I've talked before about how important having a plan is to playing winning poker. This applies to not only scheduling, studying and budgeting, but also to actual in game considerations, like playing blind vs. blind.
Playing blind vs. blind is a spot where many players give away a lot of chips and equity in tournaments. Unfortunately, the spill-over effect from making a mistake in one tournament can be deadly if you're a high volume multi-tabler. This is why you need to nip it in the bud and approach blind vs. blind play with the confidence and peace of mind that will lead to increased performance and profits.
In blind vs. blind play, you have to account for every hand. So, having fewer hands to think about makes the task easier.
Here's the bad news: in Hold'em, there are 169 hands.
Here’s the good news: there’s considerably less if you don't consider suited and unsuited to be different (in which case, there are 91).
Next, you need to have a plan.
We always have three options when it's our action. We can limp/fold, call/check, bet/raise. If we consider our opponent's counter actions, we can split the three options into two-pronged actions:
- Open Shove
You can see how these work: you raise with the intention of calling, or raise with the intention of folding if your opponent raises, and so on. You're one step ahead, and have figured out the second action that will follow your first action. These are the options for blind vs. blind assuming your opponent's stack size is such that his or her re-raise is all-in.
Before the action is on you, you want to decide which of these seven options is best for the situation, giving factors like your cards, who your opponent is, your stack size, etc.
Of course, you'll be in the action, so you'll know your opponents better than I do. As such, I can't tell you which hands should fit into which category. You may think AA is always going to be a raise/call, but maybe it will work better as a limp/call or a limp/raise. The plays are going to differ opponent to opponent, with similar hands or different hands. It's your job to allocate various hands to each category for various opponents and the various situations.
Note on open shove: I italicized the open shove for a reason. If you worry you won't be able to stick with the plan or that you'll have a misguided change of heart once your opponent acts, you can take away your second strategic option (raise/fold) by just open shoving hands that are profitable pushes rather than fazing yourself with a decision. This keeps things simple. If a hand is +EV/+chip EV to shove, you rip it in there and don't think about it twice. All decisions are done, and there's nothing else to do.
Need a refresher on hand rankings for shoves? Get the Gripsed cheat sheets here.
Now, I know many players might think my list of strategic options is exhaustive, but it's important to always think one or two moves ahead when you're creating your plans. Poker is a lot more like chess than checkers, and the best players are thinking about future moves.
When you don't have a plan, you're often going to find yourself making the sketchy decisions. Not having a plan forces you to make a call in the moment, under pressure, and we all know that decisions made under duress - making good decisions under duress - takes experience. So take some pressure off by knowing exactly what to do before your opponent acts so that you won't be reacting to him; he'll just be playing along with your plan no matter what he does.
It’s about reacting with your mind, rather than emotions.
Know which hands you're raising with the intention of calling, raising with the intention of folding, and so on. For example, when you're opening from middle position, there are some players you're going to want to see five cards against, and there are some who you'll surrender to if they show interest. Like I said, your plan is set, but which strategy you use will depend on your opponent.
Against more knowledgeable, powerful and aggressive players, you're going to have to call off with more hands than you would against a tighter player. Against a tighter player, you're going to be raise/folding more hands and raise/calling fewer. But the irony is you'll probably be raising more hands overall because your steal is more likely to be successful when up against a tight player than up against an aggressive one.
Factors That Impact Your Plan
- Opponent's Stack Size
- Opponent's Position in the Field
- Stage of the Tournament
- Aggressiveness of Opponent
The amount of pressure to apply will depend on a lot of variables. Consider this: when an opponent has a 15BB-25BB re-shove stack and knows how to use it, raising a steal from them isn't always the best idea. Likewise, ask yourself how good of a chance your opponent has of winning the tournament or even cashing the tournament. Do you think cashing is something they value? If it is, you can apply a lot more pressure, since players who want to cash or move up the payout structure are less likely to want to get into a confrontation. To know who you can steal from means knowing your opponent well, and this can only come through paying attention to the table even when you're not in a hand.
The main thing is to STICK WITH THE PLAN.
If you're doing this, you're setting yourself up to win. And if you really want to up your game, do your homework and see which hands are most profitable under each strategic option. This will take the guess work out of playing, and give you the mathematical and logical edge to win.