Calling From The Blinds vs. A Steal

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By Jack Wilcox

26 Feb, 2011

Common advice to micro and small-stakes players is to play very tight from the blinds, and for the most part, to either 3bet or fold when facing a steal.

The theory behind this is that by avoiding calling preflop, you prevent yourself from being put in tough post-flop situations where you don't know what to do, and inevitably end up making mistakes which cost you money.

However, in general this results in making 3bets with hands where it would make more sense to call preflop, and making folds with hands that are also good enough to call with. Furthermore, it results in you missing out on post flop opportunities where your opponent has a very wide range and is likely c-betting too much.

By playing more hands, you can win more pots and increase your winrate.

Of course, this means you will need to improve your post flop ability because you will be put into situations that you aren't used to, but this is not a reason to keep folding; it's a reason to try and play better.

The more hands you can play profitably, the easier it will be to build and maintain a good winrate, because you have to win less per hand to make money.

Why should I call preflop?

Against most players at NL100 and below, you should be calling preflop (not just from the blinds) with a wide range. This is especially true when players open in late position, and therefore have a wider range than usual.

This is because most people learn to play NLHE by automatically continuation betting almost all flops in a heads-up pot after they have raised preflop. Additionally, they have learnt that at smaller stakes, it's not a great idea to try and multi-barrel your opponents once they check-call the flop, especially on boards like A84 or K92, because the board can't get any scarier and opponents are not likely to fold top pair.

Therefore, what usually happens is opponents will fire a c-bet, then play very straight forwardly on the turn or river after their c-bet is called or raised. This provides you with opportunities to either bluff effectively, make thin value bets, or call down and win at showdown.

Calling out of position.

When playing out of position, calling means that a couple of cool things can happen when playing against people who have a wide opening range and are continuation betting a lot:

  1. You can check-raise your draws or air. You can force your opponent to fold a ton of the time purely because they just have total air and the pot is getting big. A lot of the time, even when someone thinks you might be bluffing, they will not do anything about it if they have absolutely nothing themselves.
  2. You can check-call with some marginal showdown value. You can expect to be able to see showdowns quite often; particularly on A or K high boards, which get both continuation bet the most, and multi-barreled the least.

What hands should I call with from the blinds?

Basically, you are looking for hands which have both good equity vs your opponents range, and have good playability post-flop. Good playability refers to how easy the hand is to play post flop.

For example, a hand with good playability is something like 22. You either:

  • Flop a set, and can be comfortable putting a lot of money in with your hand, regardless of what villain does.
  • Flop absolutely nothing, and can comfortably fold if villain shows any aggression at all.

I think 22 is a clear call from the blinds against most cutoff and button opens, both for the reason that it is easy to play post flop, and for the fact that usually you have 40 to 1 stack odds (or thereabouts). Sure, it's unlikely you stack them when you hit, but with an 8 to 1 chance of flopping a set, you only have to stack them more than 1 in 5 times, and you can check-fold every other flop to show profit.

Ironically, a lot of people advocate folding these types of hands because they feel they do not get paid-off often enough when they hit. The fact that you so rarely need to stack your opponent means that if you can't stack them one time in five when you check raise the flop and barrel off, you should clearly just be calling with any two cards, then check-raising an absolute ton of flops and firing turn and river to make them fold!

Contrast that to 67s, and you will find there's a ton of flops where against most opening ranges you have live cards, or gut-shots, or weak flush/straight draws etc, and find yourself in a situation where you don't have enough equity be able to check-raise and stack off, but you have too much equity to check-fold. Therefore, you are in a situation where you can consider check-raising as a bluff, but if you get re-raised you will have to fold a lot of equity. You can check-call, but this will put you in a lot of strange spots purely because you are check-calling with 7 high.

What I'm trying to get across is hands like 22 are much easier to play post flop than suited connectors like 67s. Hands like AT have fine playability too, not only because they are a favorite in terms of preflop equity, but also because they either hit flops hard (when you flop an A or a T you have great equity against their range) or totally miss them.

In addition, all the other broadway hands are great to call with because:

  1. The boards they hit get c-bet a lot.
  2. When you check-raise low flops as a bluff, you usually have 6 outs.
  3. You dominate a lot of their preflop opening range, and therefore often get to the flop with the best hand.

What hands should I 3bet with as a bluff?

"If that's true then it sounds like I should call a lot - I need to 3bet light sometimes, otherwise I am way too polarized to just strong hands."

Well, I don't want to turn this into a major essay so you can see more about 3betting light, however, in general what I would say is that you should be looking to 3bet different ranges against different players.

This article, as are most of my articles unless specified, is intended to focus on playing against your generic 20/18 type regular who is on a bunch of tables and grinding a medium winrate. These types of players do not flat 3bets very light in general, so you do not want to be 3betting them with weak broadway hands (e.g. KJ/QT) because you end up getting called by just about every better hand, but folding out every worse hand.

I hate advocating a strategy to 3betting, as I think you should just 3bet light based on how tight your image is. But against the aforementioned player type, you want to 3bet a polarized range against them; the very best hands, and the best hands you can't call with. As I hopefully explained earlier, this will be hands like suited connectors, which do not play very well when you flat call preflop (because of how unplayable they are).

This all changes when you 3bet, because suddenly you have the initiative and can win the pot more easily with a continuation bet when you both miss. Additionally, you can win the pot because you flop a lot of equity on so many boards, and can therefore turn or river a huge hand.