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A Lesson in Blind Defense

How important is it to defend your blinds? You hear the pros talk about it, the 2+2 crowd goes on and on about it, and you'll read a poker blog or two espousing the virtues of blind defense. So...how much should you worry about it? How much of your concentration and effort at the tables should go into defending your posted bet while you sit in the big blind?

If you ask me, the answer's pretty simple.

Are you playing fixed limit hold'em? If so, then blind defense is pretty important. Losing half a big bet each time you post and fold in the big blind can quickly impact an otherwise solid performance at the tables. Depending on the speed of the game and the number of players seated at the table, the loss of 0.5 BB every orbit can quickly add up and turn a winning session into a losing session.

However, I'm not playing limit hold'em right now. In terms of no-limit hold'em, how important is blind defense? Well, it's not. Sure, you can bring up all your meta-game talk and bring up the importance of holding your own at the $5/$10 NL tables. But I'm talking about lower stakes NL hold'em. How much does it hurt me financially to give up my big blind when the button or small blind steals?

NL hold'em is a game won by winning big pots and not the most pots. Tell me: would you rather:

  • Perform ten straight blind steals from the button and get stacked on your eleventh attempt?
  • Fold to ten straight blind steals while seated in the big blind and then stacking your opponent on his/her eleventh steal attempt?

It's that reasoning that's led me to view blind steals as just part of the game. When I'm on the button, I steal the blinds all the time. So why is it that I should feel threatened when another player does the same to me? The fact is that I don't feel threatened at all. How do I come out ahead in the blind defense/blind steal battle that rages at each and every table I play?

Generally, I profit in two ways:
  1. If the guy stealing my blind is getting a little too greedy by stealing every orbit, I'll re-raise every so often to remind him that I am paying attention. I'll tend to re-raise the button with somewhat better hands than I would when re-raising the small blind's steal attempt. Why? I'll be out of position if the button calls my re-raise and in position against the small blind: against a tricky or aggressive opponent, you need a better hand to help overcome the disadvantages of being out of position.
  2. When I attempt to steal the blinds with a mediocre hand and get re-popped by either the small blind or the big blind, I'll either fold outright (if neither blind has re-raised me yet) or play cautiously after the flop (moreso if I tried to steal from the small blind).

The other night, I found myself playing at a short-handed $50 NL table at Titan Poker. In this particular game, I had a filthy blind stealer sitting directly to my right. Every time it was folded to this particular Villain in the small blind, he took the opportunity to raise and steal my big blind. The first few times, I folded my hand straight away.

When the Villain continued to steal my blind, I decided that I'd have to make a stand at some point. My plan was to re-raise the Villain's steal attempts any time I held two cards Ten or better or a pocket pair in the hopes of forcing the Villain to make a mistake by overplaying a mediocre holding.

It didn't take too long before I got to put my plan into action.

Titan Poker ($50 NL)

Hero ($49.75)
UTG ($27.60)
CO ($37.26)
BTN ($50.00)
SB (Villain) ($61.03)

Hero is BB with Q♠ J♣

UTG folds; CO folds; BTN folds; Villain raises to $1.75; Hero raises to $4.50; Villain calls $2.75;

(This was the Villain's sixth straight steal attempt. Since I'd finally picked up a playable hand, I decided to re-raise and try to take down the pot pre-flop. Villain's call surprised me a little, but I was pretty sure that I was ahead at this point in time. My plan was to bet the flop regardless of the cards that came down. By taking down this one pot, I'd recoup all the lost blinds that I'd conceded to the Villain over the past six orbits at the table.)

Flop: 3♣ Q♣ 8♦

Villain checks; Hero bets $8.00; Villain calls $8.00;

(With top pair and a solid kicker in a "blind battle" hand, I figured to be ahead. When Villain made the quick call, I figured him for a draw or top pair. Since the pot was getting large, I decided to check behind on the turn if given the opportunity in an effort to control the pot size.

If I were to make a bet on the turn, I'd end up committing myself to this pot and would have to call (or make a terrible fold) if Villain check-raised my turn bet. I wanted to avoid this type of situation if at all possible.

If Villain bet the turn, my decision to fold would be based on the turn card and how I saw it improving Villain's probable range.)

Turn: J♥

Villain checks; Hero bets $13.00; Villain calls $13.00;

(Although the J♥ completed a possible straight draw, it also gave me top two-pair. Since the Villain checked his hand, I believed that I was ahead at his point in the hand. Given the number of scare cards possible on the river, I wanted to charge the Villain for any possible draws he might be holding and commit myself to the pot to avoid being bluffed off my hand on the river.

I figured a half pot-sized bet would give Villain 3:1 odds on his call and commit me to the pot. In addition, the pot would be large enough on the river to allow me to push without arousing too much suspicion.

Villain called the $13 bet almost instantly. Given the way he'd played the hand so far, I leaned a little more towards Villain holding a flush draw than some other hand. If the river came up with a blank, I wasn't sure how much value I'd get by jamming the pot. My only hope was that the river was a blank and that the Villain felt that he could push me off the hand with a large river bluff.)

River: 4♠

Villain is all-in ($35.28); Hero is all-in ($23.75);

(River came up blank and Villain jammed. I insta-called, happy that things seemed to have gone my way in the hand.)

Results: (in white below)
Final pot: $96.50

BB shows Qs Jc
Villain shows 7c 9c

Where was the Villain's biggest mistake in that last hand? I'd say it was pre-flop. When Villain attempted a sixth straight steal of my big blind and suddenly faced a re-raise, why call with his 9♣ 7♣? The problems with playing that hand in that situation are:
  1. Villain would be out of position for the entire hand.
  2. 9♣ 7♣ plays well in multi-way pots and not heads-up.
  3. I'd manipulated the size of the pre-flop pot to ensure that my post-flop decisions would be quite easy given the nature of my hand. I was looking to hit top pair and the $10 in the pot was ideal for my QJ and terrible for the Villain's 97s.
  4. I'd been playing fairly tight and Villain should have realized that he was way behind the range of hands I might be holding.
Now, I think Villain played the rest of the hand poorly as well. But I don't understand this desire to outplay opponents that certain loose, aggressive players feel. When I play poker, I'm playing to make money. I don't care if I outplay someone or pull off some sick bluff: I just want to stack as many opponents as I can with as little effort as possible.

Anyway, after the hand, I could feel waves of tilt coming pulsating out from the Villain. Aggro players seem to tilt quite profoundly after being embarrassed by an ill-timed river bluff. The very next hand, I saw my opportunity to finish the Villain's lesson in blind stealing and blind defense.

Titan Poker ($50 NL)

Hero ($96.50)
BB ($27.60)
UTG ($21.35)
UTG+1 ($37.26)
CO ($50.00)
BTN (Villain) ($11.28)

Hero is SB with A♦ K♠

UTG+1 folds; CO folds; Villain raises to $2.00; Hero raises to $15.25; BB folds; Villain is all-in ($9.28);

(I knew that Villain was steaming. And I was pretty sure that he knew that I knew he was steaming. When I put Villain all-in pre-flop with my AK, I was almost positive that I'd get an insta-call. Villain didn't disappoint and called half a second after the big blind got out of the way.)

Flop: Q♠ K♦ 5♠

(Not looking good for Villain...)

Turn: 5♣


River: K♥


Results: (in white below)
Final pot: $25.88

Hero shows Ad Ks
Villain shows 9h Jd

As I expected, Villain had simply gone on tilt and figured that his last eleven dollars weren't worth saving.

I hope that the Villain fails to learn from his mistakes here. Most likely, he turned to his friend/wife/dog and started complaining about the lucky prick who happened to hit two-pair on one hand and then catch AK on the very next hand. If that is the case, I expect to see Villain back and stealing blinds like a mad man.

Maybe I'll find him seated to my right once again. He'll be out for revenge and I'll be waiting. I'll even let him steal my blinds over and over again...until he happens to find himself overcommitted in failed steal attempt and shipping his stack my way.

Who said learning can't be fun?


sag said...

good pointers. some thing I have not thought about in a while. you are so right. nice hands there, you seem to be doing well again. I wish I could grind cash games, but I can't stand it. I have great runs and then I spill my hard earned cash like there is no tomorrow. I gonna stick to the sit and go madness.

Klopzi said...

sag -

SNGs are definitely beatable; however, playing SNGs is a volume business. I just don't have the time or the screen real-estate to grind SNGs right now.

In the future, if NL cash games start beating me up too much, I may try grinding SNGs for a month.