Cash game strategy: Battle of the blinds

The blinds are the worst places to be in any cash game, but it is possible to beat the worst seats at the table says Ross Jarvis

As you’re forced to invest money ­ and usually play the rest of the hand out of position ­the blinds are always going to be big losers for you over a significant sample of hands. However, all this changes when everyone folds and the hand is blind versus blind.

The dynamics are completely different, the aggression is amped up and there are several unique strategies you can employ to make sure you come out on top. Join us as we show you how to play from both positions and explain how to conquer all in the battle of the blinds.

Small blind versus big blind

From the small blind you’re at an obvious positional disadvantage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the upper hand. It’s important to know the tendencies of your opponent in the big blind, as this will dictate the range of hands you can open with.

Observe how often he defends his big blind, and if he is folding a lot you can raise a ton of hands looking to steal. This includes any A-x hand, K-x suited, all pairs, all suited connectors and all Broadway hands. At the lower levels there will be a lot of opponents who either fold the big blind too much or don’t put up any resistance postflop, allowing you to win the pot with a simple c-bet.

Once you move up in stakes though it can be a major leak to play too loose from the small blind against tough opponents. Good players will continually three-bet you in position or float your c-bets and make life very difficult.

The main way to combat these players is quite simple: tighten up. Often it’s better just to fold mediocre hands such as A-7, Q-9 and small pairs, whereas you’d be raising them all day against a poor player.

So should you just surrender versus a good big blind all the time then?

Definitely not, but you should pick your battles carefully and mix up your play. Occasionally this will mean playing mediocre hands far more aggressively preflop than you ordinarily would. For example, you raise 8-8 in the SB and get three-bet.

What now? Folding is too tight, while if you just call you’re going to end up check-folding the majority of flops. As long as there is an aggressive dynamic between the two of you, the optimum play is actually to four-bet small and call an all-in shove. Of course you’ll sometimes run into an overpair, but more often you’ll be in a race, catch your opponent five-bet bluffing or simply make him fold there and then.

Once your opponent sees you are capable of this he’ll probably resist playing so many pots with you in the future too.

Big blind versus small blind

Having a guaranteed positional advantage on the small blind is so important that you must exploit it to the extreme. You can do this preflop by three-betting a wider range than usual, both for value and as bluffs.

As we saw before it’s going to be tough for the small blind to profitably continue without picking up a strong hand themselves, meaning you’ll take down pot after pot when he is just attempting to steal. Make sure you keep up the pressure with your real hands too ­ if you have been three-betting enough you should expect to get some good value from them.

You must also punish any small blind that makes the mistake of limping into you. If your hand is even remotely playable (almost every hand except 7-2, 7-3 and so on falls into this category) raise it to 5BB and expect to get a fold much of the time. However, it’s actually even better for you if the small blind calls, as they’ve told you they don’t have a strong hand by limping. You should now look to continuation bet all flops with a high card in them, as your perceived range will hit these flops a lot harder than the small blind’s.

There are hands that play better by just calling though. These include decent hands such as A-T, K-Q, Q-J and so on, which would fold out all dominated hands if you three-bet with them. As you’re in position you also don’t have to hit the flop hard to give yourself a chance of winning a nice pot. Throw in a lot of floats whenever you have any sliver of equity (a gutshot, two overcards with backdoor draws and so on) while betting much of the time if it is checked to you on the turn. At the lower limits there won’t be too many opponents capable of a double-barrel bluff, so you can usually treat a turn check as what it looks like: weakness.

Exploiting a floater

Here’s a hand I played recently against a tricky reg, that shows how you can win a big pot from the small blind without a hand

Game: $1/$2 no-limit hold’em, six-max

UTG: FullDomination ($232.55)
Cutoff: XXzwiebackXX ($456)
Button: Fred85 ($474.38)
SB: MrStarch ($224)
BB: RCHLFRMFRNDS ($204.75)

Dealt to MrStarch: K-9♠

FullDomination folds
XXzwiebackXX folds
Fred85 folds
MrStarch raises to $5
RCHLFRMFRNDS calls

Against a good player K-9 is near the bottom of my opening range, but it will flop enough top-pair hands that it just merits the raise. When the villain flat-calls I can discount all of his premium A-x hands and big pairs, but he still has a wide range.

Flop: 6-A-3♣
MrStarch bets $8.50
RCHLFRMFRNDS calls $8.50

Tricky players will often float Ace-high flops light. They know opponents are unlikely to bluff at them twice, under the assumption that nobody folds a pair of Aces heads-up.

Turn: 7
MrStarch checks
RCHLFRMFRNDS bets $21.75
MrStarch raises to $66
RCHLFRMFRNDS folds
MrStarch wins $70.50

When I check the turn it is always with the intention of check-raising. The missed flush draw, combined with the lack of obvious two-pair hands on that board means it is very unlikely for the villain to have a strong hand unless he flopped a set of threes or sixes. Even if he has top pair it’s unlikely he has better than A-T as he would have three-bet preflop with these hands.

By raising the turn I represent a big hand that should fold out all of his bluffs ­ which comprise the bulk of his range ­ and even some genuine hands.


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