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October 23, 2005

Lie, Cheat, And Steal

Posted at October 23, 2005 06:20 AM in Tournament Strategy , by Sack.

With the exception of the “cheat” part of the title, an absolute necessity of the game we play includes lying and stealing. And what fun it can be! Poker must be the only facet of life in which lying and stealing are not only accepted as norms, but are also an integral part of being a winning player. Oh it’s so fun to be naughty sometimes!

And why must you lie and steal? Because if everybody played based on the cards they are dealt alone and nothing else then the law of averages takes over and we’d all break even over a given period of time. Actually we’d all wind up losing money due to the rake and tournament buy ins. What fun would that be? And why are some people “good” and others “bad” when we all have an equal chance of being dealt a winning hand at any time? This is where skill and knowledge come in.

So for this one I’ll talk about one part of my game I know I need improvement in: aggression. In particular right now bluffing and stealing blinds & pots. Anybody can be a winning player while the cards are running well for them, but the truly great players are able to make lemonade when the deck gets cold.

Stealing blinds are a vital play in almost any tournament. What this generally means is say you are the big blind, and the person in the dealer position (on the button) raises pre-flop after everyone else has folded to him. He may not have a hand, and if in fact he does not and you and the small blind have folded your hands- then he has stolen the blinds. Why is this good? Obviously it’s not a lot of chips you gain in stealing the blinds, but even little amounts add up over time. It also gives you a whole orbit around the table in which you spend nothing if you don’t want to. Blinds eat away your chip stack slowly but surely, and in the event you are not getting many playable hands this minimizes the damage significantly.

Sounds easy enough, but putting into practice isn’t always as easy. First off (and hopefully this is obvious) you can’t really steal the blinds if others have come into the hand behind you. If it is folded to you on the button and you want to steal the blinds, make it a real raise. A standard raise, as a rule, will be three to four times the amount of the big blind (so if the big blind is 20, raise it up to 60, 80, or maybe even 100). Raising the minimum (in the last case to 40) doesn’t really show any strength, and to a good player looks mighty suspicious. I’m not saying a min-raise won’t work, but it leaves you very vulnerable as well. First off, to the binds who already have money invested in the pot, a small raise is well worth calling with marginal cards-which you don’t want. Second, a strong player in the blind position may sense you are stealing and outright re-raise you-which you also don’t want.

It’s also a bad idea to try to raise too much when stealing blinds. A healthy raise is good, but I’d never suggest going all in to steal blinds. You never know when that guy may have a premium hand, and you sure don’t want to get caught in a situation you can’t get away from!

So a good standard raise in my opinion is the way to play it for several reasons. It gives your hand some credibility first off, and in the eyes of the folks you are raising into it may not be worth calling with a marginal hand like Q-10 or a small pocket pair. Also in the event you are called, then you have an idea that they may have a decent hand, so you can narrow down the field of cards they may be holding. If they do call your raise and see the flop it’s still OK because you hold 2 distinct advantages still. #1 you were the aggressor and represent a strong hand, and #2 you still have the position of being the last to act.

Let’s say the big blind does call you, and the flop comes down. At this point one of two things are going to happen- you will either give up on your hand and concede that you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar, or you may continue to fight for the pot using the advantages I listed above. I usually base this decision on my read of that player thus far. He will be acting first. If he checks it, to me it’s an automatic continuation bet for me then. I would bet no less than whatever the original raise was (this will constitute about half of the pot). What this does is continue to show strength and should get him to fold a good hand that doesn’t connect or even a hand that he may have a draw on. If he hasn’t hit a good flop, you don’t want it to be worth it for him to stick around since he should already think you have a good hand. At this point he will either call, fold, or re-raise you. Obviously you want him to fold unless you got lucky and flopped a monster. In the case of a re-raise, I tend to go ahead and give him credit and cut my losses there. If he just calls I’ll go ahead and repeat the process on the turn. If he again calls the turn, I’d generally be happy to check it down on the river or fold to a bet on the river. If I for some reason have a good feel that he is weak, was on a draw that missed, or a scare card to the hand I think he has comes out- I may still continue the bluff on the river. This is mainly based on how good of a feel and read I have on my opponent and his or her style. Sometimes you’re just caught by a better hand, and you don’t want to lose any more than you have to.

Going back to pre-flop, sometimes a blind will re-raise you. I tend to go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt and save myself the chips. You can, of course, call his raise and try to pull off your bluff or hope to hit a monster on the flop. I don’t like to get too cute with it and will wait for a better opportunity, but aggression is the name of the game and if you got some brass ones then you may can still pull it off.

There is so much more to it than just this, but what I’ve written should be a good base to go by. Stealing blinds and bluffing it out depends a lot of how the other person plays, and where you are at in relation to that person as well. If you see an absolute calling station to your left, it’s going to be hard to steal that one’s blinds, better to wait for a big hand and get large sums of chips from that one. Also if some big stacks are the ones next to you then I wouldn’t suggest getting in too deep with them… remember they can easily put you out if they catch something (one exception to this is sometimes you’ll find a big stack who is content to fold away until he or she gets into the money… if you spot this one next to you steal away! If they do call you can easily put them on a premium hand). If you are very short stacked in relation to the blinds, don’t bother with bad cards unless you have other short stacks beside you. At this point it’s better to wait for a decent hand to push all in with out of position than it is to risk your tournament life trying to steal a blind with 2-7. You want to gain yourself a little extra, while at the same time not putting yourself in danger of major damage.

Hope this all helps someone out there, it’s such a small thing yet at the same time such an important part of winning over the long haul. So put on your little robber mask, black and white stripe suit, and get to stealing some blinds.

charged and convicted,

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