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Stealing the Blinds in Poker Tournaments

The middle stages of a poker tournament can be a difficult period to handle. One element of mid-tourney play that’s extremely important is picking up pots pre-flop, also known as “Stealing the Blinds”.

A key to solid tournament management is that once the blinds start to represent a decent percentage of your stack, you want to steal as much as possible. Raising the blinds a decent number of times also has the added benefit of balancing your play, making it difficult for opponents to interpret your raises and hence, gets your big hands paid off more often.

At this stage of the tournament, enter the pot with a raise every single time you play a hand, but bear in mind that position is still a critical factor when thinking about stealing the blinds. Pick your spots: play tight from early position but from late position, attack the blinds with a variety of playable hands. For example, in late position, you may want to open with hands like 9T suited, Ax suited, all pairs, two picture cards, and if you are on the button, perhaps even looser hands. If the pot has been raised ahead of you in late position, you may opt to call with a strong hand or put on a re-raise bluff to try and pick up the pot pre-flop.

Let’s take a look at a case where you’ve got a pocket pair of tends and 10,000 in chips. An opponent ahead of you in middle position makes a raise before the flop of 1500. Given the size of his raise and his position, you might put him on two face cards, suited A-x or a medium pair. You’re feeling like you want to raise (a call, after all, would give you NO information about where you stand –and put you in an uncomfortable position when faced with a flop with over-cards).

So, how much to raise? Obviously, there are many different tactics, but this looks like it could be a classic case to make a “steal” by moving all-in. If your opponent doesn’t have a good hand, he will most likely be forced to fold. If you make a smaller re-raise, you’re going to be pot-committed anyways after the flop, when your relative position could very likely be hurt by picture cards. Even if the flop comes 10-6-2 rainbow or something like that, your opponent will probably just check-fold his two face cards, Ax or pair of sevens. Hence, moving all-in maximizes your potential win in that situation.

At this point of the tournament, moving all-in with hands like A-K, A-Q, 9-9 and T-T can be a highly beneficial tactic. You’re making it tough on your opponents: they’ve got to either lay down their under-whelming, but playable hands or consent to put themselves in regular coin-flip situations for their tournament lives.

Even more powerful is when you are fortunate enough to be able to mix up the types of hands you make this move with. If your opponents start to put you pairs of nines and tens (or catch you bluffing), then when you make this move with a monster hand, your opponents are much more likely to call you and then realize that they are huge underdogs.

Don’t get carried away, of course, but do bear in mind that whenever you think you’re likely to have the odds in your favor, aggressively going for your opponents’ blinds and antes in the middle stages of the tournament is a great strategy for not only getting yourself to the money, but having a sizeable stack when you get there with which you can go all the way.

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