The most important position at the table is the big blind. You’ll be seeing flops the most often from this position over your poker career. It also happens to be the most challenging position at the poker table. Which means this crucial spot can also be one of the most profitable, in terms of gaining an edge over your rivals.
Very few players properly understand and execute the right strategy from the big blind position. And many players have massive leaks, costing them a fortune in the long-run.
But by making sense of the important strategic considerations, we’ll see play from this position doesn’t have to be difficult. By becoming a master of play from the big blind, you'll significantly improve your win-rate and gain an edge over the competition. So read on to get the skills you need to become a big blind boss!
To get great results from the big blind, there are 5 important steps to success;
- Understand how to calculate pot odds
- Understand how to account for equity realization
- Determine opponents ranges
- Stack size adjustments and equity re-enforcement
- Build the right ranges for the various common confrontations we expect to face
Calculating Pot Odds from the Big Blind
Pots odd calculations are one of the first skills players come across when learning how to win at poker. A ½ pot size bet means we’re getting 3-1. “Hmm... do we have the right price to continue here versus our opponent's range?” is a basic thought process.
Here’s a quick refresher for anyone who may still be a little stuck on pots odds. Including how to convert pot odds to percentages. For those comfortable with pots odds, feel free to skip this video.
Players working with pot odds often take it a step further. Applying it to think about how often a bet their opponent makes needs to work to be profitable. For example, if a player bets a pot size $1000 on the river, they’re risking $1000 to win a total pot of $2000 (the pot of $1000 + their $1000 bet). Their bet needs to work 50% of the time to be profitable.
If you only called in this situation 33% of the time, they could bluff 100% of the time and be making money since you would be folding too frequently. This concept is referred to as minimum defense frequency and it is often discussed when it comes to defending the big blind.
So facing a $1000 pot size bet, to prevent villain being able to profit by exploitatively over-bluffing, hero needs to call at least 50% of the time. Meaning MDF determines the portion of your range that you must continue when facing a bet in order to remain unexploitable by bluffs.
This concept is most relevant for river play, with no future streets remaining. It’s not particularly useful in other situations such as flop play, where range advantage and nut advantage dictate the action and may force a player to fold a lot more than the MDF on certain board textures when facing a bet. Rather than trying to meet the MDF and put money into the pot with a lot of weak hands that will be at a disadvantage against an opponent's stronger range.
This is somewhat similar to when players steal the blinds. Another time when MDF can be used as a rough guide to help the big blind ensure they are defending often enough. That being said, it isn’t the best approach. For example, say a player ½ way through a regular MTT on Pokerstars raises on the button 2.2 times the big blind. If the blinds collectively folded more than 56% of the time, the player on the button could raise any 2 cards and be instantly making money. This is not to mention they’ll likely be making a lot of money post-flop with a cbet in position.
Players sometimes set this as a bench-mark percentage for defending the blinds and then develop a strategy accordingly. But we can do better than that. Why should we use the minimum bench-mark percentage as a guide to how often we’re required to defend to prevent a steal from profiting? A better approach is to consider what hands will actually make us money by calling from the big blind, after considering the pot odds generated. Which includes taking into account the size of the blinds and antes, as well as the raise size we're facing as we see in the following video:
We can't assume all hands that are getting the right pot odds to call, can profitably continue. The next important step to mastering the big blind position is considering our hands' ability to realize it’s equity.
Equity Realization from the Big Blind
An easy example of equity realization is to imagine both the button and big blind player see the flop and have been dealt 9♣ T♠. Why is it that we do not expect both players to win an even 50% of the time? I’d expect the player in-position to get by far the best of it.
Position, as everyone is aware, is a powerful element of the game. One could also include that by not 3 betting preflop, a big blind player's range doesn’t include the strongest of hands which could also be a disadvantage (capped range) on later streets. Of course, the skill level of the players battling can also play a role. A more experienced player is also likely to get the best of it against a weaker player.
So we know the big blind will be at a positional disadvantage (except verse the small blind). But different hand ranks also influence equity realization. For more on equity realization, check out our article Equity Realization - Playing from the Big Blind.
As a general rule, off-suit hands will struggle more to realize their equity by around 10-15%, while suited hands will only lose around 5-10% of their equity. Suited hands will flop a flush draw which will be strong enough to continue in a lot of situations facing a bet, sometimes even providing an opportunity to raise and win the pot without a showdown. The following video discusses this important concept, equity retaliation, in detail.
Now we’re familiar with equity realization, let’s take it a step further to include two more key concepts, so we can formulate strong ranges to play from the big blind.
Something that goes hand in hand with pot odds and equity realization is factoring in our opponent's range. As an opponent's range gets tighter, we need to continue by calling or raising with a tighter range to account for the equity disadvantage.
A common mistake players make from the big blind is to call a raise with any hand combination containing an ace. These hands perform poorly against tight ranges since they are frequently dominated. Against a tight 12% early position opening range, we'll typically be looking to get involved by calling or 3-betting with the following hand selection.
Tight ranges are not only troublesome to combat because they naturally have a lot of equity against all but the best hands, but players can also leverage their perceived strong holding on a range of board textures post-flop.
When we encounter wider opening ranges, we can expect weaker hands to both have more equity, as well as be able to retain more of their equity. This allows us to defend the following wide hand group when facing a 55% steal range.
Pitting your hand against an opponent range is a common practice most players should be familiar with. Equilab is a handy tool to do this. It will quickly give you a hand or range's equity versus an opponent's range.
Then you can compare that to the pot odds being offered, take into account equity realization, and make a decision of the best way to proceed in the hand. Although there is one other important element that will impact our strategy that we also need to account for, stack size.
Stack Size Adjustments and Equity Re-enforcement
Short stack players don't have a lot of time left to operate with to acquire chips. Additionally, picking up dead money in a pot with a raise or re-raise can lead to a great reward when comparing the size of the pot to their dwindling stack. This favors an aggressive strategy when short stacked.
Opponent's in a confrontation with a short stack should anticipate this aggression from competent opponents and adjust accordingly. This makes hands that contain blockers quite useful for stealing since it reduces the frequency opponents will continue with a call or re-raise.
Although we'll be aggressive when short-stacked, that doesn't mean we can't also see a lot of flops. When short, there are limited decision points. This helps weaker hands realize more of their equity. Since they can often call, then just commit on the flop if they hit a piece. See more about this in our upcoming article, Defending the Big Blind Super Short.
As we get deeper, second or even top pair might not be enough to enable us to proceed to the later streets and realize our equity. If we defend with 7♥9♣ and the flop is T♠7♣4♦ and we call a flop bet, how do we feel when facing a big turn bet on a K♦? Followed up with a large river bet when we continue and don't improve?
Now with multiple decision points in the hand, suited hands, especially when connected, are more useful. These types of hands can pick-up straight and flush draws frequently, perhaps along with an additional piece of the board. This will give us more equity to continue with and sometimes we'll make very strong hands allowing us to extract a lot of value. Or win the hand without a showdown by playing a draw aggressively.
This makes these hands a good candidate to mix into a 3 betting range to avoid being predictable and provide better board coverage. The following video starts to delve into how we want to build a range from the big blind. By considering pots odds, opponent range, and stack size, we can start to see how to develop ranges from the big blind split into fold, call and raise 'baskets'.
Continuing on with this idea of how different hands perform against different stack depths and ranges, we need to factor in one last key consideration to be able to construct the best ranges. Equity re-enforcement.
Equity re-enforcement is when we play a hand that plays poorly post-flop, aggressively preflop, to capitalize on its good raw equity and blocker value. A good example of which is Kx combinations. Kx will often be the best hand versus a button opening range but will perform horribly when we proceed by calling from the big blind and contesting the pot out of position post-flop. However, by sometimes 3-betting these combinations, you get to capitalize on blocker value and sometimes win without seeing a flop. Moreover, you get to proceed post-flop with the initiative.
Initiative is often a misunderstood concept. Essentially, initiative means continuing in a hand with an uncapped range. By 3-betting preflop, you're representing the very best hands that want to put more money in the pot. By sometimes blending in some hands that benefit from equity re-enforcement, you create a very well balanced, effective big blind strategy.
We see the importance of this in the way modern day GTO solvers build their ranges. For more on GTO Solvers, check out our article GTO Poker Solver: Should You Use a Program Like PioSolver?
Solvers are important tools for helping us build the best strategies possible. For more on this concept and more, check out the big blind tutorials in the PokerNerve Road to Success course. For now, here's a snapshot of some PIOSolver ranges. Notice the brown/pink areas which of course include a lot of strong hands, but also include portions of hands with blocker value, hands benefitting from equity re-enforcement, and hands for board coverage that perform relatively well in 3-bet pots.
As mentioned, blocker value increases as stacks get shorter. Mostly due to us anticipating being 4-bet more frequently. As stacks get deeper, we expect to see a little less 4-betting and more calling, which means suited connectors and high-low card combinations have a role to play. They'll perform relatively well included as part of a good balanced 3-betting strategy.
Now we’re familiar with the 4 key considerations to factor in when we're thinking of entering the pot from the big blind, we can assemble some ranges. Taking strong hands that naturally want to 3-bet based on their equity versus ranges at various stack depths, and combining them with some semi-bluff combinations.
The best candidates being hands that will benefit from equity re-enforcement, block parts of villains continuing range and provide us with board coverage when relevant (as we get deeper). Watch the following video as poker pro 'Acesup' goes through a sample of this process, establishing some ranges to combat opponents from various positions and stack depths around the table.
Don't Get Robotic
Keep in mind the idea isn’t to follow set ranges exactly. The key is adjusting to the various opponent types you'll encounter at the table, especially in MTTs. At lower stakes, for example, you’ll be able to defend even more liberally, since players will be making a lot more mistakes post-flop that we can capitalize on, resulting in more equity realization.
Or perhaps you’re facing a very tight player’s open, or there is ICM to factor in which forces us to tighten up. Plasticity, as I often refer to it, is the ability to mold your play to the situation for optimal results. Here's a look at Acesup taking exploitative action and 3-betting a really wide range to attack a loose opener.
It’s important to have a good base range guide to refer to, so even when you do deviate to account for a certain player profile or situation, you can have a good sense of how much you are deviating. Here's an example of a specific range saved in Power Equilab. This is especially handy for reviewing situations too. With a simple click you have your range on hand ready to enter into other poker software. So you can quickly analyze a spot that came up in a recent game that you want to review.
Default ranges will be a good guide. By knowing what a good strategy looks like, it's then that we can look to adjust to exploit our opponents. After all, if you don't know what a good default range looks like, it's unlikely you'll be able to adjust properly in-game to player pools or specific opponent's playing styles.
With practice and a little review, it's not difficult to execute the right adjustments at the right time. Or stick closer to default ranges in the absence of information or against tough players. For the latter scenarios, definitely check out the PokerNerve range page. Offering not just big blind, but range advice off various stack sizes from various positions.
Improve your win-rate by implementing the right strategy from the big blind. Play hands that will make money based on the pot odds and equity realization, not simply trying to meet an MDF.
After calculating the pot odds, compare that to your equity versus the opponent's range. Then account for equity realization. Being at a positional disadvantage, plus any other situational factors, such as ICM or a skill disadvantage, that may limit your hand's ability to claim all of its equity. Remember not all hands suffer the same equity loss. Depending on a player's stack depth and range composition, some hands will play better in different scenarios. Suited hands generally do a good job of retaining their equity.
Mixing suited hand combinations into a 3-betting range makes sense at deeper stack depths. We expect to get 4-bet less, and these hands have good post-flop playability across multiple-streets. Giving us good board coverage and the ability to make some really strong, and potentially well-disguised hands.
At shorter depths, equity re-enforcement becomes an important consideration. We’ll favor hands that have more raw equity and blocker value, over suited connectors, since they’ll be fewer decision points and we’ll be 4-bet more frequently. Meaning they'll be an increased likelihood of players committing preflop, resulting in less post-flop play.
By taking into account these tips we can formulate strong ranges that will be difficult for our opponents to combat. The idea is to play unexploitable ranges but always have in mind adjustments you'll want to make to account for population tendencies and specific player leaks. Making us a formidable competitor from the big blind position.
People aren’t making money from the big blind. It's too much of a disadvantage to have a forced bet be put into the pot at the start of the hand, and then have to contest the pot most of the time out of position. But by using the right strategy we can increase our win-rate considerably and make this difficult to play position one of the reasons we are outperforming our competitors. A spot where we are playing optimally giving us a large edge over current player pools. Resulting in a lot more success.
I love being in the big blind because I know I’ll get to play more hands! And more hands means more ways to play better than our opponents. So let’s go, be ready for your next big blind confrontation, big blind masters!
For more big blind strategy, including squeezing, multi-way pots and various ranges (including Monker GTO solvers) for situations you'll encounter at the poker table, check out the PokerNerve Road to Success course today and take your big blind play to an elite level!