Playing in the Blinds Against Various Opponents

Author: Roger Fischel

Playing well in the blinds in hold'em is a skill that adds profit to your game.  Playing poorly, however, is a major source of costly leaks.  Like everything in poker, everything depends on everything.  Playing in the blinds is no different.  It is critical that you develop a strategy for defending your blinds that is in the Goldilocks range, not too loose and not too tight but just right.

Having a good read on your opponents to your immediate right is your jumping off point.  If they are loose, raise too much, play too many hands, then you can squeeze with a substantial 3-bet with any reasonable hand.  If they are rocks, betting only with premium hands then a squeeze is unlikely to push them out and a call is better when you hold a playable hand.  If they are solid players, then your best move may be to call with hands playable from middle position or better and fold others.  Let's look at some examples.

Playing against the Maniac

You are in the small blind and hold the QdJd.  The action folds to the cut-off, a loose-aggressive player with a VPIP of 57% and a PFR of 48%.  His VPIP/PFR is a bit under 85%.  This is an opponent who plays far too many hands and raises with abandon.  He is likely to attempt a steal from late position with any two cards.  He makes a bet of 3 times the big blind.  The button folds and the action is on you.  Against a random hand your QJs is about a 3:2 favorite and is, therefore, likely to be the best hand right now.  If you just call you get no additional information and, most certainly, you surrender any edge you may have on the flop.  A small raise is not likely to push your opponent off a reasonably good hand and, depending on whether or not he is apt to call any bet to see a flop in the hopes of getting lucky, it may not push him off a marginal hand either.  In this case the only hope of pushing this opponent off a hand is a substantial raise, somewhere between 9 and 12 times the big blind.  This raise will likely push the big blind off and isolate you against your loose opponent if he calls.  If he folds you will most likely scoop a small pot.  Of course, it is always good to remember that even a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while.  Your QJs will require reevaluation after the flop if it goes that far.

Against the Tight Opponent

Same situation, different opponent.  You are now up against an opponent with a VPIP of 14 and a PFR of 5.  His VPIP/PFR is just a bit over 35%.  Here you have a player who plays premium hands and doesn't raise with them very often.  He is the perfect candidate to attempt to steal the blinds.  But, you hold a playable hand, a 3:2 favorite against a random hand.  In this case, however, you must assume that your opponent has some kind of hand.  Playing too timidly here, however, may be costly in the long run.  If your opponent has an under pair to your two overcards you are even money.  If he holds Q-Q or J-J you are a 5:1 dog and if he holds an overpair you are a 4:1 dog.  An A-K or A-Q makes you about a 3.5:1 dog.  Because it is almost certain that your opponent is holding something better than just a random hand your defense must be a bit more cautious.  This is a case where a call is in order and if you hit the flop you can reevaluate then.  If you don't you are almost certain to be done with this hand.

Against the Solid Opponent

In the same situation again only this time your opponent demonstrates solid poker skills.  His VPIP is 18 and his PFR is 10 giving him a VPIP/PFR ration of 55%.  He plays more hands from late position and is a rock in early position.  He has shown a couple of bluffs earlier but generally does not advertise.  He won over 80% of showdown hands.  The guy is good.  He may be raising with a wider range of hands than the last opponent adding suited connectors from T-J to 7-6, hands where you are about a 2:1 favorite.  This is a situation where you have money in the pot and a good suited connector that likely dominates any suited connector he holds, is crushed by big pairs, and is a coin flip against underpairs.  Calling a raise to see a flop is a good strategy here.  There are a lot of hands that beat you but there are enough hands where you are favored.  Post-flop play is your best option here.  If you are going to raise (about 20% of the time) then a doubling of your opponent's raise is enough to gather information.  If he calls your raise you are likely good if you hit the flop.  If he re-raises in this spot you are almost certainly crushed, only able to beat a bluff.  If you are re-raised then muck your cards and wait for a better opportunity.

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About the Author

Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then.  Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold 'em as his game of choice.  He plays both limit and no-limit hold 'em regularly.  During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born.  Roger recommends online poker tracking software for improving one's game. He also offers a listing of online poker sites which welcome US players.