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Early Game Play: Defending the Big Blind

June 19, 2020
by Pete Clarke

What players sometimes fail to understand about the big blind is that you are supposed to lose chips in this position on the table, and lots of them.

If someone raises your big blind, you are supposed to lose even more than the average loss rate in this position across all hands. If you fold, you lose 100% of your big blind. Therefore, when we call, the idea is to lose less than 100% of our big blind.

In tournament play you want to defend your big blind much wider than in cash games. This is because no chips come out of the pot in rake. Cash players will have to get used to doing a lot more calling than they are accustomed to. In fact, even normal MTT and SNG players might need to call much wider than normal whenever they cover the opener and have a shot at his bounty. Let’s get into the details.

BB vs. CO

Again, our preferred model uses a 2.2BB raise and we begin our journey into big blind defence at the typical starting tack of 20BBs.

When the CO opens at the start of a Grand Tour heat, the BB will be calling many hands that have a large equity disadvantage against the CO’s range. This seems unnatural to many players, but there are two good reasons to play a lot of hands here:

  1. Pot odds dictate that you need to win back very little of the pot on average to recoup your investment – just 24% of it in this sizing model.
  2. Being able to win a bounty boosts your odds further.

Here is the defence range we should use in this spot. The yellow hands are calls and the green hands are all-ins.

The main idea here is that vs. CO’s range low connected or suited cards are quite likely to be live and so given that we need to regain hardly any of the pot to do better than we would by folding, calling is profitable even with some terrible looking hands. When a flop like J64 comes down, 64o will stack KJs and plunder the opponent’s bounty. Here in lies the value in making these light calls.

When Villain opens larger than 2.2BB you have to be much tighter than this. If he min-opens, you need to call even more hands!

The shoving range here aims to combine fold equity and the harvesting of dead money with being in reasonable shape when called and thus having a decent chance at netting a bounty. Don’t forget to tighten up your defence range when bounties are not up for grabs because you’re covered.

BB vs. BU

If you thought the last defence range was wide, you’re in for another shock. Against a BU 2.2BB open, we get to add even more hands into the mix like garbage Queen-high and Jack-high. We also get to jam wider than we did vs. CO. Here is the range:

Before you go off and hammer the call button till it bleeds, let’s go over a few exceptions.

  • Call less hands if you have spotted Villain limping the BU. This is likely to mean that his raising range is too strong.
  • Call less hands when you are the covering stack at the table but would be covered by everyone if you call and then fold the flop.
  • Call less bad hands if Villain is c-betting too many flops.
  • Call even more hands than this vs. passive opponents who are unlikely to fight for pots.
  • 3-Bet all-in with more Ax combinations vs. calling stations
  • Start to jam more suited bluff hands vs. people who fold too much to jams.

BB vs SB

And now we reach the widest big blind defence range of them all. In the next episode we’ll deploy SB strategy that never enters the pot for a small raise – it either jams for 20BB or it folds. This is simplified and effective. Nevertheless, many of your opponents will chose to open for a smaller raise. Here is our defence range if they choose a 2.2BB raise and we can win their bounty.

This time we get to add position to the list of perks that make calling better than folding. The result is extreme:

There are a few technical points about this range to unpack. Firstly, we are a little more polarised now in terms of the hands we shove. This means that because the calling EV of some medium strength hands like KQs and A7o has gone up due to position, but the shoving EV has remained the same as it was when out of position, calling has become higher EV than raising.

On a separate note, AA is now doing fantastically as a call as this is perhaps the only hand that doesn’t benefit at all from fold equity. Even KK likes it when it folds out A3 and avoids getting smashed on the Ace-High flop. AA has no such protection to achieve by jamming so it slowplays here.

Meanwhile, looking to the bottom of the range, we can call almost any two and do better than we would by folding. This is the very reason that the SB doesn’t gain a lot by building a small raise strategy – he should never get to win pre-flop. Next time, we are going to learn how to play a limp, fold, or jam strategy from this position.


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