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Shoving From the Small Blind

A good play or not?

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


In the past year, I’ve played thousands of six-handed hyperturbo sit-and-go tournaments (HTs), in which you start with 500 in chips and the limits go up every three minutes. The top two players win roughly 2.5 times their buy-in, while third place gets his money back. Obviously, there is a lot of luck involved in each individual HT, but in the long run, the better players clearly come out ahead.

There’s one player in particular who I believe is elite — we’ll call him “Jonah” — and since he puts in so many hours, he is nearly impossible to avoid. In fact, if he has any fault, it’s that he plays so many HTs simultaneously that his play sometimes becomes too formulaic. Perhaps his most formulaic play is moving all in preflop from the small blind every time the action is folded to him. I was never a fan of making that play (or any other play) indiscriminately, and intuitively I think it shouldn’t be the correct strategy 100 percent of the time. But, I respect his play tremendously; plus, he’s a substantial, consistent winner, so now I’ll decide whether or not it’s a formula that’s worth adding to my own arsenal.

I’m not going to focus too much on the times that either the small blind or big blind is short-stacked, because then it’s almost always the correct play. The lone exception occurs when you are short-stacked in the small blind with a really bad hand, and if you fold, some other short-stacked player will be forced to go all in before you are forced to do so. If his elimination would propel you to second or third place, it’s sometimes better to take your chances, hoping that he gets eliminated, rather than go all in against a big blind who will almost definitely call, and who probably has you beat badly. But other than that specific situation, it’s generally correct to either shove from the small blind with a short stack or put a short-stacked big blind all in. The potential upside of accumulating chips and/or eliminating a player, even with what might be the worst hand, is worth the risk.

So, instead, let’s focus on the times that both blinds have some chips. As an example, I’ll focus on the very first hand of an HT. Both the small blind and the big blind have 500, the blinds are 25-50 with a 10 ante, and when it’s folded to Jonah in the small blind, he’ll shove 100 percent of the time. Since there is not much point in focusing on the times that he has a real hand, because he obviously should go all in then, we’ll give him a hand such as 8-4 offsuit, with which he shoves regardless.

Is That a Good Play or Not?

There are three possible results:
1. If Jonah wins uncontested, he’ll bring his stack up to 600.
2. If he gets called and wins, he’ll be up to 1,040.
3. If he gets called and loses, he’s eliminated.

So, the question becomes, is the combination of those results better than folding and being left with 465?

It depends strictly on how often the big blind would call. Obviously, the tighter the big blind, the better the play becomes. If the big blind calls with only 10 percent of his hands, this play will clearly work in Jonah’s favor, even if he loses 80 percent of those confrontations. That means Jonah will be eliminated only 8 percent of the time, will double up 2 percent of the time, and will climb to 600 the other 90 percent of the time.

Having a big blind who calls only 10 percent of the time in this HT situation might sound unusually tight, but a surprising number of players fit that description. Many players, even in an HT that might last only 10 minutes, want some bang for their buck.

Getting eliminated in the first hand would leave them with a more negative feeling than the positive feeling they might get from doubling up. Also, while some players are liberal with their raising requirements, they refuse to call an all-in bet without a premium hand. So, even in that spot, they would fold a hand such as Q-10. Against such players, Jonah is clearly correct to move in, and the vast majority of the time, he’ll make a profit of 100.

That is a more significant jump than it may first appear. Not only is he increasing his stack by 20 percent, he’ll be the chip leader, meaning that no one can eliminate him in a single confrontation. Furthermore, since he will inherit the button the next hand, he’ll really be in the driver’s seat. He can afford to be patient or he can remain aggressive, and usually the action in front of him will dictate which is the better way to go.

And Against a Looser Big Blind?

Now the play becomes more dicey. Let’s say the big blind calls 40 percent of the time, and wins 70 percent of them. That means Jonah will now be eliminated 28 percent of the time. He’ll double up 12 percent of the time, and will climb to 600 60 percent of the time. At this point, I think moving in with 8-4 is a losing proposition — not by much, but enough that I’d prefer folding and being left with 465. That’s definitely a matter of opinion. I simply feel that, as a good player, he has a decent enough chance of folding and then going on to win, such that he doesn’t need to take the 28 percent risk of being out in the first hand.

So, what would I do differently if I were Jonah? I’d continue to move in indiscriminately against unknown and tighter opponents. Against looser opponents, or those who have loosened their requirements by knowing that he’s pushing any two cards, I would lay down the bottom 20 percent of hands. It seems like I’m talking about this hypothetically, but in fact, that is what I do. So, that makes me a little more predictable than Jonah, but I also take comfort in knowing that I’m not going to bust myself with a trash hand like 7-2 or 6-3.

What do I do against Jonah? As I alluded to, I’ve loosened my calling requirements dramatically, such that I call about 40 percent of the time. I think I have a slight edge in those situations, and I need to take full advantage of any opportunity to eliminate such a dangerous player. On the other hand, it forces me to make all-in calls with hands like Q-10 and 3-3. In an ideal world, I’d rather not have to risk my HT life on such marginal holdings. So, in that sense, he has clearly taken me out of my comfort zone.

Is that alone enough to make his play worthwhile? I guess the answer is that I’m still not sure. He’ll continue to play his way, and I’ll continue to play mine. And that’s perfectly fine. As I said in my last column, if we all played the same way, poker would be a pretty boring game. Spade Suit

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find other articles of his at