Small Blind Strategy: Attacking the Big Blind

18 days ago - written by Toby Wainwright
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It should be common knowledge these days that the small blind is the hardest seat to play from on the table. We always have to act first post-flop, meaning we get the least information to act on and whilst we are forced to put in half a big blind, we still don’t get great pot odds against an open raise.

However, quite often in tournaments, action will fold around to us, meaning that we have the chance to open the action against the big blind. There are some important things we need to consider, and if we follow the principles of this guide, we can improve our confidence in our small blind strategy.

Stealing

An essential part of tournament poker is stealing. It’s perfectly legal don’t worry, it just means that we are utilising the opportunity to take down the blinds and antes from our one remaining opponent.

Let’s go through some basic mathematics (as we all love that) to help us decide how often we can expect to be successful, and more importantly, make a profit.

Blinds are 500/1,000 with a 500-chip button ante. There are 2,000 chips in the pot, and we only need to get through one player to pick up the blinds and antes. We always want to raise to at least 3x the big blind, as we are out of position and don’t want to give the big blind too good of a price to continue. What we can do, however, is find out how often the big blind needs to fold for us to show an immediate profit.

Time for a mathematics lesson, don’t worry I hate it just as much as you do, so I’ll keep this short, sweet and easy(ish) to follow. With our initial 500 already invested in the small blind, we are risking 2,500 extra to win 4,500 (1,000 BB + 3,000 small blind + 500 ante). To work out how often they must fold, we simply do – our bet/(our bet + pot size). Giving us 2,500/(2,500 + 2,000) = 0.55. Express this as a percentage, and we find that if the big blind folds to our raise 56% of the time or more, we immediately make a profit. That means winning money without having to play post-flop!

Open Strategy

There are two ways to go about this. We can opt for a raise/fold only range, of course, meaning if we don’t want to raise our hand, we simply fold and give up our small blind. We can also opt to mix in a limping range, the upside of this being that if we’re confident in our post-flop play, we will get to utilize our skills and show a profit down the streets. The downside being that competent players in the big blind can attack our limps seeing them as weakness. This can put us in difficult spots as we’d be playing a bigger pot out of position and without the betting lead. To counter this, we can put some stronger hands into our limping range for balance to avoid being exploited.

Short Stack Play

In tournaments it’s also important to understand how to play short stacked, a big part of short stack playing learning both shoving and shove-calling ranges. We’ll go over shoving ranges now, and shove-calling ranges in a future big blind defence post.

We have 13 big blinds, assuming we are shoving somewhat close to optimally (as expressed in the below hand matrix), we can work out our expected profitability with another bit of quick maths:

Chance our opponent folds * equity when called = Fold Equity

 

Small Blind 13BB Shoving Range

 

As we love to see examples, let’s go ahead and assume the same blind levels as in the first example. We shove the above range for 13 big blinds, which is 64.70% of hands, and again assuming the big blind is calling optimally, his range will look something like:

 

BB Calling Range vs 13BB SB Shove

 

If we crunch the numbers on these ranges, we find ourselves at a slight mathematical disadvantage:


SB vs BB Equity

So, if we know that the big blind is calling with 43% of hands, that means they are folding 57% of hands. We also know that when we are called, we stand to have around 45% equity to win the pot. Referencing the above equation, we can calculate that we breakeven if our opponent folds 25% of the time.

0.57 (chance opponent folds) * 0.45 (equity when called) = 0.252

We know they’re folding over 50% of the time though, so you see how this is literally printing us money? That’s also assuming the big blind is calling optimally, most players do not call optimally and have much tighter ranges. There’s a little more to it than just those sums, but it gives you a good guideline and certainly an eye-opener as to how an aggressive approach pays off.

 

 

Recap

  • Check out your ranges using a hand matrix software such as Equilab, to help build opening and folding ranges.
  • Steal!
  • If you play with a HUD, pay attention to ‘Fold to Steal’, ‘PFR’ and ‘Aggression’ stats to help with your decisions.

 

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