Texas Holdem Blind Play
One of the most challenging areas to play for maximum profit in Texas holdem is the blinds.
Even when you get to see the flop for free in an unraised pot, it's easy to lose money because you're in the worst position at the table.
Where do you draw the line in the small blind? Should you call a half bet with a small pair or a small suited connector? How good does your hand need to be to call a bet and a half but not raise?
Can you fold 90% of the blinds and still turn a long term profit? The answer may surprise you.
Once you have a good strategy for blind play worked out, if you switch between limit and no limit Texas holdem you'll need to be able to adjust your play. While many hands play the same between the two variations, many don't.
The Positional Disadvantage
Even though position has already been mentioned, it forms the basis of everything else on the page so it needs mentioned again.
Everything you do while playing Texas holdem needs to be done while considering your position. Position directly affects your starting hand choices because some hands can only be played form certain positions profitably.
Medium suited connectors, like the eight and nine of diamonds, can only be played from late position in most games for a profit. In a few games the best players can play them from middle position, but even the best players don't waste their money on them from middle position.
The mistake players make is thinking about the money they've already put in the pot as theirs. It stops being your money the second you push it forward for the blinds.
The only thing you need to consider is how the strength of your starting hand works with your position in relation to the button. If you can play a hand from the worst positions at the table for a profit you should play, but if not you should fold. Even if you see the flop for free you should fold most hands after checking.
Limit Texas holdem and no limit holdem are both played almost 100% the same, but the way you have to play each of them to maximize your profitability isn't the same.
The biggest difference in how you have to think about limit and no limit play is that limit is a more straightforward mathematical game. In no limit you can make up for a questionable starting hand by winning a huge pot when you hit your hand, but in limit play the maximum amount you can win with each hand is limited.
In no limit Texas holdem you can often call a raise with a middle pair, like sevens or eights, because when you hit a set you can win more than eight times your initial call when you hit. You hit a set roughly one out of every eight times so you need to be able to win more than eight times your call in order to show a long term profit. No limit play makes this possible.
The same situation is rarely profitable in limit play. While it's easy to assume you can win eight times your call, the truth is that many times you won't.
It's easy to say that limit Texas holdem is more mathematical than no limit, but how do you learn from and take advantage of this information?
The first thing you must do is learn that starting hand selection is the number one thing you need to master in order to be a long term winner while playing limit holdem. The player who enters the pot with the best starting hand tends to win more often than the player with a worse hand. This makes a great deal of sense, but the best players combine strong starting hands with smart play.
Once you learn the range of starting hands you can play from each position you need to focus on learning as much as possible about your opponents. When you're playing from the blinds you have to find every advantage you can.
When you see the flop in limit Texas holdem the rest of the hand should play out based on odds and pot odds. You've seen five out of the seven total cards you'll use to make up your hand, know the amount in the pot, and should have somewhat of an idea of where you stand in the hand.
- If you check and face a bet are you receiving the correct pot odds to call?
- If the flop is checked around should you fire a bet on the turn to try to take down the pot?
- Should you call a single bet on the river with a third or fourth best possible hand?
These questions all have answers based on your chances to win the hand with your current holdings. And because limit play has a capped betting limit on each round you have a specific number of bets and / or pot amount to use to determine the best course of action.
No Limit Play
You have slightly more options for starting hand play in no limit Texas holdem from the blinds, but only if you're able to play well after the flop.
Some no limit holdem players are able to play trap hands profitably from the blinds, but you really have to be able to play well out of position to play this type of game well.
Trap hands include medium pairs and suited connectors.
The medium pairs can win big pots when you hit a set and the suited connectors can win pots with flushes, but their largest value is in well-disguised straights. Notice that small pocket pairs aren't included on the list.
While small pocket pairs can also hit a set and win a big pot the problem is when a higher pocket pair hits their set. This won't happen often but you're almost guaranteed to get stacked when this happens. This makes a large dent into your possible profits from hitting a set. The value of playing for a set is stacking your opponents, not losing your entire stack.
The lower the pocket pair you play the higher the chance of another player having a higher set when you hit. Specific advice for which pocket pairs to play and which ones to fold vary, but in general avoid anything lower than pocket fives. Some consider anything lower than pocket sevens questionable.
If you've got a good enough read on your opponent and / or the ability to lay down a set of threes or fours when you're beat you may be able to play them profitably. But very few players are this good.
In limit play when you see the flop with a poor hand from the blinds or call a bet to see the turn you stand to lose a bet or two. But when you see a flop with a poor hand in no limit you stand the chance to get stuck in a hand with higher consequences.
Imagine the following scenario.
You're in the small blind with the eight of clubs and the jack of diamonds and you see the flop for a half bet. The flop comes down jack high with three different suits. This gives you top pair with a terrible kicker.
How are you going to play on the flop? Are you going to check or bet? What happens if you bet and get raised? What if you check and an opponent makes a big bet? While it's the best hand occasionally, the odds of jacks with an eight kicker being good in a big pot are almost nonexistent. This is the classic case of either winning a small pot or losing a big one. You need to be on the other end of this equation, not on this side.
This illustrates both the problem of playing out of position and the problem of entering a no limit pot with a poor hand. When you have to make decisions that can involve your entire stack each decision becomes magnified.
Raising From the Blinds
The only time you should raise from the blinds is when you'd normally raise from the under the gun position.
Large pocket pairs and aces with a high kicker, preferably suited, are your best bets.
The advice listed elsewhere on this page about never calling from the blinds is still relevant. If you decide to play a hand and can't check to see the flop you should raise. If you don't feel comfortable raising you should strongly consider folding.
Once you become a strong player showing long term profit you'll find certain hands in certain games can be played profitably by calling a bet in the blinds, but it's a large leak in many player's games so don't do it until you're a good player.
Of course you can occasionally raise with a different hand if the level of competition is good enough to pay attention. At the lower levels you should play straight forward poker, but as your competition gets better you have to take precautions to not be predictable.
When you decide you need to change up your play a little it's important not to go overboard. Raise with a different hand than normal once or twice per playing session.
You can also consider making a raise with a medium pair and hope for a set, but if you play this way you have to be willing to fire a continuation bet on the flop most of the time even if you miss your set. This isn't a profitable long term play most of the time, so you need to resist the urge to play these weaker hands for a raise too often.
Defending Your Blinds
Have you ever heard players talking about how they have to defend their blinds? Or have you ever felt a late position player was raising too much trying to steal your blinds? If so, what did you do?
Most players are convinced their opponents in late position are always trying to steal their blinds. And some players do raise too often in an attempt to steal blinds.
The reaction from most players is to start firing a raise back at the late position aggressor. While this is a possible way to challenge someone stealing your blinds, what do you do if they re-raise?
It can be irritating to have a player constantly raise when you're in the blinds, but you need to forget about the concept of protecting your blinds. You need to wait for a good hand and raise with it and fold all of your poor and medium strength hands to a raise.
What many players forget is that sometimes the late position aggressor has a real hand and she gets to play the hand with position against you.
Don't forget that the blinds aren't yours once you put them in the pot.
The Ultimate Strategy
At the end of the day most Texas holdem players participate in too many pots from the blinds.
They think that since it's only half a bet from the small blind or a single extra bet in a raised pot from the big blind that the odds would surely say they need to call with almost any hand. After all, any hand can win, right?
While it's certainly true that any hand can win, the real question that needs to be considered is if a call is more profitable in the long run than any other option.
Everyone that's been playing Texas holdem for long has probably seen the worst starting hand, an unsuited seven and two, win a pot. But the only time it's even close to correct to see the flop with this hand is from the big blind when the pot hasn't been raised. Even in this situation, the only time you should do anything other than check and fold to a bet is when the flop improves your hand in a big way.
In most no limit games you need to improve to better than two pair to continue with the hand. This means if you don't have three of a kind or better you should be looking for a way to get out of the pot.
Until you reach the level where you've mastered enough of the other parts of Texas holdem to be a consistent winning player you should fold everything in the blinds that you wouldn't play from early position.
If you see a flop for free simply check and fold to any bet unless your hand improves a great deal or you have a strong read on your opponent.
The hands most winning players are willing to play rom early position are limited to the top starting hands. Here's a list of possible starting hands.
Even hands as strong as JJ and 10 10 have to be played mostly for set value in most games. In many no limit holdem games you can play medium pocket pairs from the blinds for set value as well, but you have to be good enough to make them pay off at a high enough rate when you hit your set.
This is harder to do when you're out of position and when the pre flop action doesn't have an aggressor.
If you have any hesitation about what to do with a hand in the blinds you should fold.
Don't overanalyze the situation or start loosening your starting hand standards just because you're in the blinds.
Going hand in hand with your tight starting hand requirements from the blinds, don't call any bets from the blinds. Check, raise, or fold whenever you're in the blinds. If you never call you force yourself to only play your best hands and play them aggressively.
During your next few Texas holdem poker sessions fold every blind that you can't make a raise with. This has an immediate impact on most Texas holdem players by improving their game and overall profitability.
Even if you end up folding a few hands that could be borderline profitable in the long run, you'll make up for it by eliminating many hands that lose money. Never forget the reason for playing Texas holdem is to win as much money as possible, not defend your blinds or get into pots with poor hands out of position.
You read a question in the opening about being able to fold 90% of your hands in the blinds and still being able to turn a profit. It was somewhat of a trick question. It's hard to turn a profit by playing more than 10% of your hands from the blind, so yes you can be profitable folding 90% of your blind hands.