The big blind is one of the most important positions at the poker table to learn how to play.
For starters, you will always lose money in the long run, since you are at such a major disadvantage preflop. Before the cards are dealt, you are already risking the most money at the table by posting your big blind.
However, a penny saved is a penny earned, and it’s no different at the poker table. Learning how to defend your big blind properly can cut your losses from this position in half, boosting your win rate tremendously. In this article we will dive into 5 tips that will help you to defend your big blind more effectively, and lose less money in this difficult position.
1. Defend More When You Are Short-Stacked
One common mistake that a lot of beginning poker players make is assuming that their hand has the same value and should be played similarly no matter their stack size.
However, when we look at the equity realization of these hands, we start to see some common trends. Hands like K9o and A7o for example are usually not going to be profitable defends when you have 100 big blinds, because their equity realization is a lot lower when deep-stacked.
If you need a refresher on equity realization, it basically refers to the percentage of your raw equity in a hand that you will actually realize on average.
For example, say you have K9o versus an UTG opening range, and you have 100bb in your stack (effective). You have around 35% raw equity in the hand preflop, so you should be okay to call given the right price, right?
We have to take into account how often we will actually see all 5 cards and realize 100% of our equity. On average, we will only realize about 60% of our 35% equity in this spot, giving us around 21% equity in actuality. Against a 2.2bb UTG raise, we need around 25% equity to call profitably. Although we have a whopping 35% raw equity in the hand, when we take into account our opportunity for equity realization (60%), our hand drops to 21% equity and we are forced to fold.
Now let’s take this same situation and apply it to a 20bb stacksize. We still have K9o facing an UTG open, but instead of 100bb we only have 20bb.
Our equity realization goes way up, and we can actually profitably call now, even though we have fewer chips! This is because we realize our equity a lot better when we have the opportunity to get all our money in as soon as possible.
We can call the flop, hit a pair, and just check-jam and see all five cards! If you hit a draw you can check-jam as well, something that would be impossible if you had a 100bb stack. By check-jamming you can also fold your opponent off their equity a lot easier, which makes your hand’s playability much simpler and increases your equity realization.
Another worthwhile note is that a lot of players will c-bet less often versus a smaller stack size (because they are worried about you check-jamming and want to pot control) so you will see more free turn cards when you are short-stacked.
2. 3-bet Strong Suited Connectors When Deep-Stacked
When you look at how solvers like to 3-bet bluff in the big blind, they typically use high card, offsuit hands due to their ability to block parts of your opponent’s value range. This is all fine and well, however remember that these high card hands will be very tricky to play when they miss a pair on the flop (which happens more often than not). If you 3-bet bluff with an offsuit broadway and get called, it will be very difficult to play postflop and you can often find yourself unsure of what to do. Even when these high card hands make a pair, they can often be outkicked by a strong UTG raise/call range. Remember that the simpler strategy is often the higher EV one.
At the end of the day, we aren’t solvers, we are humans. Using hands like suited connectors to 3-bet bluff can make your decisions a lot easier postflop, which actually can negate any EV lost by not playing strictly GTO when 3-betting. Trading decent blocker effects for playability can actually increase your EV long run. 3-betting highly playable suited connectors like 97s, 76s, 65s will allow you to play aggressively postflop even when you don’t make a pair by continuing to bluff your draws with equity. Consider more than just the hands that solvers choose to 3-bet, they don’t represent your equity, they represent the equity that the solver has when it plays. Understanding how your equity realization (and thus your overall equity in the hand) shifts depending on the playability of your hand postflop is vital to increasing your win rate long term.
3. Defend Your Off Suited Cards Wider Vs Late Position, Tighter Vs Early Position
When we look at our standard BB vs CO 50bb range (left) we can see that we defend a lot of offsuit holdings. Hands like K2o, J5o, and even 74o can be profitable defends versus a late position open.
However, when if look at our range versus an UTG open, the amount of offsuit defends we have shifts dramatically and we can’t defend nearly as many offsuit combos. This is because our equity realization versus an early position open is far worse than versus a late position open.
Say you have a hand like A3o, facing an early position open. If you call and hit an ace on the flop, what exactly are you hoping will happen?
If you bet twice and get called, are you happy about it? The problem is, versus a tighter early position range your equity realization will be terrible because you will oftentimes be dominated by a stronger ace when you hit your hand.
he same is true for your other offsuit hands versus early position, they don’t make playable draws most of the time, and if they get into a big pot they are out of position with likely the second best hand. However, things change as your opponent’s range gets wider. Your opponent can have a lot more marginal holdings that your offsuit hands are doing okay against. Your equity realization goes up and you are able to defend your offsuit hands much more effectively.
4. Defend More Against Opponents With Low Flop C-bet Frequency
When you play with HUD (Heads-up Display) stats online and see someone with a low c-bet percentage, you have to adjust your play form the big blind. This is more of an exploit, but you have to take all of the information you have available in the hand to help you make a decision.
Typically anywhere around an 80% c-bet percentage is a good place to be. If you see that your opponent has anywhere from 50%-70% flop c-bet percentage, it’s time to start defending more hands.
Your marginal defends become decent, and some hands that aren’t even in your standard range can become profitable defends. Your opponent will pressure you less postflop, so you’ll realize more of your equity by seeing free turn cards more often.
Use this info even when you aren’t playing with a HUD, pay attention and notice if a player is often checking back on the flop, especially if the board should be a favorable one for their range.
(Use code raiseyouredge10 for 10% off Hand2Note, the HUD Bencb uses to crush the highest stakes)
The inverse is also true, if your opponent c-bets at an extremely high frequency you have one of two options. You can check-raise more frequently and look to go to war with them, or you can tighten your range a bit and defend a stronger range. Both have merit, and it will likely come down to your exact situation. Just understand that your equity realization goes down when your opponent is c-betting all the time, because you’ll have less chances to see turns and rivers without paying the price. Either be willing to bluff off your stack check-raising against these aggressive players, or sit tight for a little bit and wait for better hands.
5. Get Involved In Pots With Recreational Players
If you are a studied player and feel that you have an edge over someone in a certain way, don’t be afraid to loosen up your big blind defending range in order to play more pots against them.
However, it’s important to not get too carried away with this, as often you can hurt yourself by playing too wide just because your ego tells you that you are the better player. Remember, you have to know what exactly it is you are looking to exploit before you start loosening your range.
If you think a player is worse than you, and you know you want to play pots with them, you first need to clarify what tendencies you see in their game, and how you want to exploit them.
Only after you have done this can you start to loosen your range as an exploit. Is your opponent a maniac or a calling station? Do they only bet the nuts, or do they bet any two napkins? Are you going to fire away for value, or are you never going to bluff them? These are real, tangible exploits. Make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of playing any two cards against someone you think is a weaker player than you, if you can’t define a specific tendency to exploitatively adjust against.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to see in-depth examples of the topics explored today, make sure you head over to the Raise Your Edge YouTube channel and check out Bencb’s video “How to Defend Your Big Blind like Bencb!” You can check out this in depth, 25 minute breakdown on big blind defense by clicking on the link here.