In this article we’re going to look at stealing the blinds in its purest form. To define the terms, we mean making a raise before the flop with the intention of winning the blinds and antes by making both players in the blinds fold. This might seem obvious – it’s a good thing to do, right? But, despite how aggressive you think you are, you’re probably not stealing enough, you probably haven’t put enough thought into it, and you’re probably making some big mistakes when trying it.

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Why do you need to steal the blinds?

To maximise your equity in most games, and especially most poker tournaments, you should be trying to steal the dead money in the pot. Every time you successfully steal the blinds and antes you’ve added to your stack without having to show your cards. In a tournament, as the blinds continually rise, it’s essential that you steal more than your fair share of them.

However, you need to be aware of exactly what you’re trying to do. Too many bets are made in poker – even by good players – which don’t have a clear purpose and can lead the bettor into trouble. So be clear what your opening of the pot represents. There’s a difference between being the opening raiser from the cut-off when you have K-J suited compared to 9-4 offsuit. The first bet could be a value bet, i.e. you could have the best hand or a semi-bluffing hand that could be best after the flop. With the 9-4 offsuit you’re making a pure bluff or blind steal.

As blind stealing has become increasingly common, there are far too many players and bits of poker literature that have come out recommending various hand ranges for making blind steals. But what it comes down to is that if you’re coming into a pot with a raise your chances of winning it are better if you’re doing it with a hand of some value. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re making a steal – regardless of your cards. You expect your raise to be profitable because of your situation.

How much to bet?

As your blind-stealing bet is designed to win the pot without a fight, you should bet only as much as you need, not a chip more, to achieve the desired outcome – everyone folding. This will usually be three times the big blind. However, you should be aware that in some tournament situations your bet doesn’t need to be that big. For example, in the later stages of a tournament, simply doubling the big blind will usually have the same effect as tripling it, as players enter a push-or-fold mentality.

Make sure your bets are standardised. If you suddenly bet less when you have a big hand or more when you’re stealing, you’ll become readable very quickly. More experienced players can vary their bets to manipulate their opponents, but the easiest way to be unreadable is to bet the same amount whatever your hand.

The simple theory of blind stealing is that the later you are to act when action is folded to you the more frequently you should try and steal the blinds. This means that a lot of your blind steals will be made from the cutoff and button. In recent years this part of play, especially in tournaments, has become very well known.

This has meant that players in the blinds defend more liberally and will also ‘play back’ at you with a greater range of holdings and often as a straight bluff.

This could mean that in some situations your ability to steal the blinds is seriously reduced because your raises just won’t win the pot often enough. Or it will at least feel that way. However, it still remains true that stealing from late position will usually be profitable. If the pot is passed to you on the button you only have two players to get your raise by to pick up those free chips, and their random cards will usually not be strong enough to call your bet.

However, don’t fall into the trap of stealing every time if the action is folded around to you. Assess all the other factors at work in the hand before you raise. How is your stack looking? What are the players in the blinds like? What is their perception of you?

Of course, it’s also possible to steal the blinds from middle and sometimes even early position. Making moves from earlier positions requires the correct conditions but you should be looking for these opportunities at all times. At certain points in tournaments – on the bubble or when the blinds are very big – your table may be playing very tight. At these times, especially if your image suggests you wouldn’t usually make such a play, you can attempt a steal from early position representing a very strong hand. In fact, against experienced, tricky opponents this may be more effective than a late position steal as it looks so strong.

Play the players

More important than the cards in your hand or the position you’re raising from are the players whose blinds you’re trying to pilfer from, and the other players who are yet to act behind you. Put simply, if there are tight-passive players behind you and in the blinds, you can afford to open the pot as a steal very often. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. If there are tricky-aggressive players behind you who will play back because they think you’re ‘at it’, or loose players that will defend their blinds, your opportunities to steal are much more limited.

The big blind is the most likely person to ‘keep you honest’ because of the reduced price they have to enter the pot. So pay them particular attention when considering your steal.

Another vital thing to think about in tournaments when you’re weighing up a bit
of blind theft is stack sizes. In general you should steal less from big stacks and short stacks and more from the medium-sized stacks. This is because big stacks can afford to defend – even push you all-in – whereas short stacks are a lot more likely to move all-in with high cards or any pair, which could result in an embarrassing laydown.

Taken separately, these two elements are of use, but what you must do is combine your knowledge of the player and the stack sizes to succeed. For instance, you may be able to steal from a player with a big stack who is ultra-tight, or a short stack that is desperately holding on to make the money and will only play a big hand. So be observant and play the player at all times.

Steal the blinds and then steal some more

You should come to the poker table, especially in tournaments, with an aggressive attitude. You must be ready to steal your way to victory, but you don’t have to come out firing from the first hand. Your rule of thumb should be to try and steal the blinds until you’re given a very good reason not to.

Be aware of your image at the table as the more you steal, the more people will be aware of what you’re doing. With some opponents this will mean they’re more likely to take a stand. And of course there are others that won’t.

If you’re ever in doubt about when and why you’re stealing, recall these two essential points. First, remember the difference between stealing ‘with a little something’ – where you don’t mind too much if you’re called by the blinds – and the pure blind steal when you have rags. Second, try and see the correct ‘spots’ or situations to steal, rather than worrying about what your cards are.

Chad Holloway is a 2013 WSOP Bracelet winner who has previously worked for PokerNews as a managing editor and live reporter