Playing from the Blinds in Tournaments Part 1 by John Cernuto

If tournament poker is a game of situations, then it’s important to know how to play from the blinds. Poker comes down to three basic decisions: fold, call, or raise. When you’re facing a pre-flop raise, folding the blinds will usually be your best option. You have a significant disadvantage when you defend your blinds because you will be out of position for the remainder of the hand. However, there are times during the course of a tournament that you can pick up a key pot or two by making the right play from either the small or big blind.

One of the first things to realize is that you should never get too attached to your blinds early in a tournament. Being first to act leaves you at a clear disadvantage. The reward of winning a small pot simply isn’t worth the risk of playing out of position. Later in a tournament, when the blinds are more significant and antes come into play, you should think twice about automatically folding your blinds to a raise because there are so many more chips at stake before the flop.

In fact, these are the times in a tournament when you need to think about playing back at your opponents from the blinds. As I mentioned, tournament poker is a game of situations and it’s critical that you evaluate your situation properly throughout the event. When appropriate, you may want to just flat-call a late position raise or even think about re-raising from the blinds.

I’ll never defend my blind with marginal cards against an early-position raiser no matter what point of the tournament I’m in. When a player raises in early position, it’s often safer to assume he has a real hand as opposed to thinking that he’s just trying to pick up the blinds. Against strong players, I usually let the blinds go because I know there’s going to be a battle. I’m looking to pick up pots, not pick a fight.

As each player folds and action gets passed closer and closer to the button, the likelihood of a "blind-stealing" raise increases. These are the situations where you want to evaluate your opponent and determine if you think they’re vulnerable to a re-raise. If you sense weakness, this is a good time to play back in order to show that you’re not going to be bullied, and to build your stack.

Against a late-position raise from an opponent who I read as weak, I’m going to re-steal the blinds by putting in a re-raise. I don’t recommend re-raising all-in because it’s not wise to risk your tournament on a bluff. Instead, I think it’s best to determine your re-raise based on the size of both your own and your opponent’s chip stacks. You should put in enough of your stack to make it look like you’re pot-committed – even though you’re really not. Giving the appearance that you’re pot-committed displays your strength which makes it unlikely that your opponent will come back over the top unless he’s holding some kind of monster. By properly sizing your bet here, you can still get away from your hand and save yourself some chips by folding.

Be sure to check back for next week’s tip, when I discuss playing from the blinds in relation to your opponent’s style of play and table image.

John Cernuto