Stealing the Blinds in Early Levels
The blinds should be one of your last concerns in the early levels of a tournament. The blinds aren't going to be high enough to where it's going to be very profitable to be taking shots at pots that really aren't going to increase your stack size by a huge amount. With all of this being said, however, it's still something that you are going to have to deal with. You might not be attacking your opponents when they are in the blinds, but this isn't to say that other players aren't going to be going after yours.
Not only will you need to learn how to defend against other players stealing your blinds, but you'll also benefit from knowing how to spot players who are stealing blinds ahead of you. Have you ever been in late position when a middle position player opened the action? You probably felt suspicious about their move, but you didn't do anything because you weren't sure. The trouble with letting these types of moves go is that smart players will learn to take advantage of you. You can't just let people run over you, even if it is for small amounts of chips. Should you always fight back? No, definitely not, but you should learn to take advantage of their over aggression.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, stealing the blinds should be put to the side when the tournament starts. You can pick some spots from time to time, but your intention should be to get the action started, not to try and really boost up your stack size. Tournaments aren't going to be decided based on whether you were able to pick up 50 chips when an event started if you had 10,000 chips to begin with.
Players often times will hear about stealing the blinds and blindly, pun intended, go after them whenever they have the chance. The truth is that this decision needs to be calculated based on risk and reward just like anything else. If you are fighting for tiny bits of chips, chances are that you are going to lose much more than you ever stood to win.
Everything needs to be kept in perspective in poker. Just as a hand is going to have different values in different situations, stealing the blinds isn't always going to make sense. Think about the position you'll be in if you do manage to steal the blinds vs. if you don't. Pretend that the blinds are sitting at 10/25 and you have a starting stack of 20,000. Now, this would be an awfully deep stack to start with, but it illustrates the point perfectly. 35 chips are going to mean not even a 1% difference in your stack size, not even close to 1%. Sure, you'll only lose a fraction if you miss the blinds, but that doesn't even matter. Just remember that until you get into the middle-late stages that stealing blinds is a waste of time.
Defending Against Steals
If you are in the blinds, you'll have a firsthand look at just how often players come after your blinds. If you suspect that some opponents are trying to steal your blinds even when an event has just begun, you should be smiling. Not only does this mean that they probably don't know what they are doing, but it also means that they are going to create opportunities for you to trap them with relative ease. You won't need to make any fancy or tricky plays to get these players' money. All that you need to do is sit back and wait for them to be unnecessarily reckless. Isn't it beautiful?
The way that you capitalize on this over aggression is to pick your spots. You don't need to have a super strong hand, you just need to position yourself so that the raiser always thinks they have control of the hand. If someone thinks that you are likely to fold (regardless of whether you actually are), they are going to be that much more inclined to fire away over and over. A small, insignificant pot could easily blossom into something of real size if a player is careless enough.
Spotting Steal Attempts
If you can't correctly identify the spots in which a player is trying to steal your blinds, you aren't going to be able to pick them off. Of course, this is the biggest struggle that anyone is going to face. You are going to frequently think that you have a beat or read on a player who you think is stealing, but you could easily be wrong. When you back yourself into this corner, you'll be risking money for no real good reason.
Things to look for in a blind stealer are frequent raises, raises that tend to only happen in unraised pots, and players who give up easily after the flop. The reasons for these being the indicators of someone who continually steals the blinds should be obvious. A player who raises more than usual is unlikely to have a hand every time. It's definitely possible, but this is a situation where you should be playing the odds.
Needless to say, the more experience that you have with a player the better off you'll be when using any of these context clues. There's always something to say for an ample sample size. If a player doesn't seem too aggressive when someone else opens the action, but always looks to make a move when there's dead money available, you can assume that there's an increased chance that they are stealing the blinds. These players are really doing what they should and tend to be more skilled overall, so you should be careful when playing in pots against them.
Players who give up after the flop are more difficult to spot, because it will require you to have played a significant amount of hands with them. You'll usually move tables before you get a chance to really put this information to use, but if it does present itself, it's worth using.
As you play in more and more tournaments, you'll gain a natural inclination for when someone is making a move. The real risk here is found in the level of the tournament. There isn't much need to expose yourself to big potential losses, so you should definitely be picking your spots very carefully. If you can get in cheaply and flop the nuts against a wild and reckless player, then that's great. If you are trying to outplay someone for a trivial amount of chips, however, you are misplacing your effort.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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