Turning tables on small blind position

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In our Oct. 23 column (“Small blind position necessary evil”), we discussed the danger of playing a weak starting hand from the small blind position.

After the flop, you are playing at a distinct disadvantage because all your opponents who had stayed to see the flop get to see how you act before they must declare. They all have an edge over you.

This week, let’s explore a situation when you can use that position – usually the worst playing position – to your advantage.

As in the previous column, let’s suppose it’s a $4-$8 limit hold’em game; you are the small blind. But this time, you have been dealt a big pocket pair, but lower than A-A; i.e., K-K, Q-Q, or J-J. Let’s say it’s Q-Q. That’s a made hand, and a very good starting hand.

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The only problem is it may very well become a serious underdog if an Ace or King falls on the flop.

Unfortunately for you, that happens so often. At a full table, chances are that one or more opponents has an Ace or a King in the hole. Raising from the SB won’t get him to muck his cards and anyone who has already called to see the flop is almost certain to call your raise.

So, you wisely just call to see the flop, hoping that an Ace or a King does not fall on the board. It would be great if a third Queen fell on the board. The odds are against it, but it does happen. A set of Queens! Lucky you.

Unless the flop is threatening (e.g., three of the same suit or connectors – three in sequence), consider slow-playing to build the size of this pot you expect to win. Check from your SB position (where you are first to act), hoping an opponent will bet out or even raise the pot. Just call along to see the turn.

Assuming it does not give cause for concern and your set of Queens is still well in the lead, check again while considering a check-raising. Here’s where your small blind position can give you an edge when your opponent who open bet on the flop makes a continuation bet.

After several others have called his c-bet, now you complete the check-raise. Make it $16. Most of those who already invested are bound to call your raise.

What a pot!

It would be great if the board were to be paired on the river. That would give you the near-nuts, Queens-full. But even if you did not catch a full house, your set of Queens is likely the best hand. Unless you sense danger, bet out from your SB position, and hope for a few callers.

As you scoop in the huge pot and tip the dealer, remember that being in the SB position helped you to build it. Admittedly, this sort of thing is rare. But there will be times when the poker gods smile down on you. Be prepared.

On the other hand, what should you do if an Ace falls on the board and you are still holding only your pocket Queens – now potentially an underdog with just two outs?

Consider the situation. After you check your Q-Q from the SB, if a tight player opens the betting, it is wise to believe him. Fold your hand (Note: You have been observing your opponents throughout the session, so you know their playing traits).

However, if a deceptive opponent comes out betting, consider calling along on the premise that he is bluffing by representing a pair of Aces. But if another player raises his bet, it is wise to fold your Q-Q. It’s no sin.

Chances are the Ace on the flop helped the raiser. But before you muck, look to see how many chips the raiser has in front of him. If it’s all-in, make the call and hope for the best. That’s the sort of thing that makes playing poker so interesting, challenging and exciting. 

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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