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Modern Blind Stealing for No-Limit Hold’em in 2015

Introduction

More than seven years ago, I wrote a post titled Blind Stealing 101. A lot has changed in terms of what’s fashionable and what’s well-known in the online poker world. For a fun piece of evidence of this, note that the standard size of an open raise in the Blind Stealing 101 post was 4x from the button. What I want to do with this week’s strategy article is add some updated information here and give you some ideas to think about on your own when it comes to learning about the blind stealing game and the situations that can come from it.

Bet Size Considerations

In today’s games, it’s fashionable to open from late position with smaller amounts than 4x. While it seems to be a standard of 3x for many, an open of 2.5x or even just 2x isn’t unheard of. The blinds have to really watch their fold percentages here if they don’t want to just let you print money with your steals in late position. If you’re opening more hands than before because of the smaller bet sizes, then this also means you have to watch for people in the blinds who are going to 3-bet you to exploit your wider ranges.

How to Handle This Dynamic

Generally speaking, you’ll want to handle this dynamic by avoiding opening up too much unless you know both of the players in the blinds are just going to fold a ton of hands and be super exploitable. With smaller bet sizes, you’ll also expect to get called more, so you have to focus on figuring out how your opponent’s ranges are looking and what you can do to play well from the flop on out. This gets a bit outside of the scope of pre-flop blind stealing, but it requires a good bit of study if you want to play well because it’s a situation that comes up a ton.

An Example Calculation

Suppose we’re raising to 2.5x from the button, the small blind folds 75 percent and the big blind folds 66.67 percent, on average. They’ll both fold a total of 50 percent of the time (0.75 * 0.6667 = 0.50). Your EV just from the blind stealing will be (0.50 * 1.5) + (0.50 * -2.5) = -0.5 big blinds. This means you’ll have to squeeze another 0.5 big blinds of value out of the non-folding scenarios on average to turn a profit. This isn’t very much at all, but it does require that you play solid poker and don’t just get outplayed past your positional advantage.

An Important Lesson Here

A very important lesson to learn from this calculation is that pre-flop play can’t be held in a vacuum anymore. You have to think about the other implications from the scenarios that can come up other than folding. For example, there’s the whole pre-flop 3-betting game to learn on top of the post-flop game of when one of the blinds folds. To a lesser extent, you have the multi-way scenarios to learn about like when you get a 3-bet and a call, a 3-bet and a 4-bet, or two calls.

Various Stack Sizes

One of the topics I didn’t cover in the original Blind Stealing 101 post is how smaller stack sizes affect the dynamic. In reality, they usually don’t really change all that much in terms of how the blind stealing and defending aspect works as far as fold percentages go from the perspective of the person doing the stealing. However, they do affect the post-flop scenarios that can come up after stealing as well as bet sizes and relevant ranges when you get into the 3-betting/4-betting/etc game.

How to Study For Smaller Stack

Cap no-limit hold’em is pretty popular at this point, relatively speaking. I know a number of people who have put in a lot of work at this game in particular because of how the ranges change and how you have to really plan ahead in both the 3-betting scenario and the post-flop scenario. How you study for each part is different, but it all comes down to learning the appropriate ranges.

For the 3-betting game, you have to set up some standard bet sizes for the raise and 3-bet, and then you have to assume that the 4-bet is a shove because it effectively is at that point. You can imagine 4-betting to something like 12bb with 25bb effective stacks (or whatever cap is at the site you play with) and seeing how it’s really hard to have anything in your range that you can legitimately fold because of pot odds. From there, you break down the opening and 3-betting and 4-betting ranges, and it becomes pretty clear how things work from the simple math that follows. Check my EV Calculations Tutorial series for more details on how to go about this.

When it comes to the post-flop side of things, you have to look up some stats on how often you make certain types of flops with your range. For example, you might decide that you’re always going to stack off with something like top pair or better and that you’re always going to c-bet/shove with draws to eight or more outs. The stats for how often you flop different hands will help you to determine how often all of this stuff is going to happen and how often you can afford to fold on different types of flops before you start getting exploited on some obscene level.

Things Expand Quickly

If you want to really learn about blind stealing on a high level at this point, then you have to really study the situations that come out of the steal instead of just stopping at the simple math that drives the initial stealing situation. Along these lines, you have to study the 3-betting game and the post-flop game where you’re in position with what’s presumably a wide range against whatever the blinds have.

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