Blinds, Antes & The Button | Poker Rules
Many of the world's most popular poker variants use a system involving a button, small blind, and big blind.
The blinds function as obligatory bets that rotate around the table, shifting one player clockwise after each hand. The button travels around the table in this same manner, always one position to the right of the small blind.
Some poker games also include antes, another mandatory bet that goes into the pot before each hand.
Here's a look at how the button, blinds, and antes operate in a poker game.
The Small Blind and Big Blind
The small blind and big blind form the backbone of the game in many poker variants. Texas Hold'em and Omaha, the two most popular poker games in the world, use the blinds system, and it's important to know exactly how these mandatory bets operate.
In games that use blinds, each hand begins with the big blind placed one position to the direct left of the small blind. Players in these positions must put in predetermined betting amounts before each hand.
For poker cash games, these amounts are generally noted in the listing for the game. For example, a $2/$5 cash game at a live casino means the small blind is $2, and the big blind is $5.
In Texas Hold'em and Omaha games, the preflop betting round begins with the player directly to the left of the big blind starting the action. This player (in the position known as "under the gun")has the opportunity to either call the amount of the big blind, raise to a higher amount, or fold.
The action then moves around the table clockwise, with the small blind and big blind as the last two players to act preflop. All subsequent betting rounds require the player in the small blind to start the action. If the small blind is out of the hand, the next live player to the left starts the action.
A call must match the amount of the big blind. As such, high-stakes games have a larger big blind amount than lower stakes games.
The small blind amount is generally around half of the big blind, but can be larger or smaller. The small blind is always directly to the right of the big blind.
After each hand, the blinds shift one spot clockwise, and a new hand begins.
The button is a position at the poker table that's always one spot to the right of the small blind. The button, also known as the "dealer button", gets the advantage of acting last in all postflop betting rounds.
The player in the button position can be identified by a round disk that goes around the table. This disk sometimes says "button" or "dealer", and follows the blinds around the table.
Players in the button position are said to be "on the button". Other positions at the poker table include the cutoff, one spot to the button's left, and the hijack, one more position to the left.
In all hands using the blinds system, the blinds are positioned to the left of the button. After each hand, the button, small blind, and big blind all shift one player to the left.
Antes are mandatory bets that are sometimes posted by all players at the table, or by the big blind player in some formats.
For example, a $2/$5 cash game with a $1 ante requires each player at the table to put $1 in the pot before each hand. This is in addition to the blinds, meaning pots in games that use an ante start off bigger than games without an ante.
Many poker tournaments use a big blind ante system, where only the player in the big blind posts the ante before each hand. At the World Series of Poker Main Event, for example, a big blind ante is added to the structure from Level 2 through the end of the tournament.
The blinds and antes for Level 2 are displayed as 100/200/200, meaning the small blind is 100 chips, the big blind is 200, and the big blind ante is 200.
The Blinds: Cash Games vs. Tournaments
The blinds in a cash game stay the same throughout. Sitting down at a $2/$5 No-Limit Hold'em cash games means the blinds will be $2 and $5 for as long as you sit in that game.
Poker tournaments, however, use a system where the blind amounts increase at regular intervals. In the WSOP Main Event, for example, Level 1 starts with the blinds at 100/200. Each level lasts two hours, and after Level 1 is over, Level 2 is played.
Level 2 adds a big blind ante to the structure, and is played at 100/200/200. Level 3 sees the blinds and antes increase to 200/300/300, and the increases continue every time a new level begins.
The straddle is generally only seen in cash games. A player putting on a straddle makes a blind bet, before the cards are dealt, that's at least double the big blind amount. The straddle takes the place of the big blind, as all subsequent players must call or raise based on the straddle amount.
For example, in a $2/$5 cash game, let's say the under-the-gun player straddles for $10. All subsequent players must either call the $10, or raise to a bigger amount, to stay in the hand.
If the under-the-gun player straddles, they no longer act first in the preflop betting round. The player to the direct left starts the betting round, and the player who straddled is now last to act.
Some poker rooms allow other positions, aside from the under-the-gun player, to straddle. If the button player straddles, for instance, the under-the-gun player begins the preflop betting round, as per usual.
When the action gets to the button player, that player is skipped, and all other players have a chance to act. The button only gets to act after all other players, and in general, any time a player straddles, they're the last to act preflop.
For a more in-depth look at straddles, check out this primer.