Big Blind Fundamentals: Adjusting Your Preflop Strategy the Right Way

big blind fundamentals

7 minutes

Last Updated: June 6, 2024

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In poker, it’s of vital importance to study situations that come up frequently. One of these situations is facing a raise when in the big blind and having to come up with a right response.

Although it’s such a common spot in cash games and tournaments alike, there are many players who don’t have their big blind fundamentals in order. And, make no mistake, this is costing them money.

This article aims to help you improve your big blind play in situations where you’re facing a single raise, and everybody else folds. So, you’re against a single player, out of position, and have to make your play.

Preflop Defense Strategies

Before we dig into the meat and bones of big blind preflop fundamentals, there are a few general rules that you should be aware of, which heavily influence and define your strategy. Depending on how these factors stack up, you’ll be defending wider or tighter, and your ranges will change.

  • With deeper stacks, we want to defend tighter, as medium*strength hands lose a lot of their value and can get you in trouble. Likewise, with shallower stacks, you can defend wider.
  • The larger the raise size, the tighter your defense range should be.
  • When there is rake involved, you should defend tighter. As rake increases, your ranges should narrow down.
  • If there are antes in play, your defense range should be wider.

If we transfer these rules to everyday poker situations, there are a couple of general conclusions we can make, namely:

  • You should defend wider in tournaments because stacks are usually shallower, open sizes are smaller, pots aren’t raked, and there are usually antes.
  • Defend your big blind less in cash games as players tend to use bigger open sizes, you’ll almost always play deep, rake is taken out of the pots, and antes aren’t common (although some cash games can have them).

On top of these general tips, you should also consider the opponent. Against looser players, you can afford to widen your big blind defense ranges somewhat, although you shouldn’t go crazy. Likewise, against tight opponents, you should be more careful because it’s simply hard to beat strong preflop hands.

Defending Blinds in Cash Games (100bb Deep)

As mentioned, in cash games, you want to defend tightly as you’re playing fairly deep, and the casino takes a rake. This effectively makes every pot smaller, lowering your odds. Raise sizes are also bigger, and in some games, they can get really big, and this is a huge factor.

If your opponents are playing well with good, strong ranges from early position, you should 3-bet rarely. As they get to later positions, you want to 3-bet more and more.

In terms of sizing, make it roughly the size of the pot (3x the bet plus whatever is in the pot) or a little more, as this will discourage them from calling. You’re always happy to pick up a pot before the flop, as it’s hard to play out of position against a good player.

If you look at the charts across different positions, you’ll see how things change.

cash game big blind ranges

Looking at our range against a UTG open, suited aces like to 3-bet a decent amount, suited kings as well, and then some suited connectors. Interestingly, AKo doesn’t 3-bet against UTG all that much, as if you face a 4-bet, it’s not exactly a great situation.

What you’ll notice looking at the charts is that many decent hands, i.e., many suited connectors like 75s, Q9s, and J9s, are not good enough to call 3x raise coming from a solid UTG player, and almost no off-suite hands are calling.

What happens if the raise comes from the hijack? We are still folding over 75% of the time, but we do get to defend wider. We are raising more with suited hands, and AKo is also 3-betting with the intention of getting the chips in.

We still don’t defend that many offsuit hands. However, we do call with more suited hands.

When facing a raise from the button, this is when we know their range is the widest. Thus, you get to defend with a wider range.

It is interesting that there are many hands that we now want to 3-bet with – hands like K9s, QTs, QJs, etc. Many players don’t 3-bet here nearly enough as they don’t want to face a 4-bet and have to fold.

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However, these are good hands to 3-bet with because they can flop very well if you get called. On the other hand, if you face a 4-bet, they are very easy to fold.

With all this being said, even against a button raise, we are folding over 59% of the hands because it’s a big raise size, there are no antes in play, and the casino is taking rake. Not to burst anybody’s bubble, but you have to remain fairly tight in the big blind in cash games; otherwise, you’ll be bleeding money.

Defending Blinds in Tournaments

In tournaments, you can defend your big blind much wider. There is no rake taken out of pots, and there is usually ante in play. Also, you’ll be facing smaller raise sizes, and the charts below presume the 2.5x raise.

When in this situation, you get to defend more with suited hands, but weak offsuit hands are still unplayable. Your 3-bets also get wider with weaker suited connectors and gappers added to the mix. Of course, the size of your stack still has a big influence on your strategy.

Playing With 80 & 40 Big Blinds

With 80 big blinds, even against a UTG raise, all suited hands become a call. You are getting much better odds, which results in more calls. Your bluffs are similar to those you use in cash game situations.

Against a hijack raise, you can defend wider and have more value hands like JJ, TT, and AQ. The calling range gets wider as well with some more offsuit hands, but mostly connected or containing a high card.

Finally, facing a button raise, we’ll only be folding 16.4% of hands, so only folding the absolute trash. Our value range gets much wider, as it now includes all pairs 88 and better, as well as suited and offsuit big cards.

big blind fundamentals in tournaments

When you start getting down to 40 big blinds, you’ll want to get it in when someone raises you with some of your holdings. This is especially true when a raise comes from a later position.

You are still playing quite tightly against UTG. We are re-raising our best hands, but not 3-betting  with any Ax suited. Instead, our bluffs now include Ax and Kx offsuit.

Your opponent will be more inclined to shove on you if they want to continue, so the postflop playability doesn’t matter that much. It’s thus more important that you block their shoving range, first and foremost.

Facing a hijack raise, it’s quite similar, but the biggest change is that we now have a few hands that we want to move all in with, like JTs and K9s, AQo. You’re still 3-betting non-all-in a fair amount.

Finally, against a button raise we start shoving wider. A lot of small pairs go all in, i.e., 99 and worse, as well as hands like AQo, AJo, and even A2o shoves some of the time.

Playing With 25 & 15 Big Blinds

As we get even shallower, we’ll be able to defend more and go all-in more often. You’re risking less money to win the pot, so you can shove more frequently. Naturally, you’ll be more inclined to shove when a raise is coming from a later position.

You can still raise and fold with some hands, even at this stack depth. Bluffs that we’ll use for non-all-in 3-bets at this stack depths are exclusively junky Ax, Kx, and QJo. Your opponent doesn’t know if you have the nuts or one of these hands, putting him in a tough spot.

Finally, at 15 big blinds, we are defending very wide and shoving all in a lot.  At this stage, we can’t re-raise and fold anymore. If we raise and someone shoves on us, we’re getting too good of a price to release our hand.

Hands that love to shove here are pairs, a lot Ax and some Kx suited. One very strong hand you should slowplay is pocket aces. By just calling with aces, we protect our calling range a bit, allowing us to call a little bit wider.

We are calling a lot, with the intention of getting all the chips in the middle if we can connect with the board in any reasonable way.

As for the shoving ranges, they are still quite tight against UTG. Against the hijack, we are shoving wider, at 13.9%. Naturally, our shoving range is widest against the button as we move all in with 18% of all hands.

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