Playing correctly from the small blind can be frustrating and confusing.
On the one hand, you already have half the bet in the pot which should entice you to play more hands. On the other, you’ll have to play out of position on every street which suggests that you should actually play fewer hands.
So what are you supposed to do from the small blind?
The answer depends on several variables including the size of your stack, the strength of your hand, and the type of opponent you’re facing. In this column, we’ll focus on two of the most common situations you’ll face from the small blind.
Alone Against the Big Blind
Many players make the mistake of acting too aggressively in this situation. They end up bleeding away their chips against a more experienced player in the big blind — a player who will use his position to steal pots after the flop.
In this situation, unless your opponent is a passive, conservative player, don’t raise too often. Even a hand like Ac-6d won’t fare well when played from out of position. That’s because experienced players will defend their big blinds with a wide variety of hands. They understand the power of position and will usually try to exploit that advantage.
Skilled players will play a hand like Ac-6d with caution from the small blind. Despite what you hear on television, it’s normally best to just call from the small blind. Remember, though, you can’t do anything the same all of the time in poker. You’ve got to be prepared to change gears.
If antes are in play in addition to the blinds, you can act a bit more aggressively from the small blind — but not much. Raising from the small blind with a marginal hand only invites the big blind to call, or even reraise. Antes act to increase his pot odds and create a greater incentive for him to play.
The best advice when playing from the small blind is to mix up your play. The general rules are to fold garbage hands, limp with marginal hands, and raise with hands that are strong enough to play big pots with. Don’t allow your opponents, however, to pick up patterns in your play. Occasionally call with pocket aces and raise with hands like 5s-8s.
Playing Against a Raiser
If another player has opened the pot with a raise, ignore the fact that you already have money in the pot. Against a raise, play only those hands that you would stay in with if you were seated outside the blinds.
This situation calls for tighter play than in any other position at the table. If you do find a hand strong enough to play from the small blind, your best choice is usually to reraise before the flop in an attempt to neutralize your opponent’s positional advantage.
The position of the raiser is another determining factor in deciding how to play your hand. For example, against a player who raised from early position, you can safely call with hands like 7-7 or Ah-Qh. However, if the raise came from late position, there’s an increased chance that he’s attempting to steal the blinds. If that’s the case, lean towards making a substantial reraise with most hands you’d be willing to play.
Special note to beginning players: In this particular situation, if you don’t have a hand that’s strong enough to reraise with, you should fold before the flop. A call from the small blind can prove troublesome. If you do choose to play, your limited poker and people reading skills will be severely tested in post-flop play.
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