Steal Or No Steal?

In tournament poker, it is helpful to accumulate chips in uncontested hands. One play that needs to be in your arsenal is to raise and steal the blinds (and sometimes antes) with marginal hands. This is a play usually made from the cut-off, the dealer button or occasionally from the small blind. In some cases, it can be made from any position at the table depending on the playing style of the table and your current table image.

While this is a play that prolongs your tournament life and will help you get deep into tournaments, there are some very common mistakes that you must avoid making when attempting to steal:

Failing to know your opponents' tendencies

In a tournament, some players defend their blinds at almost any cost. Some players are looser than others and novice players are hard to predict. You need to avoid trying to steal the blinds from players who frequently protect their blinds or who play lesser hands. This can be difficult to gauge early on in a tournament.

Showing your hands for the wrong reasons

Many experienced players will tell you to never show your hand unless you are required to. Some players will tell you to only show your hand to provide false information to an opponent to set them up later. The worst thing you can do is to show your hand and then fail to use that to your advantage later. For example, if you are on the button and you have raised from that position whenever the action is folded to you, it is probably not a great idea to show a hand like 7-4 offsuit unless your game plan is to tighten up your play. Showing a poor hand will diminish your image and make it more difficult to continue picking up the blinds uncontested. In addition, if you are making this play from the button, your hand value is already diminished due to your position at the table.

The overbet to steal

When you make a play at the blinds, your overall goal is usually to take down the blinds uncontested. The size of your bet plays a large part on whether this play will be successful in the long run. In addition, sometimes an overbet can be perceived as a scared play, further tempting the blinds to call.

Making a minimum raise requires a success rate of 57% to hit the break even point while an 8x the big blind raise requires an 84% success rate (almost 6-to-1 win-loss ratio!). Below is a chart to further illustrate this:

Raise Type..... 2x BB.. 3x BB.. 4x BB.. 5x BB.. 6x BB.. 7x BB.. 8x BB

% Success Rate 57.2% 66.7% 72.8% 76.9% 80.0% 82.4% 84.2%

Win-Loss Ratio.. 1.33:1 2:1... 2.67:1 3.33:1.. 4:1... 4.67:1 5.33:1

Stealing from the small blind late in tournaments without antes

The ante-free tournaments are becoming more popular lately. Another spot where your risk/reward ratio is severly diminished is trying to steal the small blind from the big blind. The most dangerous aspect of the hand is that IF you are called, then you will have to play the rest of the hand out of position. In addition, your win/loss ratio has to be equal to the size of your bet. If you triple the blind, then you need to win from that position 3 out of 4 times.

The All-In Bluff

The most powerful play in poker at a No Limit table is to put all of your chips at risk. Raising all-in gives you two chances to win every pot you are involved in as your opponents will usually fold. Strategically used, the all-in pre-flop bet is a powerful weapon to scoop up chips because even if you are called then there is a strong likelihood that you are at worst a 2-to-1 underdog. My caution here is to use this play sparingly to prevent ending your tournament life on a bluff and to make this play even more powerful.

The Continuation Bluff

When you get caught, the first reaction is to find a way to win the hand anyway. This can be a costly road to take. The other danger is flopping a hand that you can semi-bluff that gets you into more hot water. Know your players and what they are willing to call with to help provide you with enough information to make a good decision on when to continue with the bluff and when to shut it down.

On the other side, here are some ways to improve your success rate when attempting to steal the blinds.

Create A Tight Image Early

This is important later in tournaments, especially as the field draws closer to the money. A tight image early gives you the ability to make raises later that will go uncontested thanks to the tight image you created. This will also prolong your tournament life and improve your chances at cashes.

If You MUST Show, Provide Your Opponents With Conflicting Information

Make sure that you mix up what you show. If you have been called down a few times only to reveal the nuts, you might want to show a bluff here or there to make sure that you continue to get paid off. In addition, there is always the option of showing one card to throw your opponent off. Whether you have Queen-Two or Pocket Queens, when you show a Queen, it makes your opponent think about what the other card might have been. I often randomly show one of my two cards to check if my opponent is paying attention and create further conflicting information. Even in the case of a bluff, if you flip over a 4 without checking which card you were going to reveal, your opponent usually will credit you with a pocket pair. This is tougher to do online but you can do this by showing a bluff when you are playing tight and not getting called or showing a big hand when you get a walk with a big hand and want to continue to grab uncontested pots.

Vary Your Position At The Table When Raising The Blinds

Good players will spot a pattern and exploit that weakness in your game so be careful about falling into any discernable pattern. While playing out of position is not advised, make sure you don't only play at the blinds from the button. Late in a tournament, this can be a move made from any position at the table, especially when the players in the blinds are weak tight players.

Avoid The All-In Or Fold Short Stack Syndrome

Just because you are the smallest stack at the table, there are times when even the short stack at the table isn't, by definition, the short stack. The definition of the short stack is widely accepted by advanced players to be an M of 5 or less. This is your stack relative to the blinds and antes it would cost to have the button move one time around the table. For example, if you are 7-handed and have 19,000 in chips left with the blinds at 1000/2000 with a 200 ante then your M would be 19,000/4400 (the blinds and antes added together for one round of play). At this point, your M would be slightly higher than 4. In this case, the automatic decision would be to push all-in with a hand you want to play. If there were no antes, then your M would be slightly above 6 so it would not quite be ready to panic. The part of the game that is missed when playing the short stack is the actual situational aspect of the game. The average player becomes the small stack or close to it and just thinks it is time to push all-in with any ace or king.

While there is no exact science to raising the blinds, there are a lot of ways to maximize this play. Be sure to develop a comfort level with how you play in these situations. In addition, make modifications to your game whenever you see yourself finding yourself on the sidelines in similar situations.

Article written by member bj316