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How to Steal the Blinds in No Limit Hold'em

Evan Jarvis

categories General NLH
Photo Credit: Mattie B | Flickr

Photo Credit: Mattie B | Flickr

How you play your hand when you have a steal opportunity, either in the cut-off or on the button, will have a huge impact on your overall win rate as a poker player.

In this article we’ll discuss the methodology to playing these opportunities correctly. This is an advanced article, and several key concepts will need to be understood to get the most of it.

If you are using Hold’em Manager or PokerTracker, the following statistics will be of vital importance if you plan to play your steal opportunities correctly:

VP$IP (voluntarily put money in the pot)

Fold to Steal % (by position)

3-Bet % (by position)

The following concepts will use the above statistics to govern how best to approach various situations:

1. Your opening range should adjust proportionately to the fold to steal range of the players in the blinds.

Suppose a player in the blinds folds only 50% of his hands when facing a steal from a late position opener. Against a player like this, you will want to narrow (i.e. open less) from late position, and focus more on your value hands, where you will be ahead of his 50% range.

Take an inverse situation, where a player in the blinds folds 85% or more of his hands when facing a steal from a late position opener, you’ll want to widen your range, to almost any two cards, where you’ll be getting him to fold hands much stronger than your own.

2. Be willing to open less and 4-bet more against 3-bet defenders.

Suppose a player in the blinds folds a reasonable amount of his hands in the blinds (between 70-80%) but also has a high 3-bet from blinds range (10% or more). Against a player like this, you’ll want to narrow your range to your higher value hands, as well as hands that contain good blockers (KT, AJ, etc.) to put in 4-bets. You’ll want to avoid flat calling his 3 bets with hands that have bad reverse implied odds (hands like KJ, QT) so you don’t get put into a bad situation when you flop top pair or better.

3. Re-Stealing from the Stealers is very profitable.

You will no doubt come across other aggressive players who steal the blinds well themselves. When you sit to the left of one of these players, pay close attention to their opening range from the cut-off (when you are on the button) and find opportunities to put in your 3-bet on button. If they have a high steal % from the cut-off, you’ll definitely want to widen your 3-bet range from the button, allowing you to steal not only the blinds, but his steal attempt as well.

4. There is nothing wrong with folding to a 3-Bet.

As long as the players in the blinds aren't 3-betting at a high frequency, you need to be able to fold even strong hands like AT when you’re facing a 3-bet. Flat calling is generally not recommended unless you are holding a strong hand against a player who 3-bets a lot; this will allow you to disguise the value of your hand and let your opponent value bet himself out of a pot when you are ahead of his range. Otherwise, folding is usually the best option.

5. At lower stakes, don’t get into Meta-Game wars over the blinds; you’ll be wrong too often.

Avoid thoughts like, “He’s 3-bet 5 times in a row now, I’ll have to put in my 4-bet to keep my range balanced.” It’s likely correct to stop trying to steal from this player unless you have a stronger hand, instead of trying to keep a 4-bet range balanced (at higher stakes, balance is much more important). This will keep you out of situations where you’re stacking off light to 5-bet jams with hands like AQ or TT where you are a coin-flip at best, or when players flat your 4-bet with monsters waiting for you to stick it in post-flop. The fact is most players at lower stakes aren't capable of thinking at this level, and if they are, you should be avoiding these players and focusing your attention on the weaker ones.

For those who are using PokerTracker 3 or Hold’em Manager, let me know in the comments what your Steal Attempt % is!