One element of poker strategy that has changed a lot over the years is defending your Big Blind (BB). In this article, we’ll look to answer the following question once and for all; how should you defend the Big Blind when you are short-stacked?

Changing Big Blind Strategy

Around 15 to 20 years ago, in the aftermath of the poker boom, books and strategy forums all agreed that the right thing to do was to defend the Big Blind often, as you’d likely be getting good pot odds. 

But something changed. Suddenly, it was fashionable to defend the BB much less often. While the pot odds were good, the chances of realising equity were not. After all, you’d likely need to fold to a continuation bet on the flop or turn. As a result, speculative BB defence could become expensive.

However, these days, we have all kinds of solvers and software to end these debates. It’s now once again accepted that the right thing to do is defend your BB widely.

When To Defend the Big Blind

First of all, there are three key considerations when choosing whether or not to defend. We need to think about the following:

  • Our pot odds. This basically tells us how often we must win the pot in order to make the play profitable.
  • The opponent’s range. Naturally, it’s going to be much harder to take a pot down against a strong range. An early position open should be respected more by defending less frequently, for example.
  • Equality realisation. How well does our own hand perform in terms of realising its equity? For instance, 3-2s has raw equity of 17.37% against pocket aces. But how often is that hand getting to showdown? In reality, it wins lesser than 17.37% of the time.

Building a Range

Trying to construct a range with which to defend the Big Blind is actually very difficult. If you’re willing to spend money, you can acquire courses from experienced pros who will share their tried-and-tested ranges. Or you can purchase solver software.

Failing that, it’s a case of using equity calculator tools to check the figures for every possible holding against the button’s range. It’s a long and fiddly process, but it will give you an approximation.

Defending With a Tiny Stack

If you’re sitting on a stack of 3BBs or less, it’s really something of an “all in or fold” situation. But sizes of 3BBs to 10BBs are not as desperate as you might think, for two reasons:

  1. You’re more likely to see all five cards and therefore realise your hand’s equity;
  2. Being so short makes post-flop play incredibly straightforward.

Think about it. These spots are actually much easier to play than when you are deep stacked!

Deep Stack Example

Imagine you have a healthy stack size like 40BBs and the button raises to 2.5x BB. You’re holding 8-7 suited. What do you do? 

If you call and hit a pair on the flop, the chances are it’s not going to be a strong one. Then if the turn is literally anything other than two pairs or trips, you will probably need to fold.

Let’s say the flop is A-J-7. You’ve now got the bottom pair but can’t possibly be happy with it given our opponent’s range. If you call a c-bet and the turn is anything other than a 7 or an 8, you have to let it go. It’s tricky to realise this hand’s equity in so many spots.

Short Stack Example

However, if you only had 6 BBs at the start of the hand, life is much easier when the button makes the same play. If you shove pre-flop, you can force a lot of folds from your hands with good amounts of equity. And if you are called, you’re guaranteed to see all five cards, giving you a chance to win.

But you can just as easily opt to call. If you hit the worst possible flop, you can fold and you’re still in the game. But if you get any piece at all, you can shove. That also forces the opponent to fold a lot of hands that have equity, such as two unpaired overcards. And if they do call, there’s no more action, meaning you’re guaranteed to see the turn and river.

In short, if you only have 4 or 5 BBs, don’t panic!

Defending With 10 to 20 Big Blinds

When you are short-stacked but have at least 10 BBs, there’s much more room for post-flop play. You can comfortably defend the Big Blind often just by calling. Let’s look at some more situations while continuing the 8-7 suited example.

Missing the Flop

If you call and miss the flop completely, your stack is now big enough that there’s no problem. Take a board of K-Q-2 for instance. Against the opponent’s range, you’re going to have less than 10% equity, so it’s a straightforward fold.

Taking the Initiative

Imagine a rainbow flop of T-6-3. This is another awful board for us, but it’s much less likely to have connected with their range. So, if we shove, our opponent will be in a horrible position. Even with some of the best hands in their range, it’s a lot of chips to call off. 

If they do call, then against their entire range, we’re probably looking at something around 35% equity. We’d still win 36% of the time against a K-Q suited type hand, and we’d be around 42% against pocket 2s. Even against A-A, we’d have a 20% chance to win.

Defending Against Multiple Players

When facing a single raise that has been called by one or more people ahead of you, be more cautious. Your pot odds are going to be better, but it’s much harder to realise equity against several players.

Basically, you’re going to be better off mucking, unless your hand does particularly well in multi-way situations.

Conclusion

It’s vital to defend your Big Blind often, so as not to be exploited by skillful and observant players. But it’s equally important not to panic with smaller stack sizes. Just because you are left with 5 BBs doesn’t mean that it has to be a “shove or fold” situation.

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