Zen and the Art of Blind Stealing

How to Steal Blinds

If you've read much of my poker material, you have probably noticed the emphasis that I place on tight play. I am a tactician, one who uses mathematics to guide every decision and never plays by "feel". I have a subtle and crafty style when it comes to NLH. I'm not the "wrecking ball, barbarian" who looks at poker as a melee. I like to get my money in when I have the best of it. I don't like chasing slim draws and I don't donk off a ton of chips bluffing.

People who play against me recognize that as well. I'm not very intimidating for a "flesh eating spawn of Hades." By the third or fourth blind level at any given table in any given game of which I am a part; the other players at the table have usually decided that I'm not much of a threat because they don't have to try to guess what I have. It often takes some time for my opponents to uncover the fact that I play very tight and by the time that happens, I've amassed a good stack of chips. That's because I only play pots that I have a reasonable chance of winning. So, it happens then, eventually, that my value bets stop getting paid off and I am exposed as a Rock. Now they know how to nullify my threat by simply avoiding confrontations with me and they are free to play their game against each other, while I am destined to be blinded away with all the other rocks. They've got me, I'm caught. Right, I'm caught…… by design!

I live in an enormous tower of poker checks, layer upon abounding layer of stolen blinds. The entire "building", from foundation to infrastructure to reinforced security walls is constructed out of the blind bets that my opponents know I would never have the gull to steal. And, verily I say to you, I never did steal them. They were given to me; almost as if it were out of the kindness of my enemies own hearts. Gifts given out of confusion and, well, trust! I have literally learned to condition my opponents to hand their blinds over to me willingly. I hope you didn't think this was going to be an article about stealing binds; it is not. "Castle DM", my poker chip multiplex, was built voluntarily for me by all of those players who "have my number". I don't steal blinds, I simply teach people to be more generous with them. If you'll lend me your brain for about 1300 words, I'll teach you to do the same. (Pinch blinds, not become more generous.)

I usually play $1-$2 NLH, or small stakes tournaments, say $50 buy-in events. The monetary levels at which I play are extremely important to the tactics I'm about to share with you. Any lower and blinds are defended as though children, or flawless diamonds. If you go any higher in stakes, you'll be sniffed out by the savvy veterans and working players (pros). So, the first step to becoming a "blind magnet" is table selection. Small stakes but not micro limits offer ideal conditions. I think it's important enough to warn you again; if you attempt to implement these skills at a WSOP circuit event you will only be trapping yourself. If you try it at the $10 max buy-in table on Pacific Poker, you will be donating to charity. Let's call it the "Save a Fish Foundation", and then let's not donate to it.

Once you are seated at a tournament you'll begin setting up the blind piracy immediately. The need to steal blinds in a tournament format is much greater than it is during cash game play. I'd like to point something out before elaborating any further. Playing very tight at these limits is typically the most profitable way to play them anyway. When using my approach to blind stealing you will be able to further leverage what is already profitable play, essentially getting something for nothing.

Arranging the Blind Offerings

So, how do we go about arranging the blind offerings? Glad you asked! For simplicities sake I want us to imagine that you are playing in the first round of an online tournament. The blinds are 10 and 20, each of ten players have started with T1000 (1,000 tournament chips). In this first round you will need to become, more or less, a spectator. You'll be sitting on your hands and only playing when you have very solid hands. You won't be taking a lot of flops. You'll need to stay away from playing speculative hands for the most part. Only enter with premium hands, and I want you to do something that may seem pretty strange to you. Show your big hands whenever you are in a pot that you doesn't go to showdown. You'll have to play very tight and very aggressive in the first round. By tight, I mean that you will be very selective with your starting hands. That means you will not be playing hands like KJ in early position. You will not call raises with hands like KQ. In fact, it is better if you don't call raises at all. In the first and second rounds you will have to play solid raise or fold poker. Pump it or dump it! And show your big hands. People remember what they see, not what they imagine. In order to take advantage of this blind stealing system you have to be known as a totally tight player.

It will probably come as a surprise to you that, even though you fold five out of six hands, you will still get callers when you pick up your AK and raise to 5 times the big blind. And when you hit that top pair top kicker, you will still get paid off by players drawing to three cards. It might sound unrealistic, but it is the truth. What you are doing by playing in this manner is showing everyone at the table that you are not a maniac. In order for "Zen blind pinching" to work, you have to be seen as a very tight player, one who only plays big hands and one who raises when he has them and folds when he doesn't. In the first two rounds you won't even attack the blinds from late position unless you actually do have the goods.

As soon as the third blind round hits it's time to start with the larceny. You should have had a chance to pick up some chips by now but if you haven't, that's OK. One thing that you have in your favor is that, typically, most of the loose players are gone, and the remaining players are usually the ones who actually have been paying attention to your style. You are going to change gears so fast and so hard that everyone at the table is going to be amazed at the "hot run of cards you're on". The very best chance you'll have to make a play for the blinds will be the very hand that separates two blind levels. I mean the first hand of the next level. Most players fail to adjust properly and proportionally to increasing blinds, other players will adjust but they need to get their bearings, which could take a second. That's one more second than you're going to give them.

If during the last hand the blinds were at 25-50 and someone opened the pot for 150, an opponent may have folded, correctly, his KJs. That opponent is likely going to have just as tough a time calling a 200 chip open now with KJs, even though the blinds have just went up meaning there's a larger starting pot now. It is absolutely true that the players should open up their starting hand requirements as the blind increase. It's true that they are under more pressure from the blinds; it's true that they are getting better pot odds to do so. It's quite likely that our hypothetical opposition knows and understands all the reasons that he should play more starting hands now that the blinds double, fundamentally, they should play more hands. However, most of them will not do that until they've gotten comfortable with the new blind level. That means you can often risk less than three big blinds to attempt a steal What I'm about to say will call for some judgment; when I make the transition, my opening hand requirements switch to XX from the cut of seat or button, where X = any card. I mean that if I am in late position when the blind level first increases and the action folds to me, I will raise with almost any two cards. I'll keep doing this until I encounter resistance.

So, in round three, every time the action folds to me and I'm in late position, I am putting in a raise. I mean quite literally any two cards, except for in rare cases where the table dynamics don't allow it. I use to gradually change gears as the blinds began to increase, and that's what most poker books will teach you, but what I've found is when you prove to your opponents that you play very tight the cards won't matter as much because of your image and your opponents' inability to correctly adjust to the blind structure.

OK, changing gears as we described is not the most novel idea. It pretty much falls under standard blind stealing operations, but that's not my system. Let me clarify, here's where it gets novel. Every time the table folds around to you in middle position you will open with any reasonable hand at all. If it folds to you late, you'll open with almost any two. If it folds to you in the small blind, you raise with any two. Any time it folds to the small while you are in the big, you raise if the small blind limps and you re-raise when he raises. Remember, you are only against one opponent and he has labeled you as a tight player. You won't believe how often this works when you first start to employ it. Eventually the players will start to get wise to this, eventually one of them is going to either play back at you or they're going to start calling your raises. Not to fear, this is where the technique gets interesting.

Let's suppose you are in the BB with T1100, the action folds to the small bind. The small blind just calls. You make a pot sized raise, and he folds. Eventually he's going to get tired of being bullied on. He might go ahead and call your raise. Now, when the flop comes out it will most likely miss him (most flops do), He's probably gonna check it, you make a nice sized bet, I like to make it look like it so big that I can't get away from it if I'm re-raised, but in fact you may want to leave enough chips that you can. Now he wishes he'd have just given up in the first place. This is the only time I advocate over-betting the pot. It's a calculated risk, and it will back fire on occasion, but it is a profitable play so long as you have created the right image. Your goal with this raise is not just intended to take this pot down; it is simply a means to an end. Namely, the uncontested surrender of blinds. The reason this style works is mostly due to the fact that you played tight and stole no blinds at all for so many hands, now you will start collecting the "juice" for your timid play. This is profitable because of the fact that the blinds are now worth much more than they were when you left them alone. There is another concept that you have going for you. Sometimes you really will have the goods. You'll be surprised how often your opponents pick the wrong time to play back at you. When it works out just right it just further adds to the illusion that you are on a "streak".

There is another integral part of the system. If you are in the small blind and the action folds to you then you do the exact same thing. You will attack the big blind. Eventually he'll call. Then you're going to bet the flop 100% of the time. It has to be 100%, you are training him, you're letting him know that he is better off letting you have the blinds out right. Believe me when I tell you that, statistically speaking, most of the time when you bet pre-flop, he'll fold. If he doesn't, then your bet on the flop will usually make him fold. What's happening psychologically is; he'll fold, and then he'll wish he'd just have given his blind up before the flop. It doesn't take long for something very peculiar to take place. The small blind will surrender his half bet to you without so much as completing his bet. That's normally a bad play. You've caused him to make a mistake, and what's more is that you've conditioned him to keep making the same mistake. It's sort of like residual income.

Blind Stealing System

In a nutshell, my blind stealing system goes like this:

  • 1) Establish a very tight but very aggressive table image.
  • 2) Bluff with a near zero frequency in early rounds and show your good hands.
  • 3) Instead of slowly adjusting your aggression, which would be the mathematically correct way to play; take advantage of your average players inability to correctly adjust to increasing blinds.
  • 4) Your most effective blind stealing opertunities occur in the first hand of the blinds changing.
  • 5) Steal attempts work best from the cut-off seat, because it is just less likely to be interpreted as a steal.
  • 6) You should ALWAYS raise when it comes down to you and another player in the blinds. You should usually raise when you are in the cut off seat or on the button. Remember, this is only after the blinds have increased to at least the third level, and only if you've established a very tight table image.
  • 7) You will also employ these tactics any time you are in one of the blinds and everyone folds to the button who simply limps in.
  • 8) Remember that your most successful steal attempts will be available on the very first hand that the blinds change, and you don't have to risk as many chips (proportionally) in these spots.

My technique for playing sit' n' go tournaments relies heavily on two facets. A very tight and aggressive early round strategy (I mean ridiculously tight) is the first facet. The second facet is changing gears more rapidly than expected in the mid blind levels (when the blinds are much larger). The key is playing very good, mathematically sound, super tight, super aggressive early round play coupled with a radical, not incremental changing of gears in the middle to late blind rounds.

I have played in a couple of games where the player to my immediate right or left used this strategy against me, and it is very frustrating to play against. It can be defeated by stealthfully trapping, but that's not how most players react. You should, however, be ready for that. It's usually easy to spot though. Once a player begins to surrender his small blind to you in the big blind with consistency, you should be very leary if he decides to go ahead and limp in once. If he has begun to surrender his small blind to you consistently and then he all at once decides to raise, that usually means that he doesn't have a big enough hand to call a re-raise, or he would have just limped in. After you've established yourself as the rightful heir to all of his blinds and he is just giving them up, you should re-raise if he raises (again, make it look like you've stuck yourself to it) but he ware the limp in at that point. That should keep you out of trouble. Trust me, once you experiment with this system a bit you will become the player that the other players hate. You'll need thick skin for when they start hurling the insults. Don't fret though, that just means it's working.

Be careful with this system, and use judgment. There are players and tables that it just won't work against. I'll tell you what though, if you took all of the stolen blinds from my bankroll, I'd be almost down to the felt. Above all else, have fun... Oh, and... Good "Luck!"

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