressive — 3-betting frequently and/or taking pots from you post-flop — you need to reduce your steal attempts and save them for a less savvy opponent.

If you want to bolster your strategy from the small blind, check out 6 Steps to Stop Bleeding Chips from the Small Blind.

#2: Defend your Big Blind More Often

As mentioned above, many players fold too often from the big blind. Don’t be one of those players.

Given the price you get on a call, you can defend a fairly wide range of hands from the big blind — hands with less equity than you’d need when calling from other positions. However, you also need to be prepared to fight for pots in favorable post-flop situations. If you play too passively and/or poorly, you’ll end up burning more money than if you had just folded pre-flop.

This isn’t to say you should fight relentlessly to win every pot, but you need to pair your pre-flop adjustment with assertive post-flop play. You can’t expect to win more money by simply defending more often from the big blind.

Let’s look at an example to get a better idea of how much wider your calling range from the big blind can be compared with other positions. Suppose the player in the LoJack open-raises to 2.5BB with this range:

lj open raise range poker blinds

LJ open-raise range as recommended by the Upswing Lab

If the action folded to you on the button, you would need to call 2.5BB to play for a pot of 6.5BB if the blinds fold. This comes out to ~38% equity needed to profitably call (2.5/6.5). You also have to play slightly tighter to account for the times one of the blinds squeezes.

A good continuing range from considering these factors would be:

button range vs lojack open raise

BTN range vs LJ open-raise as recommended by the Upswing Lab

Compare this to a good continuing range if the action folded to you in the big blind, where you need just 27% equity to justify a call (1.5/5.5) and are closing the action:

poker blinds defend range vs lojack raise

BB defend range vs LJ open-raise as recommended by the Upswing Lab

That 11 percentage point difference in required equity allows you to play nearly twice as many hands from the big blind (26.7%) than you could from the button (15.8%).

By looking at the equity distribution matrix below—a chart that shows how much equity each hand in a range has versus another range—you can see that even the weakest hands in this big blind calling range are well above the 27% threshold we calculated above:

poker blinds equity distribution

86s is the weakest hand in this BB calling range, but it still has 10% more equity than is required to profitably call. Having this equity cushion, so to speak, serves as compensation for the equity we will fail to realize when playing out of position post-flop against a range that is stronger than ours.

For more details on how to optimally defend your big blind, check out Optimal Big Blind Defense: Tournaments Vs Cash Games

#3: Avoid Donk-Betting from the Blinds

Donk-betting — when the pre-flop caller leads into the pre-flop aggressor — is a strategy that many weaker players use when they’ve connected with the board in some way and want to bet their hand for value and/or protection.

There are a couple of big problems with donk-betting:

Problem 1: The pre-flop caller has a range disadvantage and donk-betting makes it worse

The pre-flop caller’s range does not contain the strongest hands (AA, KK, QQ, AK, etc) because they would have 3-bet pre-flop with them. The aggressor’s range contains all of these hands.

In other words, when a player donk-bets they are betting with a weaker range into a stronger one—not a good idea.

That said, there are some board textures where the pre-flop caller can have more nutted combos than the pre-flop aggressor. For example:

200NL 6-Max Cash Game. 100bb Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt Xx Xx in the BB
LJ raises to 2.5bb. 4 folds. Hero calls.

Flop (5.5bb) T♠ 8 6♣

Consider the LJ open-raise and BB calling ranges from earlier. On this T-8-6 flop, Hero has more nutted combos in his range than his opponent in the LJ.

In particular, Hero has 4 combos of the nut straight with 97s, along with 4 two-pair combos (2 combos of T8s and 2 combos of 68s with removal from the board), while none of these hands are in the LJ’s open-raising range. Moreover, even though the LJ has top set combos in his range while we do not (3 combos of TT), it is fair to say that we have a nut advantage on this board.

Having a nut advantage does not justify donk-betting, however, because a nut advantage does not translate to an overall range advantage in terms of equity. As the below simulation shows (circled in green), the LJ is still a slight favorite on this board texture despite having fewer nutted combos:

poker blinds range simulation

4.33% of the LJ’s range is two pair or better (circled in blue). 6.06% of BB’s range is two pair or better (circled in red).

Since these nutted combos make up such a small fraction of your entire range in the BB, you do not have an overall range advantage. So, while it may at first seem like donk-betting on this board is acceptable given how many nutted hands are in our range, it is ultimately unjustifiable when you consider the total equities of both ranges.

Problem 2: Donk-betting is nearly impossible to balance effectively

A consequence of leading out with value hands is that your checking range becomes weaker. Trying to balance multiple ranges when out of position is very difficult and likely to be executed incorrectly.

By checking all of your value hands instead, you ensure that your checking range is adequately protected, and prevent your opponent from exploitatively applying pressure when you check to them.

However, one downside to this is that your checking range can become too strong on certain board textures, which may allow an opponent to exploit you by rarely betting on the flop. To mitigate this problem, you can use an over-betting strategy on favorable runouts across multiple streets.

Another reason to check your entire range instead of donk-betting is to give as little information to your opponent(s) as possible. When out of position, you are at an informational disadvantage; the players acting behind you can gain knowledge about your range based on your actions and act accordingly. If you donk-bet, your range narrows as it now contains value hands and a proportionate number of bluffs. By checking, you don’t disclose any information about the strength of your range.

Want to delve deeper into donk-betting? Check out Should You Ever Donk-Bet On the Flop?

#4: Check-Raise Aggressively When Possible

A well-structured check-raising range will help you win more pots and avoid playing too passively post-flop.

Check-raising has a couple notable advantages over check-calling:

  1. Check-raising forces folds from bluffs and marginal hands, and punishes your opponent if they are c-betting with too wide of a range.
  2. Check-raising forces the majority of your opponent’s value-bet range to be played as bluff-catchers.

The latter is because your check-raising range will include some value hands that are ahead of your opponent’s own value-betting range. If you then select bluffs that can outdraw your opponent’s bluff-catchers on later streets, your range plays very effectively.

The most important thing to note about check-raising is that it should be done on board textures where you can have a sufficient number of strong value hands. This in turn allows you to include enough bluffs to balance out your range and to check-raise aggressively.

Check-raising is particularly effective on boards where there are a variety of possible turn cards which will kill our action, or when our opponent’s flop-betting range contains many bluffs that can outdraw us on later streets.

Learn How to Check-Raise Like a High Stakes Juggernaut here.

Wrap-Up

We’ve covered a lot here, so let’s recap the 4 key adjustments to improve your play from the blinds:

  1. Steal as much as you can from the SB to exploit players that over-fold from the BB
  2. Defend your BB more frequently, as you will be getting the pot odds to do so
  3. Avoid donk-betting from the blinds
  4. Check-raise aggressively on board textures that are favor your range

That’s it for me today. Thanks for reading!

Note: Ready to take your poker game to the next level? Learn expert strategies from our world-class team of coaches when you join the Upswing Lab. Learn more now!

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