Poker Strategy With Gavin Griffin: Defending Your Soldiers
A Look At Playing Out Of The Blinds
Perhaps it’s because of the historical fiction book I’m reading about World War I. Perhaps it’s because I played some interesting hands last night that sort of outline my whole strategy in this situation. Perhaps it’s because I have some tournaments coming up in a couple of weeks and my strategy varies a bit when in tournaments. Either way, I woke up this morning sure of what I needed to write about in this week’s article: defending your blinds.
One of the most eye-opening things I realized when I opened my first PokerTracker database with the hands I had imported was how much I was losing from the blinds. With the exception of those who play exclusively heads up or three-handed, everyone loses money from the blinds. It’s something I knew intuitively but when the database showed me what it really looked like in those big red numbers in a sea of black ones, I knew it was something I needed to work on.
I was pretty sure that defending my blinds more (in no-limit) wasn’t the best plan. In limit, things are different. You are nearly required to defend your big blind against a single raise heads up. 3.5-to-1 is just too good of a price to pass up. It’s simplifying things a bit since you can definitely pass up that price if you play poorly postflop and can’t find a way to make money with the hands you play when cards are on the table, but for good players, defense is a must. In no-limit, however, with the massive reverse-implied odds inherent in the game and the increased positional advantage as the streets progress and the bets get bigger, it could be correct to fold a hand as good as K-J offsuit or Q-J offsuit to a small raise in a heads-up pot. The single biggest mistake I see people make in no-limit out of the blinds is defending too much. This happens in both multiway and heads-up pots and I think, even though you’re getting a better immediate price, that it’s usually much worse to defend too wide in a multiway pot than a heads-up pot for two reasons. First, it’s bad enough playing out of position against one player. To have to play out of position against multiple players on all streets is a disaster. Second, the average winning hand curve isn’t linear as the number of people in the hand increases, it’s exponential. Instead of turning your 10-5 suited into a pair of fives against only the preflop raiser and winning, you have to make trip fives or a straight against two or three players. When you add in the amount of money you lose when you make your bottom or middle pair because of how hard it is to play them out of position, defending your blinds with a wide range in a multiway or even heads-up pot in no-limit is a losing proposition.
So, if we’ve decided that we need to defend our blinds with a pretty tight range in no-limit, we now need to decide how we defend them aggressively or passively. Obviously, there are many different circumstances that arise during the course of a poker game, but the one that I’m going to look at now, for simplicity’s sake is one raise and no calls until it is our action in the blinds. I think, just like there are two different blinds in no-limit, there are two separate answers to this question. I defend my small blind aggressively and my big blind passively. Out of the small blind I will reraise with most of the hands I’ll play when there has been a raise and no calls. I like to do this because I get to build a bigger pot with what is probably the best hand, to reduce the stack-to-pot ratio, making my hand easier to play postflop, and it has the added benefit of often making the hand heads-up when it could have been multiway. There are some disadvantages of course. You’ve made the effective stakes bigger when out of position, something you’d generally prefer to do when in position. You have also defined your range more, making it easier for your opponent to play against you.
Out of the big blind, I play a different strategy in heads-up pots. I call preflop with my entire continuing range. Perhaps it’s because I’m too lazy to come up with an unexploitable three-betting range out of the big blind when playing 200 blinds deep or more, or perhaps because it’s impossible to do so. Mostly, I do it because it allows me to call with a wider range, to check-raise the flop with a wider range when my opponent’s range is at its weakest, and it gets me more flop check-throughs than my opponents because of the fact that they know my check-raising range can include hands like overpairs as well as draws, top pair, etcetera.
I think this has been an effective and simple strategy for me defending my blinds. Since I no longer play online and can’t gather hard data on whether that is true or not, it’s difficult to know for sure. I have to rely on that old fashioned gut feeling and that’s something I can defend easily. ♠
Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG
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