Playing from the Small Blind in No Limit Hold'em
If you play fixed limit or no-limit texas holdem already, you know that the small blind is the worse position to have, as you will be first to play all streets post flop. Online poker tracking software routinely show that the small and big blind positions always lose money, more from the big blind as the compulsory bet is twice or more as much as the small blind.
The difference is that it is while this decision does not arise from the big blind. Playing well from the small blind is what differentiates good players from not so good ones, so let's discuss a few key concepts below.
You must be very selective when deciding to play from the small blind. It is often tempting to get involved as it only costs half a blind, and if a few players have already limped in, the odds will be favorable with nearly any two cards. Additionally chances to get raised by the only player left to act, the big blind, are small so variance should be small.
Important Factors to play from the Small Blind
The most important factor to consider is your stack size. With a very small stack such as five BB, there is usually only one decision: to push or to fold. Before the flop, the small blind has the second best position at the table to make that choice, given that only the big blind is left behind to act.
Conversely, in deep stack situations such as a 100 BB stack as occurs in the early stage of most online tournaments and also often at ring games, the burden of a bad position will be felt at all streets from the flop to the river. Thus, the first thing to consider when playing from the small blind is your stack size.
The second most important factor and this is not a surprise, is your hand. But the point here is that drawing hands are much weaker than made hands when playing out of position. With a draw, you can bet or check-call at the flop, but the difficult decision will be at the turn if you did not hit your draw. It can be quite apparent that your hand is weak at the turn if you check or if you make a big bet when first to act. Occasionally check raising is also a possibility not to omit.
Conversely when you hit your draw, it would be preferable if your opponent had to make a guess about the strength of your hand, instead of being able to see your action after the turn card has come. In both cases, you would prefer to act after your opponent instead of before him.
Note that any hole cards can lead to a draw. Pocket kings can give the nuts flush draw at the flop for instance. This is not the usual outcome if you have pocket kings, but this happens. The more usual type of hands leading to draws are suited connectors like T9s. You can certainly get top pair, two pairs, a trip or even a boat with these cards, but the more likely scenario you are trying to obtain when you play them is a straight or flush draw.
Let's look at an example. You look at your hole cards and you see two fours while you are sitting in the small blind with a stack of 60 BB. It is now your turn to act after a few limpers. It is fine to call for set mining. If you do not hit your set at the flop, just fold.
Let's suppose now that you have suited one gappers, like the ten and eight of clubs in the same situation. You should almost always fold this hand. This is too weak a drawing hand to play from the earliest position under normal circumstances.
Let's imagine now that your stack size is 20 BB, a situation more akin to a tournament like the WSOP. This hand can often been played. The reason is that when you are getting short-stacked you must become more aggressive and take chances to increase your stack, otherwise the blinds will take care of it. You must be ready to make a move at the flop by shoving your chips, gaining fold equity in the process as the first player to act. And who knows, this hand can also hit big and give you even more profit.
Finally let's mention the case when you decide to make a raise pre flop from the small blind. It is generally considered a solid poker strategy to raise more not with your bigger hands, but the earlier your position.
The reason is that you want to increase the chances that your opponents will fold if you have the disadvantage of playing from early position. But you do not need to raise as much from the button as you do not mind playing the hand post flop when you will be last to act. Hence you should use a bet size of the pot or even more (125% of the pot) from the small blind.
Remember that you must be careful from the small blind and not be tempted too easily by the cheapness to enter a pot. Be ultra aggressive in late position and be ultra cautious in early position, and your wallet will swell.
Good luck at the tables!