Stealing the Blinds in Online Poker – A Complete Guide
Whatever kind of poker game you are playing in, it is the mandatory bets, called the blinds, that make the action go and determine the flow of chips.
When a poker hand is first dealt, the blinds are the only money in the pot, which means they are what everyone at the table is going after to start with. Since the blinds determine the raise sizes, especially in online poker games, the table should and usually does adapt to the blinds in many ways.
One of the biggest adjustments you need to make to become a profitable poker player is learning when and how you should steal the blinds. It is a crucial weapon used by all serious poker players. In fact, it could be argued that any raise made in a poker hand is an attempt to steal the blinds, but more on that later.
For now, let’s talk about what game types are best for stealing the blinds from the button or the cutoff position and how exactly you will want to do it.
Stealing the Blinds from Dealer and Cutoff
The dealer and the cutoff are the two best positions at the poker table to steal the blinds, regardless of the game type you are playing in.
In tournaments, which are usually nine or eight-handed, you will see as many as six players act before you when you have the button. You may only see three players act in a cash game, but that’s half of the players at the table either way. What’s more, your only opponents when you are on the button will be the blinds, provided that everyone else has already folded.
When we talk about stealing the blinds in poker, we are referring to scenarios where all players in front of you have folded, and you are sitting in one of the two premium positions. When this does happen, you should attempt to steal the blinds at a high frequency. Analysis of huge hand databases has shown that the big blind will fold their hand to a button raise over 60% of the time on average, which makes the play instantly profitable.
Stealing the blinds from the cutoff is a bit trickier, as you have to worry about the button having a hand they can playback at you with, which means you should tighten up your range a bit.
In either case, stealing the blinds from the premium positions is a play that will always show a profit, especially if you don’t try to get too fancy with it.
How and When to Steal the Blinds
When the action folds all the way to you on the button, you should be raising at a very high frequency. Raising about 50% of all possible hands in most games should be a profitable strategy. Your cutoff opening range should be a bit tighter, with about 30% of the hands still playable.
The big decrease in hands you should play has most to do with you being out of position against the dealer. In either case, if the action comes over to the blinds, you are in a great position. You will have two opponents who have random cards, are facing your raise, and will be out of position against you for the rest of the hand.
Your opponents can choose to call you or make a raise back against you, or simply fold their cards, which is the preferred option with the majority of their hands. While live poker players have a habit of being sticky and calling button raises with pretty much anything, online poker players are usually more conservative and will not fool around.
You can expect people to fold in the small blind with hands like 97 or 86 almost every time, while you will face some re-raises from the more experienced players with a certain range of hands. The big blind will be getting a great price to call your raise, so expect them to come along for the ride some of the time, but this is not too troubling either. Since you will be in a position against the big blind, you will be able to dictate the action throughout the hand and easily win more pots than you lose.
Sizing Your Bets When Stealing the Blinds
When trying to steal the blinds, the big question that comes to mind is how much I should make if I want my opponents to fold.
You should be looking to raise as little as possible and get those folds for the most part. Raising big runs the risk of not getting enough folds to make your steals profitable, so you should stick to a standardized size.
In most online cash games, a raise to 2.5x the big blind should do the trick, while even a min-raise will do it in others, especially the fast-fold ones. You will have to get accustomed to the particular game you are playing and player tendencies in it. In some games, you will need to raise to 3x to get a good number of folds, while a min-raise will do it just fine in others.
Overall, you should never look to raise more than 3x the big blind unless someone else entered the pot already, in which case blind stealing is no longer your only concern. The general trick to stealing the blinds is to raise as little as possible, get as many folds as possible, and try to steal from people who are more than happy to fold to you.
Using HUD When Stealing the Blinds
One thing that’s very different about online poker compared to live is that you can use a HUD like Poker Tracker on many of the world’s finest poker sites. The HUD will show you various stats on your opponents, especially those you play many hands with. These stats include specific numbers for how a player plays in the blinds and specifically how they respond to blind stealing attempts.
Using this stat, you will be able to assess which players fold too much when in the blinds and which players fold too infrequently, which will give you a big advantage. Of course, you should consider the fact that other players are possibly using a HUD as well and that they will see your stealing frequency stat, which they may use against you.
If you want to make sure you are not getting exploited through HUD stats, you should keep your steal attempts well balanced and raise about 50% of your range from the button. If you notice your opponents are just nitty players who don’t care about the HUD or defending their blinds, then stealing more frequently is definitely an option worth considering.
Stealing the Blinds in Fast-Fold Games
Online poker offers many different games, and fast-fold games such as Zoom Poker on PokerStars are different from regular cash game tables.
You will still be playing your classic six-max poker, but the difference is that everyone will be dealt a brand new hand the moment they fold their cards. This game type gives players an extra incentive to fold in the blinds and move on to the next hand, as they will not have to wait.
Good players know that they have to play every position well in order to profit, but most recreational players don’t care about defending the blinds if they can move on to a new hand and get better cards. For this reason, fast-fold games are by far the best to apply your blind stealing techniques in, as players here will be happy to let you have the blinds and move on.
Another great thing about fast-fold poker is that people won’t bother too much with looking at their price either, and a min-raise will often do the job, as players have often already decided they are folding their cards the moment the action gets to them.
Stealing the Blinds in Tournaments
Tournament poker is a format that makes blind stealing even more essential than cash games. In cash games, you will be winning a little cash every time your steal works, but in a tournament, you may be winning 10% or more of your stack from players simply folding.
Stealing the blinds in the late stages of the tournament when stacks get short is an essential technique without which you will never become a good tournament player.
The blind stealing ranges for tournament poker have long been established, and you will need to learn these charts by heart and stick to them if you want to succeed in MTTs.
If it seems crazy to you to go all-in for millions of chips deep in a tournament, you should realize that those millions of chips only represent a small number of big blinds and that there are dead blinds and antes already in the pot.
Blind stealing may be important in every game type out there, but it is a crucial part of tournament poker and a skill without which you will never win big in tournaments over the long run.