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Playing the Blinds in Poker

Playing The Blinds In No Limit Cash Games

Playing the small and big blinds in no limit cash games can be a very difficult aspect of the game.  Even the strongest no limit players expect to play their blinds at a negative expectation money over the long run, but winning players know how to limit their loss and take advantage of winning opportunities as they present themselves.

Playing The Small Blind

Regardless of the temping odds you are offered by only having to complete half a bet, consider the disadvantages of playing no limit poker from the worst possible position and fold the absolute worst hands automatically.  If the pot remains un-raised, you are afforded tremendous odds to play any two connecting cards or “reasonable hands”.  When two limpers enter the pot you gain 7 to 1 odds to see a flop, and those odds justify playing most hands but the absolute worst holdings like 7 2 or 8 3 off-suit.

 If you miss a flop in this position with cards like 3 5 or 4 6 it is easy to let your hand go, but when you do hit a flop with these types of hands the implied odds can be very big in deep stack cash games and you can bring some creative plays to the table to maximize value.  Check raising, value betting, or  stop and go plays work well for extracting the most value out of a big flop and your hand will remain fairly well disguised to most players.

Playing The Big Blind Heads Up

If action is folded around to just you and the big blind, I will limp almost any two cards (again, except the absolute worst) because I am being offered automatic 3 to 1 odds in a heads up situation with a well disguised hand. 

Players in the big blind are trained to raise when I make this play, and for this reason I will also limp some very big hands from time to time to off set the times I am pushed off my hand.  The idea here is that if I only lose half a big blind 3 times in a row from limping with bad cards, I can make 4-6 big blinds for every time I make this play with a big hand and win the pot by making a big limp re-raise on the fourth time when I have a strong hand.  In a perfect situation, I may even get my opponent to overplay his hand with the worst of it and I may take all my opponents whole stack!

I sometimes will raise both weak and strong hands so my play doesn’t become too repetitive, but I’m personally seeing great success with limping into heads up blind on blind situations.

Playing The Small Blind After The Flop

After the flop is turned I will often lead out even if I missed outright, this play works especially well against tight passive opponents that will give me credit for any possible hand on the board.  I am also prepared to check the hand down all the way to the river with a good hand just to show that I am capable of limping with a good hand, mixing up my play, and keeping the other players guessing about my hand ranges.

Remember this key point – Pay absolute attention to how the big blind plays his cards in different situations, because you are likely to play a lot of hands against this opponent and knowledge is valuable.  Adjust your play to your opponents tendencies, you can lead all streets to a river fold against some opponents and fire multiple barrels or make an ace high call on the river to catch a bluff against others.  Take constant notes on every player, especially noting how they played their hands from the blinds.

Playing The Big Blind

Weak players often complain about hating to play their big blinds in no limit cash games, I love playing out of the big blind!

The player on the big blind in no limit hold’em is last to act before the flop.  The big blind cannot fall prey to a squeeze play pre-flop, having the final option to raise, call, or check to see a flop.  The big blind can raise the pot if several limpers have entered, and often a strong raise from the big blind is given a certain amount of credibility from other players at the table. The disadvantage of playing the big blind of course is that he will be first to act after the flop, making it tougher to play an aggressive style. 

If you are a player capable of picking up on player patterns or have strong reading skills, you are in a unique position to re-steal from players who you think are raising from late position and stealing blinds too often.  When you have a solid read on these players and the courage to follow through with it, this is a great spot to make a big raise and put pressure on your opponent to fold.  By doing so you will gain a lot of information on how they play their hands.  Did they fold quickly? This is representative of an outright steal attempt.  Did they go to the tank and think for awhile? Most likely you induced a player to lay down a strong hand, and a great sign that this player is respecting your raises.  Did this player put in a third raise or flat call your bet?  Is is likely this player has a strong hand and you should proceed with extreme caution. 

Playing The Big Blind After The Flop

If you are playing heads up against the small blind, bet 2/3 of the pot every time the small blind checks.  Regardless of your hand this will be a profitable play in the long run, as long as you have the sense to fold when your opponent successfully traps you and executes a check raise or stop and go play.

If you bet here and your opponent calls, you will have two choices if the small blind again checks the action to you on the turn.  Has your hand improved? Is your opponent and his hand likely to have improved? You have bought yourself a free drawing card if you choose to check the action behind you, and effectively shut the door on your opponent and his opportunity to check/raise you.  If however you feel your opponent did not improve their hand you have the choice of firing a second barrel or giving up and waiting for a showdown.  Your hand either improved on the river or you will go to show down with the worst of it.

Interestingly if you have bet a missed flop and turned an unlikely card to make your hand, a “value check” on the turn can be a very profitable play to try to rope the small blind into a river bluff or disguise the fact that you are holding the nuts. 

If the river card is turned and you still feel you have the best hand, you have to decide how to gain the most value from the pot.  A bet of ˝ the pot might look weak enough to induce a call or even encourage a big bluff, but a bet of around the pot size can also be disguised as a blocking bluff to get your opponent to call with the second best hand.  When in doubt how much to bet, 2/3 the pot is never a bad play regardless of whether it was a bluff or the nuts.

As you can see, playing from the blinds is a difficult and complicated aspect of no limit cash games.  While I have given you some morsels of information to study here, this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding all the concepts of playing profitably.  If you want to be a winning player, always explore your own game and look for common mistakes or “leaks” in your play.  Discuss critical hands with other players, read poker books, and be a participating member of a close knit poker community to constantly evolve and improve your play.


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