by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
There’s a pervasive myth among poker players that relentless defense of the blinds is something to be revered. It’s not likely that this practice is profitable, nor is it consistently the right play relative to the action at the table. I’m not advocating letting the table run over your blinds on a non-stop basis, but my experiences have taught me that players who habitually defend their blinds typically put themselves in bad spots.
Equity in a tournament can be greatly gained or lost based upon one or two hands. This outlook is important when engaging tournament poker, where minor mistakes can have severe repercussions. Getting through a tournament is a marathon, filled with landmines you must avoid along the way. Mistakenly defending the blinds is one such landmine, and it’s quite common.
Who would you rather play against: a player that predictably calls out of the blinds, or a player that mixes in folds and re-raises? I should note that there are some world class tournament players that habitually defend their blinds, but the most common cases involve mediocre players who could easily be labeled as loose-passive, “calling machines.” Not only do habitual blind defenders call with weaker than average hands, but they also go out of their way to call out of position. This hurts their table image, which can create a negative feedback mechanism.
In a typical scenario, when someone defends the big blind, it shouldn’t alarm you in the least. The way I look at it, if I’m the raiser and in position, in the long-run I will be able to extract chips out of my opponents. By discriminating with our pre-flop starting hands, we’re able to raise hands like QJ while our opponents are calling with inferior hands like Q8s.
Instead of viewing someone defending their big blind as a bad thing for you, as the original raiser, view it as a chance to play a pot in an advantageous position against an opponent with, on average, an inferior hand. I closely look at any call out of the blinds and often refer to them as, “spew calls.” This means, in jest, opponents are giving me chips.
The real exception to this rule presents itself when we are shorter stacked. When we have 25 blinds or less, for example, an open raise of 2.5x is ten percent of our stack. In this situation, it might be more favorable to raise into players in the blinds that are more willing to fold, rather than defending by calling. In these situations, it’s often necessary to tighten our open-raising range and fold hands like J10 or small pocket pairs, rather than allowing our opponents to cheaply enter the pot against us (especially in a situation where we have a tenuous, weak stack).
Success partly comes down to managing your variance. Instances when choosing which players’ blinds to raise, and which to avoid, are critical. As tournaments progress, chip stacks become progressively shallower, making the value of each blind greater. The versatility of target players to raise into, and the awareness to identify the range of hands held, is needed to efficiently accumulate chips.
Oftentimes, in poker, and in life, your attitude and intentions with which you enter a situation will have an impact on the eventual outcome. In the case of blinds defense, selectively enter pots in position, and with better hands than your opponents. Doing so puts you at an advantage. When faced with habitual blind defenders against you, slightly constrict your open-raising range. When you do enter the pot, you will be getting the best of it.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and former No.1 ranked online tournament player. David is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at TheMavenTraining.com