Ellie Biessek: Stealing the blinds and exploiting the defenders

Stealing blinds is essential in tournaments, says Grosvenor Pro Ellie Biessek, but you should be selective about the hands you steal with and the players you try to steal from

Everybody knows about stealing blinds but some people steal too often while others don’t steal enough. The same goes with defending blinds, some people defend too wide while others let their blinds go without a fight. Many players find it difficult to find the right balance and, especially in a tournament like the Grosvenor 25/25 series, many players try to defend their blinds too wide. It is a common mistake that I see regularly. If you are observant enough and apply the right strategy, exploiting this weakness can be a gold mine.

First of all, you can’t expect your steals to be profitable without playing well postflop. You have position and you have the initiative but that may not be enough. When you open-raise a hand from late position and the big blind calls, the dynamics of the hand are different than if you open-raise from early position.

Secondly, the frequency of your steals will also play an important part. If you are raising every time it is folded to your button, you are not giving yourself the right image. Have some folding range! Also, each ‘blind defender’ will have their own traits, some people will be calling stations while others will decide to bluff you off of any low flop. Observations you have made on the defender earlier on in the game will help you to make the right decisions versus that particular player now.

Defenders

I frequently see players trying to defend their blind with hands like K-6o or 2-3o. Needless to say that is a recipe for disaster, but there are some misconceptions about what is the best way to exploit that weakness.

If you are in late position and you know that the blinds are very likely to put up a fight it might be tempting to start playing any hand, since he will play any two as well, but you have the positional advantage. That’s true if you have exceptional postflop skills of a world-class poker player. But, since most of us are not on that level, I would advise a different approach.

Stealing with any two cards works better against tight players who don’t defend their blinds unless they have a strong hand. Against people who won’t fold I like to make my raises bigger, but be more selective about my raising hand, and I’m not raising with any two.

In this sort of tournament I generally make my raises bigger as people are still calling too wide, unless I judge the situation differently and adjust accordingly. The best hands versus these players are hands that flop well, like suited connectors or Broadway cards. Raise your good hands for value. The best exploitative strategy postflop against this type of player is a simple ‘ABC game’, that is, bet if you think you have the best hand and check if you don’t. Of course if you have noticed any other tendencies you need to take them into account too.

It’s a steal

This is an example of a hand I played recently in a Grosvenor 25/25 series event.

Blinds are 200/400(a50) and I have J♣-T♣ in the cutoff. Everybody is still deep, having more or less the starting stack of 25k or above. Everybody folds to me so I raise to 1.2k. If this was a tournament like the GUKPT Main Event I would probably just make it 1k or even 800, but here I know I’ll get customers for a higher price, so let’s charge them for the ride. The button folds but the small blind and big blind call.

The flop is a T-9-5 rainbow and both players check to me. Normally people expect the aggressor to c-bet whether they like the flop or not so there is even more reason to bet when I hit top pair. Only the big blind calls. The turn is the 6 bringing a flush draw and completing specifically 7-8 for a bottom-end straight.

There’s no need to panic and I still think that I have the best hand but now the question is whether to bet or not to bet. Against an orthodox defender I would choose the betting route as protect your hand from the flush draw. But, versus an opponent who is likely to three-bet me regardless of whether he has me beat or just has a gutshot, I opt for the safer route and check back. The river is a nasty 7 putting three hearts and four to a straight down. The big blind checks and I happily check back to win the pot.

I can’t give enough examples to cover all varieties of opponents out there but I can tell you what criteria you should be on the lookout for.

LOOSE OR TIGHT?

You should be more willing to attempt the steal if the player is tight than if he is loose. This is the key factor to consider, but don’t disregard the others.

TRICKY OR STRAIGHT FORWARD?

You should generally try to steal less if you’re up against a tricky opponent who has a tendency to be bluff-happy.

GOOD OR BAD?

Generally speaking you should try to steal less from a good player than from a bad one. Having said that, good players can be straightforward and bad players can be tricky. In this case it is better to try stealing from a good straightforward rather than from the tricky bad one.

AGGRESSIVE OR PASSIVE?

Against an aggressive player, you should be more selective about the hand you steal with, raising with Broadway cards, low pocket pairs or suited connectors rather than big-little hands like Q-6 or K-2. The reason for this is that against an aggressive opponent that thinks you’re stealing, you can get rewarded if you hit a monster. But, against a passive player, he’s just going to call you down when he has something so you won’t realise the implied odds that you need in order to play the speculative ones.


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