Friday, August 16, 2013

The Indefensiblity of Defending Your Blinds

It's just your big blind - it's not that serious
While I normally tie in the tenets of poker and game theory into daily life, this is going to be a minor strategy post (cue clicking over to different browser tabs now) about something that's been bothering me lately: blind defenders. Yeah, I'm talking about you, you lifetime live tournament leatherass, who's played more days of poker than I've been alive. Yeah, I'm talking about you, you scared life nit who never passes up a discount sale at Macy's and watches "Extreme Couponing" while snacking on your two-for-two-dollars bags of Ruffles. This post... is for YOU.

For awhile, defending your blinds has been pretty cut-and-dried explained to me as a leak: When you call out of position from the small or big blinds with a weak hand, you are out of position for the rest of the hand – end of story. Or is it?

Yeehaw - I call!
While I'm notoriously not a "math guy," even I know the basic math. Almost every hand when you get the opportunity to complete out of the small blind, you're getting 3-to-1 pot odds to call. In a 50/100 no ante level where you're the small blind, when it folds around to you, you're risking 50 to win 150. Some say you could play any two cards profitably by just calling your life away blind versus blind, trying to hit some random flop with your random-ass cards. I vehemently disagree.

So you say you want to play Yosemite Sam and speculate for cheap? Good luck with that, acting in first position postflop, with as many as nine others to act behind you. We all know the real profit of postflop poker is held either in hand strength and/or position; the lack of the latter makes the former that much more important.

Just why is defending your blinds considered a leak? In tournament poker, the chips are worth more, particularly once late registration/any rebuy or add-on period has expired. You can't just reload when you wanna after donking off your chips cash game-style. If you systematically limped your small blind to big blind every time with random cards, considering we miss the flop two-thirds of the time, statistically you have a slight edge to do so over a large sample size, but that's just to hit the flop – and not even to hit the flop that hard. If you want me to call out of position with a random hand, I want overwhelming odds to do so, not a cheap, Dollar Store discount. If you have 3 or more limpers, giving me 9-to-1 odds ($50 to win $450) to complete from the small blind, then let's talk.

C'mon. Just limp. Everybody's doing it.
But everyone else is open-limping Рthe peer pressure! I like to play in a friendly game where we see a lot of flops and splash chips around! That's so nice for you Рcash (and the kiddie) game is down the street, y'all. I'm only addressing optimal, not purely recreational play, here. Brings to mind my (and many others') mom's sarcastic "If everyone were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump, too?" clich̩. Let them plunge hand after hand to their -EV death; doesn't mean you have to.

How often are hands folded around to the blinds anyway, especially live? Not often, I agree. So what is our threshold for rank speculation? Pre-ante, I would say a 35 big blind (bbs) stack; with antes, I'd limit my speculation to 30bbs, and here's why.

Let's say at 50/100 pre-ante you have 94o in the small blind, with three limpers coming to you and your 40bbs stack. Getting a luscious 9-to-1, you call, the big blind checks. Flop comes J74 rainbow, about as random as they come. Without anyone taking initiative, you could bet out small to protect your bottom pair, or check-call to see what happens on the turn. For this example, let's say you check-call 250, bringing the pot to 1000 going to the turn heads up. When a blank comes on the turn and you check, your opponent bets pot, or almost 30% of your remaining stack, you can happily fold with minimal amount of investment and a decent 37bbs stack behind. You play the same hand the same way with a 20bbs stack preflop, and you're left with a very exposable 17 big blinds that pretty much commits your stack on your next open raise. We lower our speculation standards a little with antes (30bbs) only because there's more money in there justifying the additional risk. If I'm in the big blind and there's a raise ahead of me, I want at least two callers before I speculate out of position. The odds I need to play that far out of position and without initiative need to be 7.5-to-1 or more to justify a call. Otherwise, it's like watching the air slowly seep out of my balloon of a stack over time, gambling repeatedly to hit with a random hand.

Blind speculation is even worse earlier in a tournament, when stacks are deep and full. You've got money to burn, so why not call with 92 of hearts from the big blind to see if you can somehow smash a three-way flop? I'd venture that early in a tournament is the worst time to speculate because 1) everyone else is doing it, gleefully leaking away their chips; you might as well be the one scooping them up with solid preflop ranges instead of rank speculation and 2) because the blind-to-stack ratio is high, the chips are worth less. Granted, as blinds go up deeper in the tournament, stacks shrink, which is why I would suggest speculating more deeper in the tournament (given you have the appropriate stack size). As the chips are worth more and players' investment in the tournament has grown, watch how peoples' ranges tighten, making their play on random flops more predictable and less likely to connect solidly.

If all this hasn't scared you off enough from wild blind speculation, consider this: The next time in a tournament there are three limpers coming around to you in the small blind, take a moment before committing that extra small blind from your 26 big blind stack with your J3 offsuit. Because if you do commit, there's a lovely bridge in Brooklyn I could recommend for that leatherass...

1 comment:

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