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Big Blind vs Small Blind – Calling Strategy

June 8, 2020
by Pete Clarke

We began this series with a look at the endgame and we are now discussing middle game all-in confrontations blind vs blind. In the next episode, we’ll be ready to work our way back to the beginning of Grand Tour and discuss early game strategy before the all-ins become our weapon of choice.

For today though, the topic is how wide to call it off in the big blind facing a small blind jam. Guess what? It depends on who covers who – what a huge surprise!

When We Cover the SB

Remember from the last episode that calling a shove to win a bounty is a lot different to calling shoves in normal tournament play. Your price is enhanced by the extra money up for grabs.

When we face a shove in the big bling from a 14BB deep SB player whom we cover we should call with the following hands against his 35% shoving range.

On the one hand, this range is a lot wider than it would be at this stack depth if no bounty were up for grabs. Hon the other hand, it is restrained somewhat by the fact that SB has very little to gain here by shoving and is shoving very tight. (35% is hardly anything with only two players left in the hand). SB and BB both have to be even more careful if they cover the other player(s) on the table.

When there are short stacked players NOT in the hand, you should be less willing to gamble in blind vs. blind battles.

Compare these two examples:

  1. The blinds are 50/100. We have 1500 chips in the big blind and Villain shoves for 1400 in the SB. The BU, who has folded, has 2300 chips.
  2. The blinds are 75/150. We have 2400 chips in the big blind and Villain has 2100 chips in the SB. The BU, who has folded has only 500 chips.

In example 1. we are much more incentivised to gamble. One downside of folding is that the BU will be first in line to take a shot at the SB’s bounty in future hands. He wields the big stack and is at the least risk of elimination. We might not get a shot at another bounty in the near future so it is worth accepting some risk to try to bust the SB.

In example 2. we are likely to get a shot at busting the BU at any point. We are sacrificing a much more lucrative situation when we tangle with the SB and risk being crippled. By how much should our calling range shrink in example 2?

This chart assumes that the BU has just 4BB left and has folded; the SB has shoved for 14BB and we cover with 17BB in a three handed game:

The hands with the red boxes around them were calls in the less lucrative table conditions where BU had a lot of chips. They have become -EV investments now due to the promise of getting all in with the BU in the near future. This leads us to a more general rule about tournament and SNG play:

Whenever you have a favourable table situation, such as a bounty available or an opponent who is playing poorly, you want to avoid close spots that might be profitable in theory.

The EV of your future opportunities increases when table conditions are favourable, and you must compare your present opportunity with these instead of just evaluating it in a vacuum.

When the SB Covers Us

Now onto spots where we are covered by the SB shover. This is a situation where he really gets to bully us. In Grand Tour, being at risk of elimination usually entails that no bounty is up for grabs. Both of these things being simultaneously true incentivises tight play.

SB shoves for 14BB and we are covered. The BU is short stacked like he was in the previous example. Does our calling range change?

Hardly at all! We still call 27% of hands!

This seems odd at first. Shouldn’t we be much tighter now? In actual fact, we ARE being much tighter. In the last example, where the SB player was covered, he was only jamming 34% of hands. We were actually calling quite wide against this snug range in relative terms by calling with the top 27% of our hands.

Normally a calling range will be A LOT tighter than a shoving range due to its lack of fold equity. But this changes when bounties are up for grabs.

The 7% difference between our range and his really wasn’t much at all. We were calling wide – considering his shoving range.

Now that the SB covers us, he is shoving a whopping 65% of hands. Now our strategy in the BB doesn’t seem quite so similar to before. We are calling far tighter now in relative terms by calling the same overall frequency.

Calling 27% vs. a 35% range is very loose.

Calling 27% vs. a 65% range is very tight.

The bounties have a huge impact.

Short Stack Battles

Finally, what do you think happens when the giant stacked BU folds; both blinds are incredibly short; and the BB covers the SB? How wide should BB call SB’s jam?

Very wide indeed! This may well be his only chance at a bounty. The overall game situation is a dreadful one for both blinds and so it’s do or die time when BB gets a rare shot at a bounty.

In this example, the blinds are 50/100. BU folds with a stack of 2700 (very questionably I might add), and SB shoves for 700 chips. BB has 750 chips and starts salivating.

He calls with this range:

Anticipating that he will be called really often, the SB shoves with a big card heavy range. For this reason, the BB favours suited garbage to J2o when he calls. He wants to be live wherever possible. This 67% calling range beautifully illustrates the urgency to gamble when you have a shot at a bounty in what is otherwise a grim tournament situation.


  • Call wider than normal in the BB when the SB has a tight shoving range and a bounty for the taking. 27% is a lot to call vs only a 30% range.
  • Call much tighter when covered in this spot. 27% is very tight vs a 65% shoving range.
  • When you cover another short stack you should call almost everything. Your tournament situation is bleak. This is your chance to earn some money.


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