The focus of this article is playing from the small blind as the preflop aggressor. We’ll start by briefly covering preflop strategy, after which we will dive deeper and study flop play.
There are three approaches you can take from the small blind when the action folds to you:
- Raise-only. You either raise or fold.
- Mixed. You raise some hands, limp others, and fold the rest.
- Limp-only. You limp most hands and fold the rest.
For a long time, it was believed that limping in the Small Blind was a sub-optimal play. However, with the development of poker software capable of approximating unexploitable preflop strategies (such as Poker Snowie and Monker Solver), poker players have discovered that limping is actually a pretty big part of the optimal preflop strategy for the small blind.
However, implementing a mixed strategy is only advisable when playing 1000NL or higher. The rake is simply too high to make limping viable at lower limits. On top of that, there appears to be very little to gain by taking this approach.
If you play 1000NL or higher, a good mixed strategy from the small blind will involve playing around 60% of hands in non-ante games. Alternatively, you may prefer to keep it simple and use a raise-only strategy. The difference in expected value (EV) between a mixed and raise-only strategy is marginal, so you won’t see a big win-rate increase by “upgrading” to the more complex strategy.
If you use a raise-only strategy, a good range with which to raise is somewhere around 40-45% of hands. The hands highlighted in red on this chart represent about 42% of hands:
Red = Raise, Pink = Raise or Fold Depending on Opponent, Blue = Fold
Moving forward, solvers also taught poker players an important lesson about games with antes: it is best to play a limp-only strategy in them. Exactly how wide of a range you should limp is based on how much dead money is in the pot, which changes depending on the size of the ante and the number of players who posted one.
The more dead money, the more you will want to limp. In certain situations, the best approach is to limp 95% of all possible hands. Comment below the article if you know of any such situations.
Flop Strategy After Raising from the Small Blind
The best postflop strategy changes depending on the preflop approach you use. Since many of you reading this are not playing 1000NL or higher (yet), we will focus on postflop strategy when using a raise-only preflop approach from the small blind.
This is a spot in which you are forced to play out of position with a high stack-to-pot ratio — one of the toughest spots in No-Limit Hold’em. For this reason, it is not easy to build solid ranges that are tough to exploit.
Continuation Bet (C-Bet) Strategy
If you plug a small blind vs big blind spot into a solver, you will see that there are almost no clear patterns in its strategy. This is an indicator of just how challenging this out of position situation is.
For example, take a look at how PioSolver’s c-betting strategy on a Q♦ T♠ 8♦ board:
In order to remain unexploitable, PioSolver uses a mixed strategy with literally every hand in the range. This isn’t very practical for humans like us, so let’s try to simplify this strategy.
A solid way of doing this is by using a polarized c-bet strategy containing:
- Strong hands that can bet 3 streets for value on most runouts (J9, QQ, TT, 88, QT, AA, etc).
- Draws with which to semi-bluff (flush draws, KJ, J7s, etc).
- Some strong backdoor hands (like A♦ 7x or K♠ 6♠).
As always, it’s smart to check with some strong hands (like KQ) and some draws (like A♦ 5♦) in order to protect all of your ranges on different run outs.
Here is what this strategy will look like:
For those of you that worry that this simplified strategy might be too exploitable, worry not. It retained 96% of the optimal strategy’s EV (optimal strategy EV was 33.2 and the simplified strategy generated 31.85).
Versus Float Bet Strategy
Note: A float bet is when your opponent takes a stab at the pot after you’ve checked to him as the preflop raiser.
Because the checking range was built in an intuitive way — only including medium-strength hands, some draws, and super weak hands — you will now have easy decisions against all bet sizes.
Take a look at how intuitive the defense strategy is when the big blind float bets for 66% of the pot:
The only hands that take a hit are the worst bottom pairs, which are folded without a backdoor flush draw (like 8♠ 7♠), and A9, which is only called when it has a backdoor flush draw to go with it.
Another thing to notice here is the absence of a check-raising range. We can see that even though this range lacks one, it retained the vast majority of the optimal strategy’s EV (96%). If you were worried about having to build a check-raise range here, worry no more!
There are many c-bet strategies that can be used when playing as the small blind raiser. The more complex the strategy, the higher EV it will generate in theory.
However, the problem with complex strategies is how difficult they are to execute. If you mess up the execution, you will lose far more EV than what you would have gained with perfect execution. For this reason, you will need to find your own balance between complexity and practicality.
That’s all for today! As usual, if you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below and I will do my best to answer.
One last thing before you go: take the quiz below to test your skills and find out if you should enroll in the Upswing Lab training course.