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Blind vs. Blind

The recent trend

by Barry Tanenbaum |  Published: Feb 18, 2011


It has been a decade since I chopped blinds in a serious game. I wrote about many of the reasons in a column several years ago (“Should You Chop?” Card Player, July 2, 2004; available online at There are many things I have regretted over that period of time, but the decision not to chop is not one of them.
With online poker becoming more common during that period, far more players have had experiences playing blind vs. blind, and it is natural that styles would change. I’m confused by the recent trend of extreme aggression by the small blind in blind-vs.-blind situations.
The small blind is at a huge disadvantage positionally, because he is out of position for all rounds of betting. Notice that this is not true when playing heads up; the small blind is on the button and acts first preflop, but then gets to act last during the other three rounds of betting.
So, we have a pot that is tiny, with only the blinds’ contributions. The small blind has contributed considerably less than half of that pot, and has terrible position. Does this sound to you like a recipe for mindless aggression, or even excessive but well-considered aggression? To me, it does not, but more and more small blinds are raising with virtually any two cards.
It used to be that small blinds would raise when they discovered that I did not chop, presumably to punish me for my attitude. But now, it seems more like an evolved style. I concede many of my small blinds (and my small blind is two chips in a two-chip/three-chip game), and I do not mind. If I must play out of position, I at least want reinforcements in terms of quality cards. But I seem to be in the minority.
Recently, I experienced a blind-vs.-blind sequence that is interesting anecdotally, and perhaps even educationally. A young blonde gentleman whom I had never seen before sat down on my right in a Bellagio $30-$60 limit hold’em game. He said almost nothing, and when he played, he put his chips in slowly and deliberately. He did say a few words to the dealer when he first sat down (something like, “I’ll post behind”), and I decided that his accent was likely Scandinavian. Let’s call him “Bjorn.”
Hand No. 1: After a few rounds in a lively game, everyone folded to Bjorn in the small blind. He raised. It is now my habit to call all raises from a small blind, since I am used to people making them on automatic pilot, so I called with the 5♣ 3♠.
The flop was 10♦ 4♠ 2♣, giving me an open-end straight draw. This seemed good enough to me to execute a standard plan of calling the flop and raising the turn, representing a very good hand and hoping the small blind has little or nothing, which is often the case. Yes, this gets expensive when it doesn’t work, but overall, it seems to show a nice profit.
Working on that plan, I called his flop bet, and the turn paired the 4. I was getting ready mentally to raise when he checked. This was unexpected, but I could not afford taking the time to think about it, as that could sow a seed of doubt in his mind, so I immediately bet. He folded.
I won the pot, which was nice, but from his previous play, I realized that he was good enough to use this against me in the future. He would check the turn with a good hand, expecting me to bet with nothing, hoping that he would fold again, and he would check-raise.
Hand No. 2: A couple of orbits later, everyone folded to Bjorn again. He raised from the small blind, and I called, this time with the Q♣ 5♣. We saw a flop of 9♥ 8♥ 7♣, which gave me little outside of an idiot-end gutshot and a backdoor-flush draw. Bjorn bet. I considered my options, realizing that this was a dangerous board, one on which I might be expected to have and bet draws. Therefore, Bjorn could perhaps call my action somewhat light in response to that possibility. Couple this with the fact that he could be expected to try to trap me later in the hand, and it seemed easiest just to fold my nothing hand. In any event, I could console myself with the thought that I was up one small bet in the two heads-up hands.
Hand No. 3: In spite of the fact that this was not a very tight table, Bjorn and I had a third opportunity to play the blinds. Not surprisingly, he raised. I called again, this time with the 10♠ 9♠. I was happy to see the flop come 10♥ 8♦ 3♣, but I had to decide how to proceed. I could raise his inevitable flop bet, wait to raise the turn, or hope to keep Bjorn betting by calling all the way. He already had checked and folded once, so, clearly, he would not bet nothing all the way, so I decided to raise the turn with my top pair, the same play that I would have made with my draw in Hand No. 1.
Bjorn bet, and I called. The turn was the 2♠, and he checked. OK, was he giving up again, or was this the trap? Given that my hand was so good, I had to bet it. Sure enough, he slowly and deliberately counted out 12 chips and raised. Now what? I gave some thought to reraising, but he was deliberately trapping me, and easily could have a better 10, or even an overpair. Just because he raised all the time, it did not mean that he couldn’t be dealt a hand. He also could have 9-9, A-8, or 7-7 and think that it was good, and that he had tricked me into betting with a weak hand. I called the raise.
The river paired the 8. Bjorn bet. I called. He proudly tabled the 10♣ 6♣, which seemed to constitute a raising hand these days. I was happy to accept the pot with my 9 kicker.
Conclusion: Bjorn was somewhat unlucky to run into a better hand when he flopped top pair heads up. On the other hand, I expected the trap, and would not have walked into it unarmed. But Bjorn may not have realized that I was aware enough to understand this.
But is raising from out of position in a nothing pot with 10-6 suited and other such hands really necessary? I think in the long run that players would do better to dial back their aggression a few notches in these blind-vs.-blind situations and be willing to call or even fold many of the hands with which they are now raising and driving.
But until things change, players in the big blind who do not chop must be prepared to deal with highly aggressive small blinds who charge ahead with any two cards, hoping to run over them. ♠

Barry Tanenbaum is the author of Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy, and collaborator on Limit Hold’em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies. Barry offers private lessons tailored to the individual student. Please see his website,, or write to him at