In most forms of poker, such as the most popular one of No-Limit Texas Hold’em, there are forced blind bets that must be put forward by the players to the immediate left of the button before any cards are dealt. These blind bets are called the small blind and the big blind. In order to start betting in Hold’em, forced bets (known as blinds) are made by the two players immediately clockwise from the dealer button. The person immediately clockwise from the dealer has the small blind, and the next player clockwise has the big blind. Making blind bets is known as posting and this is done before any cards are dealt. A big blind is a mandatory bet used in poker variations that typically don't have antes, such as Texas Hold 'Em. It is paid by the player two seats to the left of the dealer or the dealer button. The player one seat to the left of the button pays a small blind that is usually half the big blind's size.
Blind leakage is an exceptional video by James 'SplitSuit' Sweeney that covers everything you need to know about profitable blind play (both in the SBandBB) in Texas Hold'em cash games.
In Texas Hold’em two players – the Big Blind and the Small Blind – are required to place bets (known as blinds) in the pot (the amount of money to be won in any single completed hand) before any cards are dealt. This means that in Texas Hold’em there will always be money to win in a hand. A big leak in most Texas hold’em players’ game is their small blind play. If you’re still learning how to win, simply fold everything but your best hands. Once you get better, start adding a few more hands that give you a chance to win big pots.
The small blind is a very tricky position to play from in Texas Hold'em. If you were to track your performance in each position at the table using a program such as Poker Tracker, you will find that the small blind is a losing position overall.
The best players in the world find it difficult to win money from the small blind, and that's just the way it is.
When playing in the small blind our aim is to try and reduce the amount of money we will lose, so that we can increase our overall wins from the other seats at the table.
The problem with playing in the small blind.
The fundamental reason as to why the small blind is such a difficult and losing position in the hand is due to the fact that we are going to be first to act in every round after the flop. Being out of position means that our opponents will get to see how we act before they do, giving them more information on the strength of our hand than we have on theirs.
This will put us at a big disadvantage throughout the hand, as any experienced player knows how important a role that position plays in poker, especially in Texas Holdem.
Therefore we should know that when playing from the small blind, we are going to be on an uphill struggle throughout the hand. So a good small blind strategy would to not embark on this struggle in the first place, and simply fold before the flop. If we do intend to get involved when in the small blind, we will want to have a very strong starting hand to compensate for the fact that we are going to be out of position for every round after the flop.
Using starting hand selection to save money in the small blind.
By using solid starting hand selection we can increase our chances of winning the hand despite the fact that we are out of position. Even though the small blind may be a losing seat overall, it does not mean that we will lose money on every individual hand that we play from that particular position. So don’t be afraid to enter a pot if you have a strong enough hand to do so, but always remember to tighten your starting hand requirements when in the small blind.
A common small blind strategy mistake.
A big mistake when playing in the small blind is being under the notion that its worth seeing a flop for a little extra, as half of your blind is already in the pot. However, whilst having half of your blind in the pot does improve the pot odds you have to call, there is the possibility that you are setting yourself up for bigger losses than you might expect.
The extra half a bet that you have to call to see a flop may look innocent, but in real fact it is a very dangerous play, especially for the less experienced players. The big losses do not lie in the extra half a bet lost on every flop that we miss, but in the hands where we have half a holding, and put more money in the pot than necessary to try and find out if we are ahead.
Never feel committed to a pot simply because you have paid your blind. It is not profitable to try and protect money you have put in the pot through the blinds, so play the hand like any other.
Playing in the small blind example.
Let say we are in the small blind and there have been a few limpers before us. We look down and see that were are holding K 7. This looks like a half decent hand and so we decide to call because it’s only half a blind more to see a flop.
The flop comes down 9 T K giving us top pair with a 7 kicker, not a bad hand.
Having top pair we decide to bet out around ¾ of the pot to see how the other players react. A few players fold, but an opponent in one of the later positions raises us 3 times our original bet, and the action is now back onto us.
In this situation our opponent could have a range of hands; they could have a king with a worse kicker, or a king with a better kicker. They may have two pair, a set, or even a straight or a flush draw. There are so many possibilities and we have little information on which hand he could have because we are out of position. But seeing as we have a half decent hand we decide to call.
The turn makes the board 2, which doesn't improve our hand and probably made little difference to our opponent's.
Because we are a little unsure about the strength of our hand we decide to check, and our opponent then comes out with a pot-size bet. Now we are still unsure if our opponent does have a better hand, or whether he is just exploiting our weakness because we checked. However, by this time a pot-size bet is quite large, so we decide to let the hand go and cut our losses.
Small blind example evaluation.
When reading through the hand above you probably recognized the situation all too well. Having a half decent hand but coming up against strength from another opponent and being out of position is all too common.
These situations are difficult to play because we have so little information on our opponents and we can never be sure if we do have the best hand. In the hand mentioned above, this problem could have easily been avoided by folding pre-flop, saving us a decent amount of money in the process.
The poor position in this hand has caused us a lot of problems, and it always will when you are playing from the small blind.
Although K 7 looks like a reasonable hand, it just proves to be the type of hand that is going to cause us problems after the flop if we hit any part of it. So if we are determined to enter a pot when calling from the small blind, we have to play cards that have potential to hit a very big hand.
By sticking with cards like suited connectors and pocket pairs, we will either hit a big hand or we wont, which saves us the trouble of deciding what to do after the flop. A marginal hand is the last thing we want to hit when out of position, so don’t try and put up a battle with them and be prepared to let them go when you come up against action.
Small blind strategy evaluation.
The small blind is a very tricky position to play from, so we should try and avoid entering too many pots from this position unless we have a premium hand. Calling from the small blind will usually cause more problems than it is worth, so try and avoid doing so unless you have a hand that has some potential.
The small blind is the worst position to be in, so don’t expect too much from the hand because you are always going to be at a disadvantage to ourself money in the long run if you folded every marginal hand instead of calling.
Go back to the awesome Texas Hold'em Strategy.
Once heads up is achieved in a home game or pub poker tournament, the most common questions that I hear is, “who goes first?” “who gets dealt the first card?” or “who has the button?” In fact, the most common time that gameplay rule violations occur at the poker table is when I am down to heads up. This is because the rules for heads to head or one on one play in Texas Hold’em can be a bit confusing.
According to heads up poker rules, the dealer posts the small blind and the other player posts the big blind. The first card is dealt to the player in the Big Blind. The dealer acts first pre-flop and the big blind acts first on the flop, turn, and river. The dealer always goes last on the flop, turn, and river.
Why Does the Dealer Post the Small Blind?
If the blinds were reversed and the player on the button posted the big blind, the rules for order of play would be violated. In Texas Hold’em, the Big Blind is required to act last before the flop. Therefore, by default, the player on the button must post the Small Blind in heads-up play.
Texas Holdem Poker Small Big Blind Free
Additionally, if the dealer was the big blind and decided to fold, he would be folding his big blind to the small blind; another violation of the basic rules. Some might also argue that this “discounted” price of folding is part of the basic advantage of the button.
Texas Holdem Poker Small Big Blind People
However, this is just an incidental advantage obtained just by following the rules correctly and was not designed to give preference to one player or the other. To put it another way, the rules came first, before the optimal strategy to play within the bounds of those rules was formulated.
Why Does the Dealer Go First Before the Flop?
The player on the button acts first for the same reason he posts the small blind, to maintain the correct order of play. Some might argue that acting last before the flop offers a type of position advantage and that the button should have that edge in heads-up. However, the button does not have that type of favor when there are 3 or more players at the table, so why should the rules alter when it’s down to heads up? The button never acts last pre-flop, no matter how many players are at the table.
Texas Holdem Poker Small Big Blind Dogs
Why Does the Big Blind Go First After the Flop?
The rules of poker state that the button must always act last after the flop. While this might seem like a departure from the rules, since the small blind does act first after the flop in non-heads-up play, it really isn’t. Indeed, it doesn’t matter what position a player sits in, if the button is involved in the hand, they are required to go first.
What If the Button Open Folds Before the Flop?
When the button folds, he relinquishes the small blind to the player in the big blind, the button moves, and the next hand begins. If the button just calls, the player in the big blind has the option to check back or raise. You may have heard the dealer say “option” to the big blind before.
Are Poker Odds Different in Heads-Up?
No. The math of poker remains exactly the same, no matter how many players are involved in the game. The cool thing is that calculating the odds is simplified since there are never any multi-way pots when you are playing one on one.
Are the Heads up Rules the Same for Cash Games and Tournaments?
Yes, the order of play and the rules for posting blinds remains exactly the same, no matter the format. The only real difference you will see, when watching cash versus tournaments, is that the latter often has antes paid in on top of the blinds.
Are These Rules the Same for Pot Limit Omaha?
Yes, the rules of heads-up play remain the same for all flop-style games that have a button and two blinds, including limit hold’em, no-limit hold’em, and Omaha.
Strategic Adjustments For Heads-Up Play
Once you have the rules of how one on one gameplay works, you can focus all of your attention on winning. The key to crushing the competition is in making targeted adjustments based on your opponent’s style of play.
The biggest adjustment that should be made when playing heads up revolves around how often you raise and call and how assertive you should be when it comes to fighting for pots. As a rule, as tables become more short-handed, your overall level of aggression should increase. When play is down to just you and one other people your level of aggressiveness should range anywhere from combative to downright maniacal. What controls your frequencies in this regard is the nature of your opponent.
In order to thrive in and succeed one-on-one, you have to drastically loosen your requirements for getting involved and continuing into later streets. As the old saying goes, it’s very hard to make a pair. Often, high card will be the best hand on the flop in a heads-up battle. Therefore, you definitely do not want to play fit or fold when there is only one other opponent.
Feel Out Your Opponent Early
The early stages of a heads-up match are very similar to boxing. Unless you are really familiar with how your opponent plays, you will need to feel him or her out in the first few hands. For the most part, my general strategy is to raise any two hands from the button but defend a bit on the tight side in the big blind. By using this method, here are a few things you are looking to find out along with the adjustments that you can make as a result:
Pre-Flop Heads-Up Adjustments
- Your Opponent Is Folding to Steals Often
Count your blessings if this is the case. Playing against a fit or fold opponent when down to two players is the best case scenario. Keep stealing any two cards until he or she adjusts. You may find that you have the majority of the chips before this happens!
- Your Opponent Seems to Be Defending Every Time
If you open your first 5 hands and get called or raised 5 times, it may be time to re-evaluate your strategy. Even so, I would almost never reduce my opening frequency down below 50% in a heads up match.
- Your Opponent Is Stealing Often
So your opponent has open-raised the first 8 hands or so in the match. It is time to start playing back at him and the best way to do this is to flat call all of your high card hands, even Q2o, and anything that is suited or has any flopability (is that a word)? For example, something like 74o is an easy flat against someone who opens practically any two cards.
- Your Opponent Is Folding the Button Often
If your opponent is open-folding the button more than half the time, it is safe to tighten up your flatting and 3-betting range substantially. The free money you are getting from your opponent’s folds means that you are practically free rolling the big blind. How cool is that? Ramp up the aggression on the button and the match will be over soon (usually in your favor).
Post-Flop Heads-Up Strategy
Your opponent’s pre-flop tendencies will tend to bleed over into their post-flop play. Therefore, if a person is stealing wide pre-flop expect them to bluff a lot and take very weak ranges to later streets.
If a person is folding a lot pre-flop and/or stealing narrowly, you would be well-served to give their bets and raises a lot more respect after the flop. Otherwise, my advice is to play a very stabby small ball style and try to keep most pots small while you feel our your opponent. Building a really aggressive image will pay dividends should you actually pick up a strong hand.
In live games where the players do the dealing, heads up play is the most common part of a tournament that the gameplay rules of poker are violated. More frequently than you might think, either the incorrect person gets dealt to first or the order of play is reversed.
It makes sense that sometimes people forget the heads-up rules since it can be rather rare to make it to heads-up in a tournament. It’s easy to see how the rules can be forgotten when a player might only achieve heads up once every few months. Even so, once the reasons behind why the dealing and playing order are understood, it all makes perfect sense.
Once you have the rules down, I suggest that you spend a few hours practicing at home with a family member. That way the heads up rules will be followed to the tee next time you find yourself as one of the last two players in your next local event. Besides, you should be focusing on adjusting your strategy and beating your opponent, not on who goes first or whatever. Good luck, now go win that thing!