There’s no simple fix for becoming a winning poker player.
But there are a handful of simple, easy-to-execute poker moves that can make a world of difference to your bottom line.
By fine-tuning these tactics you’ll have more tools to put to work at the poker table. You’ll be able to better understand your opponents and how to manipulate them, and that will translate directly to money in your pocket.
We already wrote the book on the 10 Essential Texas Hold’em Moves and now we’re back to bring you 10 more.
Today we’ll teach you how to defend your blinds. You’re forced to put money into the pot twice per orbit and we're going to show you how to minimize your losses and win more pots when you’re playing from the small and big blind.
How to Defend the Blinds in Poker
The What: Defending your blinds refers to calling a pre-flop raise from either the small or big blind.
The Why: Because you’re forced to put money into the pot when you’re in the small and big blind it’s important to play optimally and recoup your share. Above all else you should not lose more than you would by simply folding.
The When: Understanding key concepts like pot-odds, and factors like your opponent’s raising frequency and post-flop aggression, will allow you to defend or surrender your blinds at the right times.
The Where: Defending the blinds applies to both cash games and tournaments.
How to Defend the Blinds the Right Way
First of all it’s important to understand that the small and big blinds are the two worst positions at the poker table.
If you’re in the small blind you’ll be forced to act first on every post-flop round of betting. If you’re in the big blind it’s not much better. In fact, even the best poker players in the world lose money from these two positions.
One of the most common beginner poker leaks is calling too much from the small and big blinds. You must divorce yourself from the idea that your blind represents an investment in the hand, automatically making you pot-committed to any raise.
While it’s true that having a blind in play will give you better pot-odds, it does not mean you can call every raise with whatever two cards you happen to pick up.
In order to defend your blinds effectively you must understand the situation and the opponent(s) you’re up against.
Players, Position and Defending the Blinds
Position is the most important concept in understanding when it’s appropriate to defend your blinds. Players’ pre-flop raising ranges get wider the closer they are to the button, which means you have to know where that raise came from before deciding whether to call, raise or fold.
The earlier the position your opponent is raising from, the tighter your defending range has to be.
Conversely, if action folds all the way around to the button and he puts in a raise, it’s safe to put him on a wide range of hands and defend with weaker cards.
The type of player making the raise is also very important when deciding if you should defend. A very tight player won’t be raising trash, even from the button, while a maniac will be opening weak hands even in early position.
Observe your opponents to understand what kinds of hands they’re raising from what positions and adjust your defending range accordingly.
How to Defend the Blinds for Beginners
One of the biggest problems with beginners who defend the blinds too much is that they’re put in tough spots later in the hand, causing them to lose more than just the pre-flop call.
For this reason we suggest a very tight range for playing out of the blinds, and a “fit or fold” approach to post-flop play, especially with your weaker hands.
As a general guideline we suggest defending your small blind with 77+, TJs+, AK, AQ and raising with QQ+. If you’re in the big blind you can expand your calling range to include smaller pocket pairs and lower suited connectors.
The important thing for beginners to remember when calling with the weaker hands in that range is that you will need to flop more than one pair to play a big pot. By using a “fit or fold” approach to post-flop play with marginal hands you’ll avoid putting more money into the pot with a losing hand.
When to Complete in the Small Blind
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. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or is the half-price small blind just another money pit?
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: Gift and Curse
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.
In un-raised 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 Poker Hands Make Dominated Poker 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 J4 is all right because you're getting 4.5-1 odds 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. 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.
Play Hands with Big Pot Potential
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.
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.
Small Blind Always a Long-Term Loser
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.
Daniel Negreanu Defends His Blind
If you’re still unconvinced about how important successful blind defense is to your bottom line, let Daniel Negreanu school you up in video form.
Negreanu takes our lesson one step further and goes into the math behind defending your blinds. It’s worth a few minutes of your time. He has made more $16 million playing live poker tournaments.
More Essential Texas Hold'em Moves
- Push/Fold Strategy
- The Isolation Play
- The Over-Bet
- The Blocking Bet
- Defending the Blinds
- Floating the Flop
- The Light Three-Bet
- The Soul Read
- The Triple-Barrel Bluff
- The Squeeze Play
- The Bluff Catcher
- The Check-Raise
- The Re-Steal
- The Limp Re-Raise
- The Cold 4-Bet
- The Stop & Go
- The Reverse Tell
- The Semi-Bluff
- How to Set Mine (w/ video)