Pre-flop Betting from the Blinds

Author: Roger Fischel

You are in the big blind at a limit hold 'em table and the pot is raised.  At this point your decision making process should kick in and be working at its peak as the action comes around to you.  You might be thinking.

Okay, I'm in the big blind.  UTG just called then a fold and another.  Two bets in the pot.  The next player in middle position raised, 4 bets.  Everyone else folds to me.  My choices: call one bet, re-raise 2 bets or fold.  The pot is offering 4:1 odds.  If I call the limper UTG will probably call making the implied odds 5:1.  I need, at the very least a 1 out of 6 chance (5:1) of winning the hand to make the call.  Do the cards I hold right now give me that chance, about 17%.  Of course, this all assumes that the original raiser has a hand and is not bluffing.  But this is limit hold 'em where bets generally mean what they say they mean.

Notice, I have not yet looked at my cards.  This thinking is not about the cards but it is about the pot and the odds the pot is offering.

Another situational thinking possibility.

Okay, I'm in the big blind.  The pot is folded to the hi-jack position who raises.  The next three opponents fold to me.  Now there are 3 bets in the pot and I need 1 more bet to call.  The pot is offering 3:1 odds.  Do I have a 1 in four chance to win the pot with the two cards I hold assuming that the raiser has a good hand?

It is also possible that there are a number of limpers into the pot.  Say that 5 players limped into the pot making the pot worth 6 bets when it comes to me.  If I have a 1 in 7 chance of winning the pot then a check is in order (that's around 14%) and almost any two cards are worth a call at this point.

In order to keep things simple the calculations in the above examples ignore the rake.  When the pot is very small the rake will have a significant impact on the odds offered by the pot.  When the pot is large, the rake has a minimal impact on the pot.

Odds from the small blind are calculated a bit differently.  The small blind is a forced bet of half a bet.  If the blinds are $2/$1 the BB is a full bet and the SB is a half bet.  Let's say there are 5 callers in a hand when the action comes to you. that's 6 bets in the pot because you must include the BB and the SB in the calculation.  Your call costs you $1 so to calculate the odds the pot is offering you, divide the size of the pot, in this case $7 by $1 and subtract 1 to get the odds for the small blind, in this case 6:1 or you need a 1 in 7 chance of winning to make the call.

Most folks play far too loose in the blinds, especially in the big blind.  Playing too loose involves the mistaken thinking that I already have money invested in the pot so why not see a flop.  This mistake will cost you money in the long run.

Another mistake that leads to playing far too many hands in the blinds is underestimating (or completely ignoring) the strength of a raiser's hand.  You cannot know what the raiser has but based on a reasonable selection process and the position of the raiser you should be able to put that raiser on a reasonable range of hands.  The earlier the position of the raiser the better, or tighter, that range will be.  Tied directly to the underestimation of your opponent's hand is the tendency to overestimate the value of your own hand.  Together, these two mistakes lead to the overall mistake of playing too many hands from the big blind because they encourage you to see a flop when you would fold the hand from any other position.  This mistake will cost you money in the long run.

When I am in the blinds I tighten up my already tight game.  I will not defend with just any two cards.  I need quality hands to call a raise in the BB.  That being said, around half the time I will speculate with hands like suited connectors as low as 77s.  When I am speculating, however, I am prepared to throw my hand into the muck if I don't hit the flop.  In the SB I am even tighter.  AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKo, AKs, AQs, AJs, and QKs are about the only hands I will play from the small blind.  I think of the small blind as part of the cost of doing business.

The last thing you should consider when entering a pot pre-flop from the blinds is your position.  You will be in terrible position for the remainder of the hand.  You are always first or second to act.  All other opponents in the pot act after you giving them a significant advantage in the hand.  This fact means you must assess the play of your opponent(s) who remain in the hand.  Are they loose, aggressive?  Loose, passive?  Tight, aggressive?  Tight, passive?  This means you must be observant even when you are not in a hand to get a feel for your opponents.  Loose players generally mean you should play a bit tighter but if they are loose, passive players they will likely fold under pressure.  Tight players allow you to loosen up you play a bit but be very careful of the tight, aggressive player.  Tight, passive players are most likely to fold under any pressure you exert.

Keep in mind the first law of poker.  Your profit comes from the mistakes your opponents make less the mistakes you make.  If your opponent makes fewer mistakes than you he will win money from you.  If you make fewer mistakes than your opponent then you will win money from him.  Also, keep in mind that even if you play perfectly and make absolutely no mistakes based on the hand you hold, you may still lose the hand but profits are not made and lost on individual hands, rather they are made and lost over time when probabilities are given a chance to kick in.

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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.  ver 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.