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Playing From the Small Blind

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Jul 01, 2008


The small blind is the hardest position to play well. If you decide to play the hand and don't end up all in, you will be out of position for the rest of the hand. It is that factor that should be foremost in your thoughts when deciding on the correct course of action preflop.

When everyone folds to you in the small blind, the most important variable to consider is the big blind, and how he plays. For the purposes of this situation, I divide players into several different groups, all of which require a different strategy to maximise your expectation. If you decide to play the hand, you should raise. There is no need to let your opponents see the flop for free with what is a random hand.

1. Good, aggressive player

Luckily, these types of players are few and far between. They will use position well. The problem with raising their blinds a lot is that they will realise what you are doing and either call or three-bet you with a wide range of hands, and they will use their position after the flop to make things difficult for you. One trick that they will use is to float you on the flop (which means calling a bet with next to nothing), hoping to take the pot away from you on the turn if you check. All of this means that it is difficult for you to win the pot unless you flop big or decide to bluff big. The key is to remember that they have the positional advantage, and that usually cannot be overcome. Choose your battles wisely! I would usually stick to raising with good hands against a player like this, with the occasional steal.

2. Tight but not particularly aggressive

In some ways, this is the perfect opponent to have when you are in the small blind. You can plunder his big blind at will. You have two choices in terms of strategy when dealing with this type of opponent: (1) Keep your stealing to a reasonable amount, which will mean that they won't be forced to adapt. This can sometimes be the best option, especially when there are plenty of other weak players at the table whom you are more eager to get into pots with. (2) Raise with such frequency that you force your opponent to adjust against you. This can be particularly effective when dealing with a player who suffers from bad tilt issues, for obvious reasons. He will usually adjust from calling too much preflop, but folding on the flop. This is an even better situation for you, as you are now often winning both the blinds and his call preflop.

In either case, I would raise all of my good hands and plenty of bad ones.

3. Passive-loose player

These guys tend to be very bad players, and they nearly always overplay every pair they get or flop. They will call your raises and make it hard for you to win the hand unless you improve. It's difficult to bluff these guys, as they will call you so light on the flop. Some of these players, despite their passivity, will automatically fire on the flop if you check. Some will just check behind if they have nothing. So, you need to find out which type of player it is, and then fire more continuation-bets against the aggressive ones, or else risk a lot of pots that you should have won. Against the more passive types, you can simply check it down and hope your high card holds up.

It's important to try to prey on your opponent's weaknesses and not try to make him make the type of mistake he rarely makes. So, don't try to get loose players to fold too much. The key to your strategy is to raise with good hands that can flop big, and then to extract the most from your opponent. As a player mentioned to me recently, it's OK to lose three big blinds every so often if you stack your opponent from time to time.

4. Aggressive-loose player

The same conditions apply from the player above, but it's harder to get into a pot with these players. They will reraise you a lot if you raise from the small blind, and call and raise your flop bet quite lightly. The key to dealing with players like this is to be aware that their range is usually very wide, and that if you give them rope, they will happily hang themselves. Often, the best tactic is to use their own aggression against them. A typical hand would be to raise with K-Q offsuit, call a reraise preflop, and then check-call yourself all in by the turn on a king- or queen-high board, or check-raise all in on a J-10 board. Note that this is the exact opposite of what I would advise against a normal player. It is very rare that calling a reraise preflop with K-Q is the best option, but against someone with a wide range and who will automatically stack themselves post-flop, it is a good line.

Here, you need to find a happy medium. You want to see flops against these players, but you don't want to pay too much to do so. Remember that after the flop, there is a very good chance that they have very little, so it can often be best to check-call them rather than bet yourself, especially on the river. They will call bets with all types of draws that you didn't even realise were there!

For all types of players, remember that the bigger the stack, the better the implied odds. But also remember that the converse is true: The bigger the stacks, the better the implied odds that your opponent has, as well. And since you are out of position, this should be foremost in your mind. You also need to keep in mind that the deeper the stack, the more hands you can play. So, the correct range for you at any point should take into account the relative stacks, your opponent's skill level, and his level of aggression.

When it isn't folded to you, you need to decide whether to play the hand or not. I think it's very important to take into account the number of players and their nature before deciding whether to play a hand or not. These two extreme examples explain what I mean:

Everyone folds to one loose-passive player, who limps from the button. Here, I would either call or raise with any ace or king. It's very likely that you have the best hand already, and his passive nature means that it is very likely to get to a showdown. I certainly would never fold A-2 offsuit in this scenario. However, I probably would fold a hand like 6-5 offsuit. With this hand, you won't make any money by flopping a pair, and against one player, it's unlikely that you will get him to pay you off should you get lucky with a straight or similar-strength hand.

However, take the next example, in which four players of varying looseness limp in and it's your action from the small blind. Here, I would definitely fold A-2 offsuit; you have basically no chance of getting to a showdown with ace high, and even if you did, you wouldn't win it. But because of the number of players, you are quite likely to win some money if you do happen to flop a big hand. (An ace on the flop with A-2 is not a big hand; there is too great a chance that someone has a higher ace). So, I would play hands like 6-5 offsuit and 7-6 suited.

When you have a good but not great hand in the small blind (like tens or A-Q offsuit), remember that if there is a high number of limpers, checking is an option, as well as raising. It can be very hard to play these hands when out of position, so for inexperienced players, it can be wise to just call and play a small pot with a disguised holding. If there is a small number of limpers, raising is mandatory.

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.