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Blind Stealing in Tournaments

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Blind Stealing in Poker Tournaments

In tournaments one of the most important agressive tactics is blind-stealing.   Players should take many factors into account to blind-steal correctly, including table position, opponents, your chip stack, tournament stage, the M-factor and your cards. 

Fold equity is very important because you don’t want your opponent to call you pre-flop.  The less likely you are to get called the more profitable blind-stealing becomes.  Here are some figures that determine how often different types of players will call a blind steal with pre-flop raises (3-4xbb). 

Percentage of Hands Players Call Blind-Steals with:

  • Tight Player – 5%
  • Semi-Tight Player – 28%
  • Loose Player – 64%

We can see that blind stealing works best against tight players behind you and in particular on the BB/SB.  They will only call with premium hands including AA – 1010 and AK, AQ, meaning it’s likely to be very profitable against them. 

For loose players however, we are going to get called more than 1 in two times, with a wider range of hands that includes connected cards, pockets and even marginal hands such as A7 and above.  This means we should not really be blind stealing against loose players in a tournament, or at least avoid doing it if we’re not prepared to double or triple-barrel our opponents in later streets who call.

It’s also extremely important to avoid blind-stealing with very loose players on the blinds who will hit back at you.  The last thing you want is a loose player 3betting you from BB, check-raising you post-flop or even letting everyone at the table know you don’t have the goods.

Positional Blind Stealing in a Tournament

Position is the key to all successful bluffs and and +EV steals in poker.  Against weak players on the SB or BB you should always be stealing in late position on an un-raised table,  in the later middle and late stages of a tournament you can be blind stealing from mid-position too with a much larger range of hands.  Against tight players you can do this with virtually anything, however for loose-agressive players we want to be stealing with hands that have showdown value and potential to improve, this includes mid-high pocket pairs, suited connectors, high broadway cards and A10+.

Blind Stealing Against Stacks with Less than 10xBB

When you have a small stack player with less than 10xBB on the SB or BB it is always +EV to steal the blinds with any hand.  It will always generate positive long term equity and  the same is true if you yourself only have 10xBB and push from the blinds.  The combination of fold equity and the range of hands a small stack is forced to go all-in with is the reason for this.

Getting Caught Blind Stealing

If you are caught blind stealing and survive on a push, your status and history will definitely be noted by the better opponents sitting at your table.  This is important because it will reduce any fold equity or tight table image you have.  You can however turn a loose table image in your favour by overplaying premium hands such as KK or QQ – especially against loose opponents. 

Independent Chip Modelling & Blind Stealing at the Bubble

ICM (Independent Chip Modelling) should define what hands you play and risk your stack with in tournaments.  For those unaware of ICM, it is the concept of putting a real dollar value on your current stack relative to the payout of the tournament.  In other words it measures your tournament “equity” and how much your current stack is worth – along with the value of any additional chips you accumulate.  Now, because the value of chips decreases in a tournament (the value of more additional chips will also be worth less than the utility of losing your current chips) it is important not to risk your chips as much at this stage – it will be negative ICM or $EV play. 

With regards to stealing blinds in a tournament, what this means is that you shouldn’t be calling an opponent blind stealing if you “know” at heads up it will be 50/50.  For example, if you now your opponent has pushed all-in with AQ and you have 1010, you shouldn’t call because it is negative $EV play.  Even if you are 5% favourite, the principles of ICM and premium risk of losing chips at this stage means you should only be calling if you are above for instance 60% favourite (this figure depends on your chipstack and your opponents – you need an ICM calculator to work this out!).

If you want to win a tournament many professional aggressive players will argue that you should be pushing in these situations, however if we lets maths do the talking it’s still technically bad play.


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