Tournament Poker: Stealing the Blinds

Tournament Poker: Stealing the Blinds
by Loki Luchs of

In every poker tournament there comes a time when the blinds and antes become high enough that a player will begin to lose a sizable portion of their chip-stack each round. This is an integral part of every tournament, because it forces the players to take action. In the middle stages the cost of the blinds may be a small annoyance, but by the later phases of the tournament, the cost of the blinds can be a treacherous opponent within itself. In order to offset the cost of playing, one of the most detrimental skills needed to win major poker tournaments is learning how to steal blinds.

When novices first learn how to steal blinds, you see them trying to steal blinds in the early stages of the game. While stealing blinds is always a plus, many times players will lose more money than they win in the early stages. Blind stealing is most effective when the amount being stolen is a significant portion (over 10%) of the average chip stack. When the blinds are still relatively low, youll find that youre not making enough money to justify the action. If youre early in the tournament, you may find that the blinds are so small that taking them isnt going to add to your stack.

1. Why should I?

A. If your answer to this question isnt something to the affect of it will strengthen my position in the tournament, dont steal blinds. Too many players try stealing blinds at low levels when they dont matter. You dont make much money that early in a tournament. More importantly, you give away to your opponents that this is one of your regular plays and they will start fighting back earlier.
B. If youre playing a cash game, stealing blinds is almost always useless. The blinds are so small that you should focus your efforts elsewhere.

2. How much am I going to add to my stack if they fold?

A. If youre a short stack and the answer is more than 10% of your stack, it probably is the right move.
B. If youre an average chip count and the answer is more than 5% of your stack, it may be worth it for you to steal.
C. If youre a big stack, its always a good move!

3. How likely are you that they will fold?

A. If your opponent is a short stack, they may be obligated to call with any face card. Stealing from a short stack in the blinds is very difficult. Its usually better to have a hand so that youre a favorite when they call.
B. If your opponent is an average stack, they will be the least likely to call. They still stand a chance to survive for a while, so they wont call your raise unless they have a real fighting chance to win the pot.
C. If your opponent is a large stack, you may have an issue. Large stacks (especially loose-aggressive types) may call with a wide variety of hands. They have the chips to burn and dont mind keeping you honest. In the end, if you cant critically hurt them, be aware they may be head-hunting.

4. What are you going to do if they call?

A. Assuming youre in position, you still have the ability to decide after the flop. Usually, if your opponent checks to you, they have nothing and they will fold the hand. However, big stacks may check-raise you if they hit (or already have) the hand.
B. If a player leads out on the flop, while they might be stealing as a big blind, its probably best to bow out if you dont flop hard.
C. In the unlikely situation that you raise in the cut-off (seat 9) and the Button calls, if the flop is innocuous, lead into them. If its dangerous, surrender by a check-fold.

5. What are you going to do if they come over the top?

A. If one of the blinds comes over the top of you, its almost always appropriate to fold. Good try, pat on the back, move along, theres nothing to see here. If you feel like posturing and pretending to think about it for a minute, that might keep them from making a habit of fighting back when you try it the next time.
B. If the blinds are small, check your pot-odds. You may have accidentally pot-committed yourself to the hand. If this is the case, even your 2/7 off-suit needs to grow a pair and call. You made the mistake in the first place, but folding would be a second mistake that you shouldnt make.
C. In rare scenarios (for instance at the final table of a major event), you may want to re-raise. If your opponent is a maniac who re-raises frequently and youre both deep stacks, you may want to consider the push. THIS IS A VERY RARE SITUATION!!! By pushing back, youre risking your entire life (and a lot of money if youre wrong) in order to get a bully off of your back. This can be a very profitable play, but only if you are absolutely certain that your opponent is bluffing. This play could be a deciding factor in winning you a tournament, but it might also mean that youre a million dollars light because you busted in 9th place!

6. By raising with rags, have you pot-committed yourself?

A. If the answer to this is Yes! it doesnt mean that you shouldnt try. Stealing blinds is the only way to survive late in a tournament WITHOUT confrontation; this being said, if you raise enough that you cant fold, push it all in to begin with. This will lessen the likelihood that a medium stack will call.
B. If not, move along!

7. Are either of the blinds currently pot-committed?

A. If the answer to this is Yes! theyre going to call you. Wait for them to get knocked out and steal from the next in line!
B. If not, happy hunting!