"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."
-- Milton Berle
A previous column called the blinds/antes "the catalyst of
poker." This idea cannot be overemphasized - and even if it can, I'm going to anyway! (More on
playing the blinds.)
Suppose you are playing $20/40 Holdem. The game is nine-handed, and you play about thirty-six hands an hour (four orbits around the
table). Now let’s suppose you wish to make about one big bet an hour. To simplify it, let’s make that $36 an hour, or an average of $1
a hand. Let’s say then that the casino charges you $18 an hour time collection to play. That means you actually have to win $1.50 per
hand to manage that $1 per hand win rate. Many players find “beating the rake” to be an overwhelming task. In fact, many players
actually beat the game for six or seven dollars an hour, but end up being twelve or eleven dollar an hour losers because of the
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But on top of the rake, to achieve this win rate you must place $120 of blind bets into the pot each hour (four orbits, a $20 big
blind and a $10 small blind each orbit). Clearly the cost of the blinds overwhelms both the rake and the player’s target win. The
player must win $3.33 a hand just to stay even with the cost of the blinds.
While the blinds aren’t strictly a “cost” of playing since that money plays for you in pots in which you have equity, when you take
all these elements together we see that to achieve a $1 per hand/$36 per hour win rate, we really have to win $4.83 a hand, $174 an
To win our relatively puny $36 an hour, during that hour we need to use the
betting rounds to extract $174 from the pots we play. Of
course this isn’t a rigid requirement every single hour. The point is that the blinds present significant hurdles that need to be
overcome every hour. In limit poker the expense of the blinds dwarfs the rake and win rates.
At the same time as we put all this blind money into pots, our opponents do too. They must plunk that $120 an hour into pots just like
we do. That’s $960 an hour in blind bets from our eight opponents.
blind play is a two way street: you have to try minimize the equity you “give away” to your opponents when you are forced to make the
blind bets, while at other times you want to get what equity you can from your opponents when they have the blinds. If you can turn a
big blind situation into one where other players lose $17 but you lose only $12, you are playing both good offense and good defense.
In poker there are many ways to win. Some players are excellent at defending the equity they have in their own blinds, but not so
great at snatching blind equity from opponents. Other players play too weak and passively when they are in the blinds, but are
relentless in ripping equity out of the hands of opponents in the blinds. And then, there are some players who lose a bunch when they
have the blinds because they are way too reckless in protecting their equity, but still win overall because they attack other people’s
blinds extremely successfully.
Clearly the idea I am suggesting here is to sensibly attack the blinds when you don’t have them, and sensibly defend them when you do.
But more than that, I’m suggesting this is the un-sexy battle at the core of Texas Holdem (less so in Omaha and Stud). Winning the
battle for the blinds is a large part of winning the game.
Many players ignore the importance of the blinds because they are “blinded” by the greater sexiness of the big pots played for. Other
players obsess over slight differences in time collection. Both views don’t focus on the bet as the fundamental unit in poker -- one
bet at a time... one big bet an hour... one small bet as the big blind.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A bet looks so simple and whole when you toss it into a pot, but winning poker
comes from cobbling together many pieces of bets from all the hands you play, so that you come up with one complete big bet each hour.
See also Blind Bargains and
Defending the Blinds