If tournament poker is a game of situations, then it’s important to know how to play from the blinds. Poker comes down to three basic decisions: fold, call, or raise. When you’re facing a pre-flop raise, folding the blinds will usually be your best option. You have a significant disadvantage when you defend your blinds because you will be out of position for the remainder of the hand. However, there are times during the course of a tournament that you can pick up a key pot or two by making the right play from either the small or big blind.
Being first to act leaves you at a clear disadvantage. The reward of winning a small pot simply isn’t worth the risk of playing out of position. Later in a tournament, when the blinds are more significant and antes come into play, you should think twice about automatically folding your blinds to a raise because there are so many more chips at stake before the flop.
In fact, these are the times in a tournament when you need to think about playing back at your opponents from the blinds. As I mentioned, tournament poker is a game of situations and it’s critical that you evaluate your situation properly throughout the event. When appropriate, you may want to just flat-call a late position raise or even think about re-raising from the blinds.
I’ll never defend my blind with marginal cards against an early-position raiser no matter what point of the tournament I’m in. When a player raises in early position, it’s often safer to assume he has a real hand as opposed to thinking that he’s just trying to pick up the blinds. Against strong players, I usually let the blinds go because I know there’s going to be a battle. I’m looking to pick up pots, not pick a fight.
John Cernuto – As each player folds and action gets passed closer and closer to the button, the likelihood of a “blind-stealing” raise increases. These are the situations where you want to evaluate your opponent and determine if you think they’re vulnerable to a re-raise. If you sense weakness, this is a good time to play back in order to show that you’re not going to be bullied, and to build your stack.
Against a late-position raise from an opponent who I read as weak, I’m going to re-steal the blinds by putting in a re-raise. I don’t recommend re-raising all-in because it’s not wise to risk your tournament on a bluff. Instead, I think it’s best to determine your re-raise based on the size of both your own and your opponent’s chip stacks. You should put in enough of your stack to make it look like you’re pot-committed – even though you’re really not. Giving the appearance that you’re pot-committed displays your strength which makes it unlikely that your opponent will come back over the top unless he’s holding some kind of monster. By properly sizing your bet here, you can still get away from your hand and save yourself some chips by folding.
There are many factors that come into determining how you play online poker from the blinds in tournaments, including your opponent’s position at the table. Of course, that’s not the only factor to take into consideration.
Throughout a tournament, everyone develops a table image that impacts how people play against them. Depending on your opponent’s style of play − and how your opponent perceives you − you might be able to play back at someone who is trying to steal your blinds from late position. As mentioned earlier, this is especially useful later in tournaments when the blinds are much bigger and antes come into play.
You always have the option of re-stealing at anytime in a tournament, but this isn’t a move you should make without some careful consideration. For example, if you’re worried about your opponent calling your re-steal attempt, I recommend not even attempting this play unless you’re holding a hand no worse than A-9. Preferably, you’re looking for something even stronger.
If, on the other hand, you think your opponent will fold to your re-raise, the cards in your hand shouldn’t affect your decision to make this play one way or the other. I’m not suggesting that you re-raise blind, but rather, that you shouldn’t let a weak hand deter you from playing back at an opponent you’re sure is going fold under pressure. If I know my opponent is going to fold if I re-raise, but I look down at 7-2, I might second guess myself and not make the move.
This concept may be a little difficult to pull off when you are playing online, so try to employ the “ATC Rule.” If you have a good handle on the situation and a strong read on your opponent, then Any Two Cards will do the trick. Make sure that you don’t try this too frequently because the success of a re-steal partially depends on your table image. If another player sees you making this move frequently, they might be willing to gamble with a hand they would normally let go.
For example, if there’s a kamikaze out there who just keeps firing away, I’m going to wait until I have position on them to pick them off. These types of players are too willing to gamble to make re-stealing a profitable play for me. There’s nothing worse than making a move with Q-4 and being called by Q-J. You should primarily be looking to re-steal against a relatively tight player who knows how to release a hand.
Sometimes, calling from the blinds can be a better option than re-raising. Again, the decision comes back to the criteria of your opponent’s position, playing style, and perception of you. In a recent tournament, I had a very aggressive player who not only raised a lot of pots, but continued to fire away at every street. When I was in the big blind, he made his standard raise and I looked down at pocket Kings. I chose to just flat-call because I knew I could get at least one more bet out of him. In fact, I check-called him all the way to the river because I knew he was hyper-aggressive and would read my flat calls as a sign of weakness rather than strength.
Remember, you have three options when you’re in the blinds and your default option should be to fold. However, players who win tournaments do so because they made the right moves at the right times. If you decide to either re-steal or flat-call from the blinds, it should be based on your opponent’s position and playing style. If you can learn to read these situations correctly, both your chip stack and your tournament success will grow.