Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blind Stealing

I am often surprised to find that players late on in tournaments are so reluctant to steal. In the later stages in a tournament players at my table I have marked as playing a solid game let their stacks whittle away by not stealing. This isn't to say they are trying to steal and not succeeding for whatever reason, they simply aren't trying. Too many times recently I have seen players in comfortable but low M situations who have worked hard to build their stack just sit there and fold hand after hand, presumably waiting for something good enough to either raise or push with.

The most important thing to remember about a blind steal is that you don't need a hand to do it. I often like to have something in at least the top 50% of hands, just in case I have to see the flop or play the hand down if called. Needless to say if I am re-raised it's an easy fold, you just want the blinds, and you'll rarely catch anything worth playing on the flop. If you miss the flop don't be afraid to make continuation bets. Look at it from your opponents point of view, you raised pre-flop, he had a hand he didn't want to re-raise you with and just called, then you bet out on the flop. He needs a decent hand here to justify staying in the pot, and the majority of the time he won't. Other players at the table may also take you for a real hand, and give your subsequent steal attempts more respect.

So if you're not looking for a hand, what are you looking for?

First and foremost what you need is an un-raised pot, any raise means that you have a good chance of being called by the initial raiser, and probably re-raised if he wasn't trying to steal himself. Attempting to steal with one or more limpers is also not an ideal situation, one of them may have a hand he can call you with and chances are he'll be well ahead if he does. Your raise amount in this situation will also need to be bigger, putting more of your stack at risk. It's always a good idea to use your reads at the table where limpers are concerned. Have they limped a lot? Have they raised the flop after limping? Have they called re-raises? All of these factors you need to take into account.

To pull off an effective steal you also need good position, you don't really want to raise in early position with the possibility of any of the players still to act calling or re-raising you. Usually I would recommend late position, but this of course does depend on a few other factors. If you are in MP and it's folded to you, you might have an ideal situation to steal the blinds if the players on your left are generally tight, short stacked, or a combination of the two.

Blind stealing is only really useful in the later stages of a tournament. Usually the arrival of the antes is a good time to start looking at opportunities. There's not much point trying to steal pots at 10/20 or 15/30 when you start with a 1500 or 2500 chip stack. Players are much more likely to call a small raise at this stage in the tournament, you won't steal as effectively and when you succeed you'll be picking up a minimal number of chips in comparison to your stack.

A successful steal effectively buys you an extra orbit and your called and re-raised steal attempts will be more than made up for by the number of times you steal successfully if done correctly. Raise amounts are central to this working correctly. Not only will they affect the amount of times you are called/win the pot but they will also affect the overall profit you make. Below is an example based on 10 steals, 7 of which are successful and 3 of which are not:

9 handed table – Blinds 200/400 Ante 50

Pot size T1050

Raise amount 2.5 x the BB (T1000)

Profit from steals = 7350

Loss from steals = 3000

Net gain = 4350

Based on a raise amount of 2.5 times the big blind, which should be sufficient at most tables, you gain 4350. If we say the player in this situation is working with an M of 10 (T10500), he is only risking just under 10% of his stack at each steal, meaning any re-raises or other situations where he doesn't win the hand don't cost him much of his stack.

If we change the raise amount to 4 times the big blind:

9 handed table – Blinds 200/400 Ante 50

Pot size T1050

Raise amount 3.5 x the BB (T1400)

Profit from steals = 7350

Loss from steals = 4200

Net gain = 3150

This doesn't take into account the fact that your blind steals may be more successful with a larger raise amount, but I honestly think that the two raise amounts would have pretty much the same effect at most tables. As you can see here the difference in the two raise amounts equates to an extra orbit This may be the difference between getting the hand you have been waiting for and an early exit.

Many people argue about how many times per orbit you should be looking to steal. I think this is generally dependant on your environment as supposed to having a rule of thumb. On a tight table you should be looking to steal more as your opponents are less likely to call. Clearly you need to be more careful when they do call, and especially when they re-raise. At looser tables you should scale down your steal attempts to maybe just one per orbit. At looser tables you are much more likely to get called so you need to really tighten up your requirements for stealing. Look for the best opportunities, smaller stacks in the blinds, tighter players still to act and the CO or button.

The bubble is a fantastic opportunity to increase your blind stealing. Recently I was playing a big Sunday tournament with a decent stack on the bubble and manage to add around 30% to it over 20 or so hands leading up the bubble. This gave me both an opportunity to cash deeper in the tournament almost by default, but also gave me a stack big enough to benefit from the all in fest that is inevitable after the bubble burst using Harrington's 10% stack theory.

Short handed tables give you even more reason to steal. If you are down to the final 2 or 3 tables of a tournament the tables will generally have a low average M. If you are floating around a M of 3-4 then pushing is best. It gives you the maximum folding equity and is probably the only raise that will get any real respect. If you make a 2.5 x BB raise with an M of 4 you won't have enough left to do anything with if you fold when raised, and you probably won't have much choice on the flop if you are called either. This is certainly a time when the 2.5 x BB raise goes out of the window, and you just have to hope nobody wakes up with a hand before you do!

Blind steals also do a good job of disguising your good hands. If you keep your standard raise amount consistent with both your blind steals and your standard raises, any players paying attention at your table will probably give you less credit for you hand. This means your continuation bets will probably have more standing on lower flops, and you are more likely to get paid off when you hit the flop.

It's also worth noting that both effective raise amounts and blind stealing in general add to your stack at any given point, meaning that if double up, you'll be doing so with more chips, adding even more to your stack.

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