When to Complete in the Small Blind

You getting this?

The small blind is a tricky position to play. You're in for a half bet and are almost always getting favorable odds.

The problem is that you're also out of position. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or is the half-price small blind just another money pit?

Limpers Ahoy

The small blind is a double-edged sword - you get in for half of the regular bet, but you're also guaranteed to play the rest of the hand out of position.

Many players believe pot odds overcome that positional disadvantage and choose to complete any two cards they're dealt.

Coincidentally, these are the same players who bleed money when their hand flops weak and yet take it to showdown anyway.

Pot odds are a gift and a curse - gamblers love to take bets when the odds are in their favor, but calling with too wide a range from the small blind can be a substantial leak.

Vanessa Rousso
So I like to limp; so what?

In unraised pots with multiple limpers, you will be often laid seemingly irresistible odds on your call. In reality, it's just a honeypot situation.

Even though the odds may be good, more often than not you're going to find yourself in tricky post-flop situations with marginal hands.

In fact, you should almost never be completing the small blind as wide as you might initially think.

Before deciding whether or not to take advantage of those enticing pot odds, ask yourself what types of hands do well in multiway pots.

Your goal is to make "big pot" hands, straights and flushes. Pot odds do not take terrible hands and turn them into gold.

If your hand is a trash hand against one player, it's still going to be trash against multiple players.

Weak Hands Make Dominated Hands

The problem with completing too wide from the small blind is that you will often be left out of position with no clue as to where you stand.

Initially you may think completing J 4 is all right because you're getting 4.5-1 and you're suited, but in reality you're not going to hit that flush nearly as often as you think (only 6.4% of the time).

Most of the time you will either miss completely or pair one of your hole cards, making a weak one-pair hand.

Weak one pairs are a new player's worst nightmare. They are reverse implied odds hands: although your hand may be good now, if you want to find out for sure, it can end up costing you a lot of money.

Heads-Up
You aren't going to get here playing dominated hands.

Even good pot odds can't make weak suited hands profitable. You're going to make a flush only a small percentage of the time, and the rest of the time you're going to either miss or find yourself in tricky reverse implied odds situations!

Pot odds are not Rumpelstiltskin - they can't weave your straw into gold. A trash hand is still trash; playing it from out of position is just going to cost you money.

Keep It Real

The types of hands  you can profitably complete with are really no different than your normal list of good hands.

Just keep in mind that you prefer hands that do well multiway and that have "big pot potential."

Creating an exact range of cards that should be completed is a difficult task. It can vary from game to game and depends on the tendencies of the players in your game.

If your opponents are loose-passive and fishy, you can complete much more liberally because you will rarely face difficult post-flop decisions. Also, if you do happen to hit your hand, this type of opponent is much more likely to pay you off.

Big pot for Newhizzle
You want hands that have "big pot potential."

But if your opponents are decent, tight-aggressive players, you should be looking to complete a much tighter range because you are more likely to be put in a tough spot after the flop - and when you hit your hands, the tight players are much less likely to pay you off.

Hands worth completing in the small blind are hands that are not strong enough to warrant a value raise from out of position yet still have value in seeing a flop. Something like: A-T, A-xs, K-Q, K-Js-K-9s, JT-89 both suited or not, 45s+, and 57s+.

Of course this range is not set in stone; the more players in the pot, the wider you can you can complete. Just don't get crazy - keep your goal in mind.

You want to make big pot hands, not potentially dominated ones.

The Rundown

If you treat the small blind just like any other position only with better pot odds, then you should have no problem. It may seem that with such great odds you can do no wrong; the opposite is true.

Completing too often with weak dominated hands and believing your pot odds can overcome your positional disadvantage is a very real leak that far too many players have.

The small blind is a position that is always going to be a long-term money loser; that's just a part of the game.

But if you remember what makes completing profitable, you're going to lessen the effect it has on your win rate and make yourself a better player overall.

More intermediate strategy articles:

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Jason 2009-04-30 16:08:00

Taking the mathematical analysis a bit further, the odds of someone having top pair against your bottom two on an A72 board, even with 6 limpers, is only 29.0%. And 4.6% of the time, you will be up against a dominating hand (A2 or better). So that leaves 66.4% of the time when the rest of the table has air, and folds. If you add up the different cases, assuming 200bb stacks, your average winning when you hit is 38bb, or 76 to 1, given the half size call (math is close, but maybe not exact).

Of course, an A72 board is a rare occurrence (1 in 3267 flops). It's a terrible bet to get 76 to 1 on a 3267 to 1 shot. In other cases when you hit a random two pair (like on a 762 flop), you're much less likely to get callers on an overbet. You need your all-in shove to be called by weak single pair hands over 50% of the time to make a profit. Unlikely, even at a table of fish. If you know of such a table though, please tell me!

Jason 2009-04-29 21:55:00

Stanley: I don't think an outside chance of 2 pair is giving you good enough implied odds. The odds against flopping two pair are 48.5 to 1, and if you get it all in on the flop with bottom two against an overpair, you are 75% to win. Given that you are only calling a half sized bet, your pot odds are 33 to 1, in the best case scenario.

The problem is there are worse scenarios. What if the table folds to your shove, assuming you have top pair, two pair, or a set? What if they have a flush draw to go with their top pair? That actually tilts the odds in their favor: 51-49% against two pair. What if they themselves have a better two pair or a set? At a table full of limpers, this will sometimes happen when you play easily dominated hands. Every hand that beats or ties you is calling your shove, and most that you win against are folding.

Given all that, I'm betting it's a negative EV play to consistently limp the small blind with a random bad hand, even with deep stacks.

ZutboF 2009-04-29 09:59:00

I fold my BB often if i have trash . i Dont think the position have a impact on the play because you can resteal or having a better hand.

Moob 2009-02-09 20:16:00

If you play only AA, KK and AK from the small blind, you'll save chips and headache. It's the one hand each round to relax completely and observe. Play the range given in this article and you will bleed chips.

harry 2008-12-30 08:29:00

I would add small pairs in the list of hands wichc have potential to make big hands but not yet strenght that a raise would be profitable pre flop.

stanley 2008-12-17 10:01:00

although i did not read the whole article it seem not to be saying about implied odds. example for 200bb deep and limps around to your sb, i will call with 27o. you have the implied odds of flopping 2 pair against some random ace rag in a A27 board and get paid off

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