Killer Pre-Flop Play – Crushing from the Small Blind

Pete Clarke | 1 month ago in Cash Games

In this four-part series we are going to concentrate on boosting win-rate in a major way by implementing a few very simple changes to our pre-flop game. The recommendations in these articles are sometimes theoretical, solidifying your base game; and at other times exploitative, seeking to take advantage of situations where certain player-types fold too much. Today’s focus is the small blind; a naturally losing position on the table. Here’s how you can reduce your losses.

Stealing without Standards

The mathematics of blind stealing can be illuminating when you really get your head around them. Let’s say that the Villain in the big blind is a tighter recreational player. He has not been 3-betting much so far and is likely a losing player due to his lack of aggression and propensity to fold too much. When you open the SB to 2.5BB, you expect him to fold hands like Q8o and 75s. These are just too flimsy for this player to feel comfortable defending. What he doesn’t realise is that by folding hands this good to a 2.5BB open, he is massively overfolding – meaning he’s folding much more than an optimal strategy would allow. By folding this often, Villain is likely letting go of 60% of starting hands. This is a cardinal sin blind vs. blind against a small open size.

Now, let’s say that you are dealt two cards and it’s folded to you in the small blind with this guy sitting in the big blind. You peek down at your hand and see two pictures of bananas. These bananas cannot interact with any board and do not count as a pocket pair either. They will cause you to play the board on every single possible run out. Should you raise or fold?

If we assume that there are no flops at all on which we can profitably bet the two bananas to make Villain fold (a very negative assumption), then we will always lose the pot if our steal gets called. This pessimistic assumption allows us to simplify to a pure risk/reward calculation. We risk 2BB when we raise to 2.5BB because our 0.5BB was already in the pot. We are trying to win a pot of 1.5BB – our dead 0.5BB and his dead 1BB.

We need Villain to fold risk / (risk + reward) % of the time for our steal to be worth 0BB – the equivalent of folding (you have already lost the SB you posted from this point of view).

This means if Villain folds 2 / (1.5 + 2) = 57%, then raising and folding have equal expected value.

Since this Villain folds around 60% of his range, we can open the two bananas even if we can never bet profitably after the flop. This is insane! If we can profit with two cards that cannot form any hand at all, then how mighty an open does the now impressive looking 8♥4♦ provide us? We make an absolute killing by stealing this hand. We already make money when we can’t hit a flop so being able to sometimes make a pair of eights or fours, or a straight once in a blue moon, means we are printing money by stealing this hand.

Villain should be defending around 70% of his range to this sizing. In order to do so, he needs to understand that what makes calling better than folding is not having a comfortable looking hand but being in position and getting great pot odds. Players who put too much focus on their hole cards, fall into the trap of gross overfolding. They fail to adapt to the environment and are rife for exploitation.

Next time you see a tight passive player in the big blind in your ZOOM game, remember, your 72o is an absolute goliath of a hand.

3-Bet, Don’t Call

If someone else opens and you’re in the small blind, calling is usually a poor line. You invest money with much worse pot odds than the big blind would get and you don’t even close the action, meaning that you can get squeezed or have to play three way out of position to all opponents when big blind also calls. Unless there are very exceptional circumstances like the big blind being a terrible loose-passive player or an outright maniac who will always squeeze, do not flat.

3-Betting the hands you want to play has the bonus of allowing you to avoid paying rake when everyone folds. PokerStars operates a ‘no flop, no drop’ policy, meaning that unless a pot progresses to post-flop, no rake comes out.

Avoid the Lure of Multi-Way Pots

Multi-way pots out of position are unpleasant and unprofitable.

CO opens 2.5BB and BU calls. You look down at 9♥7♥ in the SB and feel that pang of temptation. What if you get a miracle flop?!

Flatting here is losing unless one of the players in the pot makes horrific mistakes in just about eery spot. Assuming the big blind folds, you are investing 2BB into a pot that will become 8.5BB. This means you need to be entitled to 2 / 8.5 = 23.5% of the pot to break even. Since the pot will be raked as it must go post-flop for you to win it, we can increase this by a couple of percent. Let’s say 25% of the pot needs to be yours for you to break even by calling. With the worst position on the table and a nine-high hand this will be a big struggle. You might just scrape the 25% entitlement to the pot, but then big blind’s squeezes come along and give you a 0% chance of winning in some worlds. This brings down your average pot share massively so fold pre-flop.


  • Against some bad tight players, any two cards can be a lucrative open blind vs blind.
  • Avoid calling opens from the small blind. Play a 3-Bet or fold strategy unless there is a very bad player in the big blind.
  • Multiway pots might offer a great price, but in the small blind, not closing the action will kill your pot entitlement.

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