Calling from the Big Blind – Realisable Equity

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In the latest part of his blind defence series Dan O'Callaghan clarifies 'realisable equity', a vital component of profitable blind defence.

Unfortunately guys, there's something I need to tell you. I'm sorry if I stutter - blame it on the nerves:

Enough is enough.

I just have to come clean.

I need to.

For all our sakes.

I can't continue the lies any longer...

But where to start? I guess it doesn't matter since there's no easy way to say this. It's time to bite the bullet; to face the music; to get my kit off and take a Cersei Lannister guilt stroll through King's Landing. Oh, how I can already taste the rotten tomatoes.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

It's not all Odds and Equity

I'm afraid I've been lying to you all. For three articles and over 4,000 words now, I've masked a web of deception behind a poorly constructed wall of (hilarious) puns and witty asides. Remember when I told you that you could defend your big blind if your hand equity was better than the pot odds you were being offered? Well, that's not necessarily true. It's all lies. Lies! Lies, I tell you!

Okay, okay so I'm exaggerating, but nonetheless, it is true that pot odds and hand equity comparisons alone aren't quite enough to classify a successful blind defence. Don't hate me too much; everything will be far clearer when we've finished with Part 4.

Over the last three articles, we've learned that pot odds are as important to successful blind defence as orange is to a jaffa cake. We've learned the value of blinds in tournaments, and how to construct our opponents' ranges to calculate a reasonably accurate estimate. Also, to figure out how well our hand fairs against them, before using this knowledge to determine if we can profitability defend our big blind with a call.

Most of what I told you was true. These skills still constitute the fundamentals of blind defence. But now it's time to take things one step further and clarify something I've skimmed over up until now, a concept known as realisable equity.

What Is Realisable Equity?

Despite what my mother would have you think, I'm not much of a gambling man, but let's suppose that I am for a moment and that you and I bet on two 100m sprint races. Usain Bolt is running in both of them, and you bet that he'll win at least one of the races. I don't know how you get there, but you estimate that he will have a 60% chance of winning each leg, and about 80% chance of winning at least one. Stupidly I accept a bet matching these odds (Obviously I'm drawing dead, Bolt would probably still win the 100 meters running backwards!).

Unknown to the masses, Bolt has had a falling out with his shoe sponsors behind the scenes and a disgruntled CEO has paid a shoe fitter to 'forget' to screw the spikes into the bottom of Bolt's running shoes. Mid-way through the race a spike-less Usain slips over and injures his knee on the tarmac. He loses the first race and is unable to compete in the second. Since he didn't win any of the races, you lose the bet, and I spend your money on pizza. Result!

But this was a sure thing. Where did it all go wrong? Well, even though you had a 60% chance of winning the second race when you placed the bet, circumstances beyond your control meant that you weren't able to win as often as you should have done. With Usain's injury, the 60% equity you had in the second race was reduced to zero because you were put in a situation where you weren't able to see the benefit (or realise) any of it.

Had you accounted for the times that Bolt was injured or unable to compete in one of the races when you placed the bet, you'd have probably concluded that only something about 75% of your 80% equity was realisable, and bet on that basis.

How Much Pot Equity Can Be Realised

Of course, you don't need running spikes to win a poker tournament, but there are a number of things that can affect how much of your equity you can realise. Here's a quick poker example to give you a sense of perspective:

You're on the big blind with As3s, and your opponent makes it 3x to go from the button. Your opponent has had a few too many strawberry daiquiris and accidentally flashes you his pocket jacks. Since you're pretty sure he's never folding, you go through motions and work out that your pot odds require you to have  31% equity to call.

You've been studying your match-ups and know that you have around a 32% equity against his hand, and so you make the call. The dealer spreads a 9h-8s-2c, and you check the action to Captain Daiquiri. He slurs the words 'all-in', and you're forced to fold your hand and the 17% equity you had with it. Was your blind defence profitable?

Unfortunately, it wasn't. Even though you followed the rules so far, you neglected to factor in one major consideration: The 32% equity that you believed you had against your opponent's hand was based on seeing an entire board. Since our opponent's all-in bet has prevented us from doing that, we have been unable to realise a chunk of our equity.

Adjusting Your Pot Odds

When we are calculating our blind defences, we should adjust our pot odds requirements to account for the times that we will be bluffed and/or forced to fold a percentage of our equity. This means that rather than defending based on our entire hand equity, we should instead base our defences on how much equity we feel we are able to realise. As a general rule of thumb, the less equity you think you will be able to realise, the more you should increase your pot odd requirements.

Just like constructing your opponent's raising ranges, working out your realisable equity is a difficult thing to quantify. So I think it's best to err on the side of caution where possible. Fortunately, though, since this series is all about arming you with the tools to defend your big blind correctly, here are a few examples of things that can impact how much of your equity you are able to realise:

Aggressive Post-Flop Players:

Generally speaking, the more aggressive a player is, the less of your equity you will be able to realise. We will be forced to fold more often than we would against a tighter or more ABC kind of player. Be careful not confuse pre-flop aggression with post-flop aggression, though. Many players are very comfortable stealing the blinds, but play way more honestly post-flop.

Tighter Post-Flop Players:

You can be a little more liberal defending against tighter players because they will usually play pretty passively. They are more likely to try to take their medium strength hands to showdown than to bet to protect them. This means that you will be able to realise more of your equity, because you will be forced to fold far less frequently, and be able to see a complete board more often.


Because you get to dictate proceedings a little more when you play in position, it's easier to realise more of your equity. This means that you should be more inclined to defend your big blind against the small blind than you should against the button.

Super Tighter Ranges:

I don't mind letting players with super tight ranges take my blinds without too much of a fight since these players aren't stealing very often. We don't need to worry about being exploited by them and I think just folding and waiting for them to go back to sleep is a better option. It's certainly more attractive than trying to smash a rock with a toffee hammer, which is basically what we're doing when we face a super strong range with our weak one out of position. It's also worth remembering that the tighter an opponent's pre-flop range is, the more likely they are to have a hand that they feel comfortable betting post-flop, and the less of our equity we will be able to realise.

Skill Advantage:

Better players will use their positional advantage effectively and make us fold more often. Since folding prevents us from realising our equity, we should be less inclined to defend against stronger opposition.

Wrapping it Up

So there we have it, realisable equity in a nutshell. Hopefully, the last four articles have given you a deeper understanding of blind defence and armed you with all the tools you need to be confident about making profitable decisions from the blinds.

Remember, the better you are at defending yourself, the more likely you are to become the kind of player that the bullies just leave alone. Keep your eyes peeled for the final part in the series where I'll tie up some loose ends, and discuss a few of the other benefits of calling from the big blind.

As ever, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message.

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