Defending the Blind ; Are you a Fish? ; Esther Bluff Gets Into Player’s Head

blind man
Poker Strategy With Dusty Schmidt: Defending The Blind
by Dusty Schmidt

In this series of articles, I break down every poker play in the book. Literally. That’s why it’s called The Playbook!

So far, we’ve considered what to do when a player has raised in front of you and you are not in the blinds. Now we’ll look at how to respond when you are one of the blinds. Let’s start with the specific situation where there is precisely one raiser, zero callers, and you in the big blind.

Defending The Blind

The notions of stealing and defending the blinds have been somewhat romanticized over the years. The idea is that, when everyone folds to the player on the button, he will raise with a lot of crappy hands in an attempt to steal the blinds from their rightful owners, the players who posted them. In turn, the players in the blinds will defend their blinds to the death, going down with the ship if need be. Well, that’s the romantic version, anyway.

The truth is that, once posted, the blinds no longer belong to the players who posted them. They belong to the pot. Posting the big blind gives a player a discount to play, but that comes with a price: poor position. The truth is that the button is wise to raise with a wide range, not because the blinds are likely to fold too often, but simply because he has a valuable positional advantage.

Yes, aggressive players on the button are going to raise a lot of hands. They will be correct to do so. You will be correct to fight back to a certain extent, but you must understand that your ability to do this will be limited by your ability to mitigate your positional disadvantage. In other words, the better you play out of position, the more hands you can play in this situation.

As with all of our preflop situations, raising has its usual merits. I’ll discuss that in the next part of The Playbook. For now, we’re going to talk about when to just call.

A Default Range

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to play a particular hand against a button open-raiser: which hands your opponent raises, how he plays after the flop, and how well you play after the flop, particularly out of position. When you lack information about those factors, it’s good to have a default range. You can also use this default range as a starting point to determine whether a specific situation merits a call.

If your hand is very strong, then you’ll usually want to reraise; so pocket aces down through tens, as well as A-K and A-Q, will not be part of your default calling range. Smaller pairs – nines through deuces – are usually good to call with. Suited hands like connectors, ace-x, and two Broadway cards should also be a part of this default calling range. Sometimes a raise will be in order, but a call will rarely be a big mistake.

Expanding The Range

There are few circumstances in a cash game where you’ll want to play fewer hands than your default standards. A few to consider:

• You are uncomfortable playing out of position. It might be tempting to play fewer hands in the big blind if you are uncomfortable in the situation, but tightening up too drastically will prevent you from ever learning to become comfortable defending your blinds. This discomfort is not a good reason to lock your range down too tight, but it is a valid reason to resist expanding your range too aggressively.

• Your opponent is very good at leveraging his position. Again, it’s tempting to play fewer hands against a talented blind thief. But narrowing your range too severely can leave you increasingly predictable. This might be a better reason to reraise more hands than it is to fold too many of your default hands.

• The rake is extremely high. Unfortunately, this is a perfectly good reason to avoid all sorts of pots. When the rake is high, you should see fewer flops. Reraising gives you a chance to avoid paying rake on the hand, but calling in the big blind means you will definitely see a flop. That means you will definitely pay that nasty rake. Bad rake is the best reason to narrow your calling range in the big blind. Just make sure you don’t narrow it so much that you’re completely predictable.

While it turns out there aren’t a lot of great reasons to tighten up from your default defense range, there are a number of good reasons to expand that range. When tightening your range, you should first drop out the weaker suited aces. When expanding your range, you can add weaker suited cards, then some unsuited connectors and unsuited big cards.
Reasons to expand your range include:

• Your opponent is blindly aggressive and your hand has good implied odds. The more your opponent will lose when you make a strong hand, the less often you need to make that hand to justify a preflop call.

• Your opponent has an extraordinarily wide range on the button. Wider ranges are weaker ranges. While a wide range may be more difficult to read, it is more vulnerable to attack. You will have more bluffing opportunities if your opponent has fewer calling hands.

• Your opponent is extremely passive after the flop. A passive opponent gives you free cards and cheap showdowns.

• You have a strong read on your opponent’s tendencies. Even if your opponent plays reasonably well, predictability can be his downfall. The clearer idea you have of your opponent’s strategy, the fewer doubts you’ll have about the correct play after the flop. This allows you to act with confidence and make some bold moves when necessary.

• You are a master at playing out of position. This means that, not only can you maximize value when you make a hand, but that you can also identify your opponent’s points of weakness and launch intelligent bluffs on the flop, turn, and river.

These conditions are additive, so if you have a strong read on an extremely passive opponent and you are also a master at playing out of position, you can play a lot more hands than you usually would. But don’t go too crazy with it. Be realistic about which hands you can turn a profit with.


Blind stealing and defense is a topic of much discussion. Players can get emotional about it because they feel like the blind they post somehow belongs to them. They can feel like the button is attacking them by raising a lot. That’s not how it works. The blinds belong to the pot. While it’s only two players who ante up at the beginning of a hand of hold’em (unless there are actual antes), everyone dealt into the hand shares some of that equity. It’s much more useful to behave rationally than to defend your blinds to the death. Focus on making profitable decisions by defending more against weaker players and wider ranges. ?

With more than $5 million in cash game winnings in his 9-year career, Dusty “leatherass” Schmidt is the consummate grinder. He posted the world’s highest $5-$10 win rates in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, Dusty became one of the first SuperNova Elites and later became a member of PokerStars Team Online. He is currently the player ambassador for America’s Cardroom. He is the author of Treat Your Poker Like A Business and Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth, available at Schmidt’s newest book, Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, can be found at His many poker exploits have made him the subject of a feature article in Sports Illustrated.


poker fish

The Poker Lottery

Are You Still A Fish?
by Card Player News Team
You paid that big blind and you have 25 left, button is bleeding chips and it’s time to make your move. One player limps in but you got the late position, small blind pays the toll but hey, that’s half price. With the moderate confidence of pocket nines you shout the raise. You’re in for 5 big blinds with 25 left in the stash.

You can’t help but stare at your opponent across the table, he is a regular at the tables in your local room, you don’t know his name and you don’t particularly like him. You lower your eyes and look at his stack, the feelings change, he has about 40 blinds left and it’s about time those chips change hands. While hiding your emotions behind your large shades, you can’t help but notice a slight curl on the left side of his mouth just before he silently pushes the call pass the line. You’re surely ahead!

You look to your right. The guy on the small blind is miles away, seemingly more interested in the fit blackjack dealer at the far edge of the room than the poker game. It’s on you. The dealer brings his attention back to the table, he has another look at the cards, ‘two players? Yeah, call!’

Three players and a rainbow K-9-4 flop, you got this, surely no one would limp in with cowboys. It’s time for some good old fashion slow play. The inattentive kid must be in a rush to leave the table as he places a 5 big blind bet, you put him on 2 pair and do the sensible thing anyone would do with your monster hand. You call! Your attention turns to your real adversary across the table; your thoughts are in a frenzy ‘call call!’ – he does.

The dealer turns a 3, this is awesome, they are as good as out. ‘All in’ – says the small blind kid, pushing in with little conviction. Your inner voice reasons about pushing also and cutting your small risk down to a heads up battle, but then again if you can fatally bleed your main opponent and get massively ahead in the process, why not finish him now?You stick to the call! Your strategy works, you managed to lure in the player across the table to call. You’re getting good at this!

River is an Ace. This is kind of unexpected, there’s now 3 diamonds on the table and none in your hand, ‘what do I do now?’ You decide to check. Your previously passive opponent puts you on the spot, ‘All in to call’ – reminds the dealer. It’s been 40 seconds, the kid calls the clock on you, ‘call, call!’, what else could you do now…

The player to your right reveals 2-5, across the table, the suited K-9 benefits from the river diamond to take the side pot. You walk in shame, cursing the river. Once again a fish taught you a poker lesson!

Losing this hand had nothing to do with the luck of the river or the lottery of poker, you did not have a plan for your hand and you misjudged your opponent’s range, you overestimated your implied odds not to mention you need to rethink your notion of ‘committed.’


bluff hand

Esther Bluff helps you get into your opponent’s head

by George Epstein


Esther Bluff is a great poker tactic to read your opponentPlaying Texas hold’em, there are two ways to win a pot. You can hold the best hand at the showdown or you can bluff out your opponents. Since introducing the Esther Bluff several years ago, I have kept track for each session played of how many winners and how many losers – my statistics for bluffing wins and losses.

Considering typical betting sequences, I have estimated the break-even for bluffing is about 30%. If I win more than 30% of my bluffs, then I am (happily) ahead. But we do need to make allowance for opponents who would have lost with a weaker hand had they called my bluff. On that basis, I have increased the break-even to 40%.

My bluffing stats

All in all, the Esther Bluff apparently has been very good to me, based on my statistics. Here are my findings while playing only low-limit cash games. When I first introduced the Esther Bluff back in 2009, for the 33 sessions I played to year-end I won an average of 63%. That indicates my bluffs were quite profitable. My successful bluffs substantially outnumbered the losing bluffs by about 2-to-1, comfortably higher than our estimated break-even.

The statistics were about the same for 2010. During that time, I honed my bluffing style and made better use of reading my opponents and looking for tells. Also, I realized a mistake I had been prone to make: trying to bluff against a Calling-Station. My mistake.

Then, in 2011, my bluffing statistics took a significant leap up, averaging 74% for the year. They have been holding steady since then. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I am playing $3-$6 or $4-$8 limit (but the pots are somewhat bigger at the higher limit game).

I also look for situations that lend themselves to bluffing. One of the best times to try is when you have been drawing for a straight or flush, and made the bet on the turn because the poker odds were favorable; but you did not connect. You are up against one, perhaps two opponents, and they show weakness.

This situation ideally lends itself to using the Esther Bluff. (I always do so when bluffing.) Bet out if you are first to declare; and by all means, bet if they all check to you. It’s even more effective if you have been winning; now your opponents fear and respect you.

There are poker experts who will assure you that you can’t bluff successfully in lower-limit games. I believe that is true for stakes of $2-$4 and lower. On the opposite extreme, bluffing is a key strategy in no-limit games. (Have you watched the action on the TV poker tournaments?) The higher the stakes, the more likely a big bluff is effective. The Esther Bluff can improve your results.

I am particularly pleased with my semi-bluffs using the Esther Bluff. There are many occasions when I semi-bluff on the turn; I can win if my opponents all fold on my turn bet. And if I fail to connect on the River, I can bluff again. In addition, over time I have improved my ability to assess my opponents, and learned to semi-bluff when the opportunities are best.
As long as we are exploring the fascinating strategy of bluffing, next issue we will offer several interesting bluffing tips.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at

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