Chapter 3: Blind Stealing
Chapter 1 showed you how to use VPIP and PFR to identify weak and overly tight players. These are the prime targets of a successful blind-stealing strategy.
What is a blind steal?
A blind steal (BSA) is an unopened raise from the button or the small blind. An unopened raise occurs when all players acting before you fold preflop and you put in a raise as the first player to enter the pot.
When the action folds to you in the small blind or on the dealer button, your primary goal is to take down the blinds uncontested with a BSA.
Why is the blind-stealing poker statistic important?
A successful poker play may have a win rate as low as 3bb/100 hands. This means that if they are playing at stakes of $0.50/$1, they expect to earn $3 for every hundred hands they play.
Each successful blind steal nets you a profit of 1.5bb. Two successful blind steals over 100 hands is the difference between breaking even and playing profitable poker.
Blind stealing is especially important at the low stakes, where players do not always defend their blinds properly. This means they fold either too often or not enough against blind steals. You can track this using the poker stat “Folded to Steal Attempt” (FB).
Stealing the blinds against weak, tight players with a high FB is the closest thing to printing money in online poker. If you are on the dealer button and are facing two players that have over 65% FB, you can open almost any two cards profitably.
Choosing a bet size for a blind steal
In general, you can open 2.5bb from any position. When making a blind steal, however, you can be a little more creative about your raise sizing because you are considering the tendencies of only one or two players who can act after you. This does not mean you should be sizing your raises larger with premium hands, as all but the most oblivious of opponents will adjust to this strategy. What it means is that you can tailor your raise size to your opponents.
Against players who have a high FB, you can try using 2.25bb or the minimum 2bb raise sizes.
Against players who have a low FB, you can try using a 3bb raise with a tighter range of hands. These players will be willing to put more money in preflop against you with a range disadvantage.
How to respond to a blind steal
The truth about the small and big blinds is that you will lose money in the long term from these positions. It is unavoidable. If you are able to profit from the small and big blinds over a sample of more than 10,000 hands, you probably have such a skill edge over your opponents that it is time to consider moving up in the stakes.
When you are defending your blinds, you are trying to reduce your loss rate.
Let’s look at the math.
If you fold 100% of your hands from the big blind, you will lose 100bb/100 hands from this position.
If you fold 100% of your hands from the small blind, you will lose 50bb/100 hands from this position.
The entire goal of defending your big blind is to reduce this loss rate. Losing in the small blind at around -20bb/100 is considered good, but it is possible to reach -15bb/100. Losing from the big blind at -35bb/100 is attainable.
Defending the big blind against a steal from the button
You will most often have to defend your big blind against a raise from the dealer button. In these cases the small blind will usually fold. You will have a postflop positional disadvantage against the button: you will have to act first, which gives your opponent information on how to play against you.
Blinds-versus-button play is the loosest in poker. If you are against a competent player, they will be opening 45%–70% of their buttons against you. This means that the range of hands that they have is very wide, and you must defend a wide range of hands against them. Adjust your fold frequencies based on the player type that you are against. Against an overly tight player, fold more often. Against a looser player, call more often.
In addition to the looseness of the position, the cost to enter the pot is much lower for the big blind. While you will be at a positional disadvantage postflop, depending on the raise size of your opponent, you will need very little equity to continue. Equity is simply the odds that you are going to win the pot based on the strength of your hand preflop. To understand why you can call so light, we can look at the math. If the button opens to 2bb, and the small blind folds, the pot is now 3.5bb. If you call, you are investing 1bb to win a pot of 4.5 bb. You only need a 22% chance of winning the pot to break even.
You can call more often against smaller raises and fold more often against larger ones. If your opponent is using a bet sizing of 2bb, which is a min raise, you can defend (that is, flat call preflop or 3-bet preflop) roughly the top 50% of hands in the big blind.
Against a 2.5bb raise size you need to be tighter. You can defend roughly the top 30% of hands.
Defending the big blind against a steal from the small blind
Defending the big blind against the small blind is much simpler. You have positional advantage, and the cost to play the pot will be lower because you have already invested one big blind. Against all but the tightest of players, you can defend almost 100% of your range against a minimum raise. Against larger raise sizes, you need to look at the frequency with which your opponent tries to steal the blinds from the small blind. If they are opening over 40%, you can defend very light and play pots with positional advantage against a wide range of hands.
It is very simple to develop a strategy against those who do not steal enough: you simply fold more. But what do you do against aggressive players?
Dealing with an over-aggressive blind stealer to your right
You may be surprised at how aggressive you can be on the button. Good, winning players can put in steal attempts at frequencies of upwards of 60%. But when a player starts to get into the realm of 70% and above, you can consider them overly aggressive.
It can be frustrating to see them raising your blinds over and over. You know they often have nothing, and it is tempting to fight their aggression with aggression of your own.
The best strategy against overly aggressive players is to simply play solid, winning poker. When you start to develop postflop poker statistics on overly aggressive blind stealers, you can call them light and make moves against them. But until you have a strategy for exploiting them, the easiest way to beat an overly aggressive play style is to simply continue playing tight, aggressive poker and win with your hand range advantage.
The simplest adjustment to be made against overly aggressive players is to call a wider range against them preflop.
When defending the big blind, you are not trying to win every pot. You are going to lose more often than you win because of your positional disadvantage postflop. Simply focus on the long-term plan of reducing your big blind loss rate.
Defending the small blind against a steal
The small blind is a different beast from the big blind. It is much harder to defend. If you flat call the original raiser, you then have the big blind acting behind you. The big blind can raise, putting pressure on you with a squeeze bet, or can flat call, getting an extremely good price to see the flop. If the big blind calls, you are put into the tricky position of playing as the first player to act postflop.
The easiest way to deal with defending the small blind is to use a 3-bet or fold strategy with almost the entirety of your range. 3-betting is a very effective tool for defending both your big and small blinds.
To continue developing your preflop game, continue with Chapter 4: 3-betting and 4-betting!
There are also some good reasons to use a flat-calling strategy instead of a 3-bet/fold strategy. You should flat call in the small blind when there is a very weak player in the big blind whom you want to have in the pot against you. Flat calling can also be better against early position raises from tight players with a low percentage of fold to 3-bets preflop.