Betting is the essence of online poker. Most bets are calculated decisions, but some bets simply can’t be avoided. That’s because they’re forced. Like it or not, if you want to play the game, you have to place them. The most important forced bets you’ll encounter by far when you play poker online are the small blind and the big blind. These poker blinds (often described as the backbone of poker) force players to have skin in the game, which helps to ensure there’s always plenty of action on the table! Bottom line: you simply can’t hope to know how to play Texas Hold’em poker without a working knowledge of the blinds. Let’s take a closer look.
Poker blinds defined
As mentioned, poker blinds are forced bets made before the start of play. They are similar to the antes familiar to players of casino table games, but with one key difference. All players at the table have to place antes if they are in play, but only two players have to place blinds. These are the players occupying the small blind and big blind positions and they’re the second-last and last players to see action before the flop. At the end of each hand, the blinds move one position in a clockwise direction.
The purpose of the blinds is to introduce a cost to participate in the game. This motivates players to enter pots instead of just folding until they’re dealt pocket aces! This makes for a much more exciting game.
Sizing the blinds
The big blind to small blind ratio is called the blind structure. As a rule, the big blind is twice the size of the small blind or a little larger. The host determines the blind structure in a cash game, after which it stays the same for the rest of the game. Say you sit down at a $2/$5 no-limit hold’em cash game. The $2/$5 blind structure means that the small blind will be $2 and the big blind $5 for as long as you stay at the table.
Where blind structures really come into their own is in poker tournaments. That’s because the blinds increase in size at different tournament stages. As the blinds increase relative to your stack size, you risk being “blinded out” as the blinds eat your chips. To counter this, you’ll have to play more hands to win more pots.
Online poker tournament strategy with blinds
Effective stack size management is an essential part of online poker tournament strategy. For example, speculative hands are more valuable in the early stages, when the blinds are low and stacks are bigger. In the later stages, with smaller stacks and bigger blinds, high cards with good pairing potential are premium.
In a Texas Hold’em poker tournament, you need to think of the starting blinds level, your starting stack size, how long the current level lasts and how much the blinds increase at the next level increase. Say the blinds are 20/40 to begin with and the starting stack size is 4,000 chips. That works out to one hundred big blinds (100bb) per player. Each level lasts five minutes and the blinds will go up 50% each time, from 20/40 to 30/60, 45/90 and so on.
Tournament organizers typically provide blind charts (blind schedules in table form) to help you plan ahead.
Stealing the blinds
A big disadvantage of being in the small blind or big blind position is that these players are always out of position after the flop. As a result, opponents will often be tempted to “steal the blinds.” This means bluffing to eliminate the blinds from play before the flop. Say you’re on the button and the action folds to you. Your hand is junk, but you raise anyway. Why? If the blinds decide to play a hand, they’ll be out of position, so their hands will need to be fairly strong for them to call your raise. In most cases, the blinds will fold to your raise, enabling you to steal the blinds and grow the pot. It’s a great start to breaking out of micro-stakes!
Defending the blinds
The reason many blinds players fold when faced with a raise is that they’ll most likely be in a tough spot (out of position) later in the hand. As a result, they stand to lose more than just their blind bet. But defending your blind (calling the raise) can be the right thing to do, depending on your hand. For beginner players, a “fit or fold” approach is best. Call with pairs from seven-seven and better, ten-jack suited and better, ace-king and ace-queen. If you have pocket queens, kings or aces, you can go ahead and raise. (If you’re skillful, this could be a good time to slow play a strong hand!) With anything else, fold. This way, your opponents won’t get to grow the pot at your expense.
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