If you’re going to survive and thrive in no limit hold’em tournament play, you’ll need to master blind stealing.
The term stealing is used because players often raise the blinds with mediocre hands in hope of winning the chips in the blinds uncontested when those players fold. If you’re raising with a big hand like Q-Q or A-K, you’re certainly not “stealing,” but if you’re raising with 8-9 or K-7 you’re really hoping players think you have a stronger hand and will muck their hands.
It can be a tricky thing to steal blinds. Do it too much and you’ll find a lot of players fighting back by re-raising. Do it too little and you’ll find yourself blinded off when you run out of chips because you haven’t been aggressive enough. Here are some tips on blind thievery in tournament play.
Don’t steal much early, but do steal a lot late. It’s really not necessary to aggressively go after blinds in the early levels of tournaments because the blinds are small relative to everyone’s stack sizes. For example, in many tournaments you might start with 5,000 in chips and the blinds begin at 25-50. You can win 75 in blinds, which represents less than 2 percent of your starting stack. Sometimes I’ll just limp in with a mediocre hand and hope to flop a big hand that I might be able to double up with rather than try to steal very little in blind money. Or, in that situation, if my opponent checks the flop I can put in a bet to try to win that blind money in delayed fashion because my foe is likely weak and will fold.
In the latter stages of a tournament, the blinds represent a much larger percentage of the average stack and must be fought for at all costs. It’s pretty common in many tournaments for the average stack to be just 10-20 times the amount of the big blind as you approach the final table, so every blind (and ante) stolen late in events are key to survival if you don’t have a big stack. If you’ve got 10 times the big blind or less, you’re better off just pushing all-in in these spots.
Also of note, if you play more tightly early, players will often give your raises more credit later when there is more in blinds and antes to steal.
Steal from the weak. Sit and observe your table for an hour. You’ll see which players are aggressive and which are timid. Most importantly, you’ll be able to determine who to target as your victim(s). Go after the blinds of the weak players — even with weak hands — if you think they will fold and you are reasonably close to the button.
Don’t go too crazy from early position. Don’t try to steal much with weak or medium hands from a position close to the left of the blinds. If I’m attempting to steal the blinds I don’t want to try it from any farther than two spots to the right of the button. Otherwise, there are too many players to my left who could wake up with a big hand and re-raise me.
Don’t risk too much for too little. I generally prefer to raise about 2.5 to 3 times the big blind anytime I raise, whether it is with A-A or a blind stealing hand like 7-8. The risk just isn’t worth the reward if you bet 5 or 6 times the big blind and someone calls or re-raises and you ultimately have to fold your unsuccessful steal attempt. You’ll have to steal the blinds 3 or 4 more times just to make up for what you lost after your big raise.
Over the years, many big-time pros have taken to raising an amount closer to 2.2 times the big blind. With the antes also in play, you are giving players in the blinds better pot odds to call smaller preflop raises. Be cognizant of how tight or loose the players in the blinds are — and how they are likely to react on most flops — and proceed accordingly.