Losing Blind Bets

Playing from the blinds is well-known to be challenging. But I wonder how many people realize how many chips they are losing because of these forced bets. We all remember the big pots we lose, but over an entire session, losing big/small blinds can add up to big losses too. On that note, I want to start a discussion on tips that players use to “Stop Losing Blind Bets.”

Two topics to begin the discussion:

  1. To Defend or not Defend. Big blind defense is a fairly common strategy in poker, as under-defending will leave you vulnerable to slowly (but surely) losing chips either because you are allowing your opponents (a) too many cheap opportunities to see flops or (b) allowing aggressive players to steal the blinds. The latter (at least at the “high stakes” levels) is not a common problem on Replay, which is geared toward passive play and value bets. That means that most preflop raises usually signals a strong range (rather than an attempt to steal), and this makes big blind defense more tricky, and I don’t mind folding in these situations. But what to do against a field of limpers? With premium hands, a standard raise (3bb + 1 per limper) is a pretty simple decision, but this becomes tricky with marginal hands. Applying a standard raise in these situations can be costly, since a marginal hand is probably an underdog when several players have limped in. Keep in mind that many players only raise JJ+ or AK, and limp in with lots of other strong stuff.

  2. To Complete or not Complete. It is pretty standard to “complete” (pay the extra half blind) in the small blind against a field of limpers, and a RFI strategy here is another tricky situation, except when holding premium hole cards. Completing allows you to play a wider range, but it can’t be successful without a plan for dealing with aggression from the BB or playing OOP post-flop.

This is a really important topic. I believe that the blinds represent negative win-rates for most players, especially if you don’t have a huge edge over the field. I think even high-stakes real-money cash players are fairly happy to just about break even from the blinds (is that true?).

I believe the broadest optimal strategy that would help the most players is to defend the BB more and complete from the SB less.

First the SB: people complete way too much and way too wide. You are going to be playing out of position against the entire table and don’t even close the action. In poker in general you should always have a plan for how you are going to win chips in a given situation, and if you ask yourself “how am I going to win here” most times from the SB, the answer is that you aren’t. The best case scenario where you flop a monster, it is highly unlikely to be the nuts with the kinds of hands that complete and you will be first to act in a multiway pot out of position.

The pure equity math for completing may be fantastic, but it is extremely hard to realize that equity. Here’s an example, you get Ts7s and complete against 3 limpers (and BB checks). The flop comes AsTh7h, which is a fantastic flop for you. But what do you do? You have a tremendous opportunity to get big value from Ax (which limpers may or may not have a lot of), but any hands that continue against your bet are going to have tremendous equity. Ax hands probably have at least 5 outs, flush draws have 9 outs, and 98 has 8 outs. Plus there can be A7/TT/77, which have you just about dead. My point being that you have a relatively strong hand where you would want to play a huge pot, one of your best case scenarios, and it’s still very dicey in a multi-way situation out of position. If you flop top two pair (like T76) there aren’t many hands you can get value from and you are still vulnerable. Basically, any hand that completes from the SB is going to hate 95% of boards (even the ones you hit like flopping top pair kings with K9o or flopping an open ender). Even if you flop the stone nuts you are in a weird spot to get value from a relatively small pot where you often block some 2nd best hands that continue, so if you bet large the table might fold around and if you try to slow play the table might check around.

My advice from the SB would be to be more selective about which hands complete (like weak pocket pairs or suited connectors can be ok because they either hit the flop hard or are easy to fold), but to do more raising with hands that are ahead of your opponents’ limping range (like ATs, 99, or KQ).

When facing actual opens ahead of you, you want to be pretty selective about calling. You are likely going to price the big blind into a call and be stuck in the middle. The 0.5 bb you have invested doesn’t really help your pot odds much against a 3.5x+ open size, so it can be better to let marginal hands go, especially if you opponent is likely to be opening QQ+ only. On the other hand, the strength of most players’ opening ranges means that there are more implied odds for you. But in general, I think it is better to 3-bet or fold almost always from the SB rather than make a “standard” complete. I fold some pretty tempting trash hands from the SB rather than complete against a bunch of limpers because correctly calling postflop when I flop middle pair or top pair with hands like Q9o/87o/95s is going to cost me more chips than it is going to win. In most situations on Replay those are not the kinds of hands or spots that will be the most profitable, and there are plenty of better situations to focus on.

From the BB you are getting better pot odds than the SB (you have already invested twice as much!) and you may be closing the action. That makes defending the big blind a better proposition than the SB. As previously stated, many players have extremely strong open ranges, but the implied odds are good and you are usually priced in, especially with other callers ahead of you. But you still need to ask yourself how you are going to make the spot profitable and you can end up in similarly dicey postflop spots.

As far as when to raise from SB or BB over limpers, I think they are fairly similar, though I generally prefer being in the BB to the SB. Players on Replay tend to be calling stations, and the way you punish them is by being value heavy. You don’t get there by opening 76s from the blinds over a few limpers. Don’t get me wrong, you CAN open those hands, and maybe you should if you are playing good opponents who force you to balance your range. But in general people will call too much and you don’t want to raise hands that are going to force you to semi-bluff out of position a lot of the time postflop when you could just see a free (or cheap) flop. Again, in a strong game against good opponents I would definitely mix those in because they are well disguised and also disguise the stronger hands in your range, but a lot of the time here you just don’t need to do that. People will call your strong hands anyway, so you can get value, and people will call your weaker hands too, which can lose you value. So, you want to raise the kinds of hands that dominate limped hands, like strong broadways or largish pocket pairs. Just my two (or more than two) cents on the topic.


I think you mostly don’t need to worry about defending the blinds at the lower levels, and can focus on lower hanging fruit, and ignore the relatively small loss you incur by over folding in the blinds. Against stronger opponents, you’ll lose money in the blinds no matter what you do, though defending fairly wide as the big blind can reduce your losses, assuming you don’t have a skill gap post flop (though at the cost of increased volatility). Conversely, if you have a gigantic skill edge, you can probably do whatever strikes your fancy.

But, lets assume you are a winning player, but you don’t have a huge advantage over the field of players you usually face, and that we are talking about Replay poker outside of the very highest stake tables. In that environment:

BB defense

  • Most players aren’t raising very frequently pre-flop. Calling normal sized raises with Q7s if the raising ranges is AA-JJ, AKs, AQs and AJs doesn’t seem like a great idea.
  • Up defense when the opening range of the attacking player is wide, and if the small improvement from defending wider will make a noticeable difference in win rate (or if you just feel like playing in a style that is a little looser pre-flop).

SB Completion

  • As the small blind, I mostly fold off suit, disconnected trash no matter what happens in front of me. I’ll make an exception to this if there is an incredible fish in the pot with a deep stack… but you won’t generally see me call with 93 off, even with the “great price” being offered when you have lots of limpers and you are the small blind.
  • With lots of limpers in front protecting me, and with a big blind behind that isn’t prone to attack the entire table (you know who you are, LOL), I’ll limp quite wide, typically with about 70% of my hands.
  • If I have someone that will attack all of the limpers somewhat wide, even with multiple limps in front I’ll shrink that depending on the risk I’m expecting, perhaps to something in the range of 25% to 50%.
  • As I have fewer limpers in front of me, I’ll get more and more selective about the hands I’ll complete with in the small blind. With no limpers in front, against most big blinds, I’ll either raise or fold, and never complete.
  • No matter the number of limpers (zero or 7) the tendencies of the big blind stay very important for deciding if I’ll complete… but in general most people seem to tend to be quite passive as the big blind at Replay, meaning with limps in front I complete quite wide. When I played more at Poker Stars, I was much tighter with my completion ranges.

SB Defense:

  • You have to be much more conservative about defending here, as you have at least one extra player to act behind you with the big blind, and if you cold call, you’re incentivizing the the others to attack the dead money you are adding to the pot, and to do so with a range wider than they’d use if you had not called. Will you see moves like that at Replay very often? Well, not on most of the levels… but keep in mind that that will start to get to be a bigger consideration as you face more competent opponents. But no matter how you look at it, you are in a worse spot than the big blind, and will have fewer hands that will be profitable over the long term.

Many of you have also probably noticed that I’m one of those annoying players that raises everyone in front of me from both blinds. In general, I’m amazed at the fold rates I get. I’ll still make the same move with AA, KK and the like (and then of course be disappointed when everyone folds), but I’m also making that move fairly wide, and should probably keep making it wider until more players adjust. I don’t think I get fold rates even close to that high from any other spots on the table. I think most people are assuming I have an incredibly nut heavy range if I’m attacking out of position like that.

I think with pro v pro, the expectation is that you will not be able to break even from the blinds (though I imagine that is not true for the strongest pros facing professionals of a much lower standard). So you are just trying to reduce your losses relative to what you’d lose if you folded to every steal attempt.

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Thanks to JoeDirk and Yorunoame for their detailed responses.

For BB defense, I am less concerned about defense against open bets, which are tilted toward strong hands. As discussed above, these tend to be rare on Replay, and folding in these situations with less than premium hands tends to be best practice.

But I was also thinking of BB defense in less conventional terms: that is, How to protect your blinds against limpers? Anyone who has played on Replay knows that limped bets are the predominant preflop move.

Yorun’s final tip warrants further discussion: be aggressive from the big blind when facing a swarm of limpers.

Assuming 3 preflop limpers and a SB complete, an open bet of around 6-8 blinds is generally necessary to generate high fold rates at Replay’s high stakes tables. It may be more/less at other levels.

I can’t assume that it is possible to generate a 55-60% preflop fold rate, which is what it would take to be a profitable strategy as I have hypothetically described it. This leads me to think that having the correct balance between premium hands and marginal hands is important to implement this strategy effectively (this is something I need to experiment with), which depends on post-flop fold equity.

It is not too difficult to make notes on players who limp-call with strong holdings, and make the appropriate adjustment. Against the latter, you can safely fold many flops, and take advantage of implied odds in circumstances where you have made a strong hand. Players who limp-call with marginal holdings are another matter, and how to deal with them will vary from player-to-player, but a broad distinction can be made between strong players (looking for exploitative plays) and calling stations who can deny you fold equity.

A couple of additional thoughts: the fact that many players open extremely strong ranges means that they are pretty face up when they do open and that there are strong implied odds if you can outflop AA. So, while you are correct that you don’t want to call too wide or try to bluff 3bet from the blinds, you could still be getting a decent price to outflop them, certainly with pocket pairs and maybe with suited connectors (87s/76s/65s/54s specifically) or even A5s or similar if they open QQ+ (and not just AA). This is especially true from the BB when you close the action and the stacks are deep. Also, some “better” players could also fold premium pairs if you check raise as a semi bluff with your drawing hands on scary boards, which adds more potential value to calling.

Against limpers the most surefire strategy is just to open a strong range from the blinds, like 99+/AJ+/KQ. You realistically won’t get a mass of limpers to all fold very often, so you’re likely to end up seeing a flop out of position, though you can add fold equity by using a massive open size like 6x+1bb per limper. You don’t really need balance with your open range, and the hands listed are way ahead of most players’ limping range.

If someone does limp-call with a monster, that’s their problem because they are misplaying their best hands. As long as you don’t go wild with medium strength hands postflop, the amount that they will win by limp-calling AA/KK is nothing to worry about compared to all the garbage hands you will beat the majority of the time, and it is a losing strategy for them in the long run. So I try not to worry about people hiding their monsters.