In poker, blinds are bets that some players in some positions around the table are required to place before the flop. Antes are bets that the entire table is required to place pre-flop. In tournaments, blinds and antes play an even more important role as they will increase over time.
If it weren’t for the blinds, everyone could sit around waiting for pocket aces and the game would be very boring!
Poker Rules for Blinds
Poker blinds are forced pre-flop bets which play a massively important role in Poker. There are three types of blinds in Texas Hold’em poker:
- the small blind,
- the big blind, and
- the ante.
Antes have a similar role in other forms of poker and in Hold’em tournaments. The rising poker blind structure in tournaments encourages action and ensures the tournament doesn’t last too long. The fundamentals of poker blind structure are explained below.
A blind in poker is a forced bet paid only by certain players who are in specific positions at the table. These positions are called the Big Blind and the Small Blind, which are the two positions to the left of the Dealer Button.
In most poker strategies, the blinds are considered horrible positions to play a mid-range hand from. Whilst you are the last to speak preflop, you will be the first ones to speak post-flop. Generally, seasoned poker players will become very tight whilst being the small or big blind.
The big blind is usually the size of the table’s minimum bet. The small blind is usually half the big blind. In some rare scenarios, the small and big blinds will be the same size.
Some poker games will have a third blind, which is usually paid by the Button. Don’t confuse this with a straddle, which is not a forced bet.
Texas Hold’em uses blinds in both cash games and tournaments. In cash games, the blind-sizes are fixed and used to determine the stake. In tournaments the blinds increase over time, creating a blind structure.
Texas Hold’em Blind Structure
The blind structure is a very important part of tournament poker. It determines how you should play over time. The bigger the blinds get relative to your stack, the more hands you are forced to play or else risk being “blinded out”. You must win pots regularly enough to keep up with the rising blinds.
Low blinds/big stacks increase the value of speculative hands, while big blinds/small stacks increase the value of high cards that can make good pairs. There’s not much point trying to set mine or try to hit a straight if the potential payoff is small.
It’s helpful to think of your stack size in terms of how many big blinds it is made up of. This way you can see how the increasing blinds decrease your stack and force you to play more hands or get “blinded out”. Many online poker sites allow you to see your stack in big blinds instead of chips. It also makes calculating pot odds and Stack-to-Pot Ratios (SPRs) a lot easier.
A Texas Hold’em blind structure consists of:
- the starting blinds level,
- the starting stack size,
- the level duration, and
- the level increase amount.
Let’s go with a simple example.
You might start with blinds of 20/40, where:
- 20 is the small blind, and
- 40 is the big blind.
All the players have a starting stack of 4,000 chips or 100bb (read “one hundred big blinds”). The level lengths are five minutes and the increase amount is 50%.
The first level of 20/40 lasts five minutes and then the blinds are increased by 50% to 30/60.
Then this level lasts five minutes until the blinds are increased by 50% to 45/90, and so on.
This is just a general example, and each factor is up to the organizer to decide on. Usually, they will provide a blind schedule in a table format. It’s always worth checking this blinds chart before you register to make sure you know exactly what to expect.
Turbo and Hyper tournaments will use either larger starting blinds, a faster blind timer, bigger increases, or a combination of these. This speeds things up and makes looser play necessary. It also increases variance, meaning any skill edge you might have is reduced.
Many tournaments will also include antes, either from the beginning or added in the later stages of the tournament.
Poker Rules for Ante
The poker ante is similar to the blind in that it is a forced bet, but differs in a couple of ways.
First, everyone at the table must pay it, rather than just the players in the Blinds. There is a recent development known as “button ante” where one player (usually the Button but sometimes the Big Blind) has to pay it for everyone – but this is really just to make things easier for the dealer.
Secondly, it is usually much smaller than either blind. Poker ante rules vary, but usually the ante is 10% or 12.5% the size of the big blind. This means that the antes roughly double the size of the pot.
Antes are common in Draw and Stud variants of poker. In Texas Hold’em, antes are used in tournaments, particularly in the later stages. However, some cash games use them too.
Antes encourage action – firstly because they dramatically increase the cost of each orbit (usually doubling it) so you really can’t wait around for a premium hand. Secondly, the cost of calling is reduced compared to the size of the pot, improving your pot odds. This makes it mathematically correct to call with a much wider range of starting hands.
In the blind schedule, the ante is usually listed first. So an example level could be 5/25/50, where 5 is the ante, 25 is the small blind and 50 is the big blind.
There is another type of forced bet in poker. It’s called “the bring-in” and found in variants like Razz and 7-Stud. In these types of poker, players are dealt some cards facing down and some facing up (‘upcards’).
Essentially the bring-in is like a blind, but it’s paid after the cards are dealt, based on what cards are dealt. For example, in Razz, the player with the highest ‘upcard’ must either pay the bring-in or make a bigger bet. They cannot check or fold. In 7-Stud, it’s the player with the lowest ‘upcard’.
Strategy for SB and BB
Let’s take a look at some strategies relating to Texas Hold’em blinds and blind play.
Aggressively Steal When Possible
When you get down to it, every poker hand starts out as a battle for the blinds and/or antes. This means you should look to steal the blinds whenever you think you can get away with them.
It doesn’t make much sense to try and steal the blinds from early position because there will be many players yet to act, increasing the probability one of them has a decent hand. The later position you are in, the fewer players there are left to act – and so the more likely it is you will get away with your steal attempt.
This is why the late positions of the Cut-off and Button are prime stealing spots. Even if one or both of the Blinds call, you will still have position post-flop.
If everyone folds around to you then the Small Blind is a good spot to steal from as there is only one player left to act, the Big Blind. The big downside though is that you’ll be out of position if the Big Blind decides to defend.
If you have a nitty player to your left there really is no reason not to steal as much as you can. If you have a loose player who will call – or worse, 3-bet you – then you need to be a bit more careful and choose hands that have some playability if your opponent doesn’t just roll over and give up.
Defend your Big Blind against Steals
The three spots where players will attempt to steal the blinds are the Cut-off, the Button and the Small Blind. Because of the profitability of stealing, you can expect players to try with a fairly wide range of hands. This means they often won’t be able to stand a re-raise.
Alternatively, you can try to defend in the Big Blind by flat calling with quite a wide range. You aren’t looking to make a lot of money here – you are just trying to lose less than you would if you folded every hand.
Folding every hand you get in the Big Blind would cost you 100bb/100, so your goal is to make this loss-rate slightly less rather than actually make a profit. It’s pretty much impossible to have a positive win-rate from the Big Blind. Really it is an exercise in damage limitation.
Calling a late position raise means you will be out of position post-flop, making 3-betting more attractive. When the Small Blind is trying to steal from you, it’s not necessary to 3-bet as you will have position if you call.
Just remember that you are only really defending your Big Blind if you think your opponent is stealing. Otherwise, you are just getting involved in a hand from an unprofitable position – so make sure your hole cards are good enough to justify that.
Three-bet or Fold in the Small Blind
It’s commonly understood that the Small Blind is the worst position in poker. You don’t act the last pre-flop, you are forced to bet, and you act first post-flop.
The Small Blind’s post-flop disadvantage really is massive because it makes it very hard to realize your hand’s equity by getting to showdown and even harder to get paid off when you do make a good hand.
It’s even worse if you do not have the initiative – calling rather than re-raising pre-flop “caps your range”, because your opponents know your hand wasn’t good enough to 3-bet with.
You should seriously consider adopting a 3-bet or fold strategy from the Small Blind, at least in cash games. You will need to 3-bet to a larger size though, at least against thinking players, because they know they will have position on you post-flop.
In tournaments though, the presence of the ante means it can be profitable to call from the Small Blind. Just don’t go overboard!
Don’t Post a Blind Out-of-Position
When you join a regular cash game, you are usually given the option to either wait until you are the Big Blind or to post a big blind and be dealt in immediately.
This may seem tempting but… would you pay your taxes twice? Be patient and wait till you are in the Big Blind rather than posting a blind to be dealt in immediately. You can always play fast-fold poker such as PokerStars Zoom instead if you just can’t wait to play a hand!
An exception to this is when there is a particularly terrible player on the table who is just giving their stack away and you are worried they will bust themselves before you get the chance post your blind. You can also post a blind out-of-position if you want people to think you are a recreational player.
Play Push/Fold When the Blinds are High
This isn’t a Big Blind/Small Blind position-specific tip, but you can’t really have a discussion about poker blind structure without discussing tournament push/fold strategy.
No matter how good a tournament poker player you are, you will eventually end up as a short-stack with less than 10 big blinds.
This can happen because you just lost a big hand, but it can also happen because the blinds have increased to a point that has reduced your stack down to a nub. In Texas Hold’em tournaments, the blinds schedule waits for no man!
Don’t Get Blinded Out
The golden rule of tournaments is to never allow yourself to get blinded out. So when your stack gets short, you need to start making moves! The big problem is that you will be stack-committed if you play any hand.
For example, if you have 9bb left and you raise to 3bb, you have 6bb left behind (usually less because of the ante). If you fold post-flop you’ve lost 33% of your stack for nothing. If you do continue you might as well get it all-in because any reasonable flop bet will leave you with pretty much nothing left.
So why not get it all-in preflop? This has a number of advantages. First, you will make people fold, because an all-in has much bigger fold equity than a regular raise. The blinds represent a significant proportion of your stack, so stealing them becomes absolutely key to your survival.
Secondly, you are guaranteed to see all five cards and therefore realize your equity. You will find this means that hole cards like Ace-rag (e.g. A2o) and small pairs are better choices to play than hole hands like KQs, when the opposite is true in normal situations.
Thirdly, push/fold strategy is essentially a solved game. Charts are available that you can learn to make sure you are playing the mathematically correct move.
That’s good to know because the variance of tournament poker is so great you can’t rely on results to determine whether you are making the right moves or not. Getting knocked out is a lot easier to take if you can reassure yourself you played the hand correctly!
One important thing to remember is that the push/fold strategy only really works if you are opening the action. If other players have raised or limped before you, your fold equity is greatly reduced. This principle is known as “First-in Vigorish”.
When to Start Playing Push/Fold
When you should start playing push/fold is a matter of debate. Really it comes down to personal preference. Some players are used to maneuvering with a short-stack and don’t start pushing until they are down to 6bb. Others prefer to take advantage of the fact a bigger stack has more fold equity so they start at 15bb.
You need to take into account your opponents’ tendencies too. Some players just can’t help calling all-ins, so don’t try to steal their blinds unless you want to be called. And sometimes you can min-cash just by outlasting bad players, so there’s no need to risk your tournament life by jamming all-in – but remember the real money is always the top two places and min-cashing shouldn’t be your goal.
Know When to Fold
As Kenny Rodgers famously pointed out, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em”.
When you’re in the Big Blind and Small Blind it can be tempting to play trash hands because of the discount you get on continuing.
This is often a bad idea. Yes, the discount gives you better pot odds. But it rarely gives you good enough pot odds to justify playing trash.
It’s one thing to defend your Big Blind against an obvious steal attempt from the player on the Button. It’s quite another to get involved in a multiway pot involving early position players. You just don’t have the equity you think you have, and you will be playing the hand out-of-position.
Likewise, when players ahead of you limp into the pot, it can be tempting to “complete” from the Small Blind by calling 0.5 big blinds with any two cards. But this is rarely a good idea, as even if you manage to make a big hand it’s very hard to build a big pot. And you won’t make a big hand very often. It’s much more likely you’ll end up with a dominated hand that loses you a lot of money.
The Blinds are losing positions. The optimal poker blinds strategy is simple: don’t play hands from there unless you have to, or you have good reason to suspect an opponent is trying to steal.
When you get down to it, every poker hand starts out as a battle for the blinds (or antes). These forced bets are the reason we play cards at all. And if it wasn’t for the poker blind structure in tournaments, they would go on forever!