Lesson 6 – The Small Blind Bet

Home Poker School Lesson 6 – The Small Blind Bet

Another mandatory bet in Hold ’em poker is the Small Blind (SB), which is usually – but not always – half that of the Big Blind (BB) bet. So, in the typical $10/$20 game that we use as the “base” game in these lessons, the BB bet would be $10 and the SB will be $5. This 50% “rule” doesn’t always apply, however. In a $3-$6 game for example, the SB is often $1, not $1.50 and that difference has considerable impact on playing your hand from the SB position.

Obviously, the SB bet requires a lot more thought than the BB bet, primarily because it costs you a certain amount of $$$ to “complete” the bet, even in an unraised pot. As you learned in lesson 5, the primary decision to be made when playing in the Big Blind is how to deal with a raise, while the easiest decision to make in the BB is to check. In the SB position, the easiest decison is to fold, but if you do that too often it’ll end up costing you a lot of $$$. So we have to find a balance point that defines when we fold or complete the SB. I don’t want to imply that we’ll never raise or reraise out of the SB because there are times when that’s the proper play, but 90% of the time our decision will be to either fold or complete. Often the decision to fold is made because the bet’s been raised, but there will be times when we’ll fold simply because the cards we have don’t warrant any further investment.

Proper play from the Small Blind is complicated by the fact that if you decide to complete the bet and stay in the game, you’re still vulnerable to a raise from the BB player, plus you’ll be the first player to act on the next round of betting. Every round of play is different, of course, but you could easily find yourself completing the SB in an unraised pot and then the player in the BB raises. If all the others still in just call, you must now make a full-size bet to stick with the hand and it’s against someone who has raised in early position. That usually indicates a very strong hand or it’s a bluff by someone who wants to win the pot without a showdown, although that doesn’t usually happen in limit games. Let’s say you’re in the SB of a $10/$20 game, so your investment is $5 and you decide to complete the bet with another $5 and then the BB raises. The bet is going to come around to you at $10, assuming no other player re-raises the BB (not likely if they didn’t raise the first time around, but not impossible, either), so now what do you do? As you may have guessed, the mathematics of the situation hold the answer to this dilemma.

Betting the SB isn’t as cut-and-dried as betting the Big Blind because your initial investment is obviously smaller and a lot more depends upon the “texture” of the game. I don’t like discussing stuff like “texture” because it’s subjective in nature, but there’s no getting around it in poker, so let’s just deal with it. The game you’re in may be “loose”, in the sense that 50% or more of the players are seeing the flop, even when the bet’s been raised. That’s not the only definition of a “loose” game, but I think you get the idea. (By the way, don’t get the words “loose” and “lose” confused, as do so many people on the ‘Net. The word “lose” means to not win, such as, “I always lose when I play the slots.” The word “loose” means not tight, like “The lugnut on that wheel is loose.” With me? The English lesson is over.) Anyway, a loose game will typically see a lot of preflop raises (and calls), which can be a profitable situation for the wise player who plays good hands, whether from the blinds or not.

But when it comes to playing in a loose game from the Small Blind, you often have to decide if you’re defending your blind from someone who’s trying to “steal” it or from someone who’s playing a real hand or even someone who’s just throwing their $$$ away. And that’s just a loose game. If the game you’re in is “tight” or if the pot has been raised by a player who seldom bets any opening hand, it’s another matter entirely, of course. In a loose game with a lot of callers, you must pretty well figure that it’ll take “the nuts” to win, but if you’re up against just one other player, top pair will often do the trick. See what I mean about “texture”? I could go on and on about this, but what it really boils down to is that a single, set-in-stone strategy for playing the Small Blind bet isn’t really feasible. You’ll have to make some adjustments “on the fly”, so to speak, but I can at least give you a good, solid starting point.

Just as I did for the Big Blind bet, I’ve created a chart that will eventually form part of my Hold ’em Poker Basic Strategy Matrix. You’ll see that the chart is divided into three categories: hands that can raise and/or reraise, hands that can call any number of raises, but not reraise and hands where you should just complete the blind. If a hand is not on this list, you should fold. An important note here is that this chart is very conservative and you’ll appear to be some sort of “rock” if you use it all the time. Should you find yourself in a loose game, you can safely loosen up some yourself, particularly when you have a hand that’s in the “complete only” category. For example, I recommend that a hand of Q-9o is about as low as you should go, but in a loose game, a hand of Q-8o or even Q-7o is playable if the SB bet is 50% of the opening bet. If your SB bet is one-third of the opening bet, then you should pretty much stick with what I show in the chart and not loosen up at all.

As always, each hand is “keyed” by the higher card and all I show is the minimum hand, either suited or off-suit. Any hand that’s higher than the one I show is also playable within its category, of course.

Minimum Small Blind Hands for Limit Hold ’em Poker
Re-raise/ Raise Call all raises Complete only
A-A/ A-Ko, A-Qs A-2s, A-Jo A-8o
K-K/ KQs K-2s, K-10o K-8o
Q-Q** Q-8s, Q-Jo Q-9o
J-J, J-7s J-8o
10-10,10-8s 10-9o
9-9, 9-8s 9-8o
8-8 8-7o
7-7 7-6o
6-6 6-5s
5-5 5-4s
4-4 4-3s

Notes and comments:

If you have a hand that’s in the “complete only” category and the bet is raised, you should fold. The real judgment call comes when you complete such a hand and then the player in the Big Blind raises; you’re already committed to a full-sized bet and it’s difficult to fold at this point. Personally, I fold in that situation only if my cards aren’t a pair, aren’t suited or both aren’t a 10 or higher. I’m still working on the math for this, so be warned that my strategy in that particular situation is just an educated guess at this point, but it seems to work fine.

** The hand of Q-Q in the Small Blind is played much like it is in the Big Blind, sometimes you should reraise and sometimes you shouldn’t. While I hate to be that imprecise, all I can do is blame it on the “texture”, which I already pointed out is subjective in nature. It would be a mistake to always reraise out of the SB with pocket Queens, just as it would be a mistake to never reraise with them. The best I can say is to reraise with pocket Queens if the initial raise was from a player on or near the button, or if it came from a “maniac” who raises a lot, regardless of where s/he is sitting. If the pot hasn’t been raised by the time it’s your bet, raising with Q-Q in the Small Blind is the best move in a game with less than 5 players, especially if the BB is prone to folding.


You’re getting off easy this time: just copy this chart and keep it near you as you’re playing. Also, if you’re playing in tournaments or considering it, be sure to read the articles I did about poker tournaments that are on the GameMaster’s Secrets page here.

In the next lesson we’ll discuss playing pocket pairs.

I’ll see you then.

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