In most games of Hold ’em poker, the big blind (BB) is a full-sized bet for the first round of play. For example, in a $10/$20 game, the BB is $10, which basically means you only have to check in order to see a flop. No matter how bad your cards are (yes, even the proverbial “worst hand” of 7-2o), you should never fold a big blind hand in an unraised pot, because lightening does strike at times and you’re already commited to the $$$ anyway. Of course, you may raise or reraise if you wish and we’ll talk about that in just a bit.
However, the most important decision for a player in the BB is usually whether or not to call a raise (or two or three) and/or re-raise. A lot of players feel they must “protect” their blind bet from others who would steal it, so they automatically call any raise even though they may have that 7-2o as pocket cards. And don’t kid yourself; it’s very worthwhile to try and steal the blinds, especially when you consider that the expected value (EV) for a hand in a somewhat “loose” $10/$20 Hold ’em game is about $1, maybe $1.25. So, let’s say a player on the button, who bets in front of the blinds pre-flop, has a decent, though not great hand like A-6s and s/he has noticed that the players in the blinds usually fold to a raise. If everyone else has folded up to this point, the player on the button (the “acting” dealer for this hand) should raise with the idea of stealing the blinds. Unfortunately, such a tactic won’t work every time, so the expected value of such a play is somewhat less than the $15 in the blinds ($5 in the small blind and $10 in the big blind), but whatever the EV is, it’s more than $1 and is undoubtedly many times higher than the EV for A-6s played all the way through from the button. Even if our semi-bluffer has to play out the hand, s/he’s not sitting dead in the water with cards like A-6s, so the pot can still be won, even if one or another (or both) of the blinds call the raise. But we’ll talk more about that when I discuss playing from the button in a future lesson.
Let’s get back to our hand in the big blind. Most of the time all we have to do is check the hand and we’ll see the flop. But what if the bet has been raised from the button? Or from the first bettor (“under the gun”) or a player a little further along? Should we automatically call the raise? Of course, the answer is a resounding “no”. Like most other situations in poker, what you should do depends primarily upon what cards you hold. You’ve already made one bet and those $$$ are gone if you fold, yet you have to remember that for the rest of the hand you’ll be betting first, so you still need some decent cards to call one raise, let alone two or more. Then again, with the right cards, you can not only call several raises, but actually reraise and start building a “monster” pot. But monster pots are won by monster hands, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Because of the unique status of the big blind bet, I’m going to give you a separate list of minimum starting hands to use when you’re in that position. As you know from Lesson 3, most hands that you’ll get aren’t playable at all, but because we’ve already made a full bet in the big blind, it’s okay to loosen up a bit when a raise has been made in front of us.
Like all of the other starting hands, these have been determined through mathematical analysis (mostly simulations) on the Turbo Texas Hold ’em software that I’ve talked about before. There are no guesses, no “gut feelings” or any other voodoo involved here; either a hand is profitable or it isn’t. If it isn’t profitable, you won’t find it in this list. In fact, I may have been a little too tight, because trying to hit the averages for something like this isn’t easy. But if you’ll go with these hands, I think you’ll like your long-term results, so at least give it a try. As I’ve discussed before, the list of hands I’m going to present here will eventually be a part of my Hold ’em Poker Basic Strategy Matrix, which we’re building layer by layer.
I’ve arranged the hands for this list in three categories: hands that can raise and/or reraise, hands that can call any number of raises, but not reraise and hands that can call just one raise, otherwise fold. Any other hand not on this list should check in an unraised pot or fold if raised. Rather than listing each separate hand, I’m once again showing the minimum, based upon the high card in the hand so any hand that is better than the minimum may also be played. For example, in the case of a Queen, the minimum to raise and/or reraise is Q-Q; the minimum to call all raises is Q-xs and the minimum to call one raise is Q-9o, which includes Q-10o and Q-Jo. (Remember all the symbols? Here’s a quick review: “x” means any card, “s” means suited and “o” stands for off-suit or unsuited). Any other hand with a Queen as the highest card should check, but fold if raised. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: If a hand can raise or reraise, it can obviously call all raises and if a hand can call all raises, it can call just one. Remember, just because a hand can raise or reraise, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do it, although you’ll likely be making a mistake if you don’t. A lot of people like to “slowplay” hands like A-A or K-K, but they’re also the first to complain when someone – a player who may have folded to a pre-flop raise – beats them by drawing out to a Flush.
Okay, enough preaching, here’s the list:
|Minimum Big Blind Hands for Limit Hold ’em Poker|
|Re-raise/ Raise||Call all raises||Call one raise only|
|A-A/ A-Ko, A-Qs||A-2s, A-10o||A-2o|
|K-K/ KQs||K-2s, K-Jo||K-9o|
Notes and comments:
Take a look at the first line, which covers hands where an Ace is the highest card. Reading over from the left, you can reraise any raises if you hold A-A in the big blind. The “slash” tells you that a hand of A-Ko or higher (which is A-Ks) and AQs can raise from the big blind if the pot hasn’t been raised yet, but you should just call if another player has raised in front of you, particularly if that raise came from an early position. Continuing to the right, you can see an Ace that is “suited” with any other card can call any number of raises, but if the other card is not suited, then A-10 is the bottom limit. That includes A-Jo and A-Qo, but any other combination should call only one raise, as is indicated in the third column. So, if you have A-3o and are facing two or more raises, you should fold. I know that will seem either wrong or downright amazing to many of you, because most players in limit Hold ’em games will cling to A-xo like it was life itself, but that’s a serious mistake whenever two or more raises have been made in front of you. The math doesn’t lie (neither do I, for that matter).
As you work down the ranks (remember – Jack, 10, 9, etc. are “ranks”), you’ll see that our play tightens up. For a hand where 10 is the higher card, we do not raise from the big blind with 10-10, but we do call any number of raises with it; in fact we’ll also do it with a 10 that is suited with any other card. But, if the other card is off-suit, then 10-8 and 10-9 should call only one raise, otherwise we fold. This means you should fold any hand of 10-7o or lower if the pot has been raised. Of course, if there hasn’t been a raise, you’ll check with 10-anything, because you already have a bet in the pot. And yes, you’re reading it right; you can call raises with 9-xs from the big blind.
The 8 is the mid-point of the ranks; 6 ranks are below it and 6 ranks are above it, so hands where the higher card is 8 or less must be played “tightly” to avoid turning them into losers. Oh, I know all too well about losing a big hand to someone that held 8-2o all the way to the river, but those are the people that pay our rent, so don’t get too upset when it happens. That stinging sensation will gradually fade. But if the bet has been raised, you simply must fold hands lower than 8-7o, no doubt about it. A glance at the chart will show you that hands where the higher card is 8 or less and are off-suit should call a raise only when they’re connected, that is, there are no gaps between the low card and the high card. If they’re suited, we do allow a litlle gapping because we have some Flush potential. But as we get down to the 4s and 3s, we don’t even allow for that, because most Flushes are won by the Ace or King, so our 2 or 3 has very little potential in that regard.
Speaking of 2s and 3s, you should take note of the fact that, even as a pair, those cards have very little potential. Call one raise maximum with them and if you don’t improve on the flop, drop them like a hot potato. Sure, I know the first time you do that, the card you need to make a “set” (trips where two of the cards are in the pocket) will sure enough come on the turn, but in the long run – we are in this for the long-run, remember – you’ll save a lot of $$$ by getting away from those hands quickly. They’ll either work or they won’t. Most of the time they won’t.
Just a quick note on playing Q-Q and J-J from the big blind: I didn’t place a “re-raise/raise” indicator on them because it’s really a borderline play. Certainly you can feel comfortable in making the first raise of the pot with them, but you probably shouldn’t re-raise unless you think someone’s trying to steal the blinds; in that case, blaze away with both barrels. However, if the small blind folds behind you and there has been only one raise from a player in late position (on the button or within two places of it), then re-raising either Q-Q or J-J may be a worthwhile move. Again, it all depends. If the player who raised has cobwebs on his chips (as one author very fittingly puts it), then calling is probably your best play. Remember, even a pair of Queens is all but useless if an Ace or King comes on the flop.
Okay, get your homework, then go play a lot of poker!
Until my Hold ’em Poker Basic Strategy Matrix is completed, make a copy of the chart above and keep it near you as you play, particularly if you’re playing online. Discipline is an important part of success at poker, just as it is at Blackjack, so follow this chart religiously until you find out that it’s just not working for you. I doubt that will happen, because a lot of profitability has been added my game by playing the big blind as I’ve shown you here. Combine this with a good feel for who’s trying to steal the blinds and who isn’t and you’ve got a powerful start to any hand where you’ve been “forced” to make that big bet. Oh, and don’t forget, if the pot hasn’t been raised, check with any big-blind hand – miracles do happen sometimes.
I’ll see you here next time.