Small Blind (SB) Defence

SB Defence (against a steal) can be tricky since you are guaranteed to be out of position when you play. Luckily there is a new trend in advanced cash game strategy that can really help: 3-bet or fold! There are two really good reasons to play this way:

SB Defence – Reasons for Not Calling

  1. It really sucks when you just call and get squeezed by the big blind. Your range is usually weaker when you call, so this means you almost always have to fold. You could start slowplaying some AA type hands, but poaching value from our strong hands is usually not the most profitable choice.
  2. More subtly, we run into problems postflop with our calling range. We’re always very capped on low boards or AK2 type boards where we never have anything close to the nuts. This can happen from the BB too, but at least there we’re getting much better odds on our call.

Building your Range

So if we never call, what does this imply about your range? It’s linear! In other words, it’s not “polarized”. There is no bluff portion of your range. You simply start with your best hands and work down as far as you feel comfortable. When I’m facing a typical min-raise on the button, I’ll 3-bet around my top 20% of hands and fold the rest.

The top of the range is obvious, but what kind of weaker hands do you choose? I really like suited cards. I will opt for suited Aces and suited connectors, even some stronger suited one gappers, before I choose QTo and K9o types.

SB Defence – When it’s OK to Call

While a good standard or default strategy is to always 3-bet, there are certainly exceptions. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

  • The button is a fish, maniac or short stack. Part of how we gain an advantage over the weaker players is by having a deeper stack and lots of room for postflop play. When you 3-bet and get called, you build a bigger pot. Often there’s only one or two bets left to go in. This tends to lead the fish toward more correct play. “I has pair. I’m all-in!” Instead, just call with your weaker hands in this spot, and bump the pot up postflop when you hit.
  • The big blind is a fish. If we 3-bet in this case, then we risk blocking out the fish. Since they represent a big chunk of our profits, it’s wise to keep them involved in the pot.
  • The button is a reg with postflop leaks. Perhaps he has a really low continuation bet like 40%. Or maybe it’s really high like 90%, and he folds constantly to check-raises. Well, if this is the case, of course we want to exploit that. In order to do so, we need to call preflop and give him the chance to c-bet. Just make absolutely sure if you’re trying this that the big blind is not squeeze-happy

Do you play this way?

I’m curious: have you made the switch to this strategy? Is it new to you or do have a reason you still like to use a calling range? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Jimmy

    Hi Mike,I attempted this strategy but found it wasn’t great at the micro stakes.I’ve been playing between $10 and $25NL and geting squeezed by the big blind isn’t such a concern since I find at these stakes people are happier to 3bet light v a steal but once someone else shows interest they think twice.

    I also struggled to put together a good range to 3bet with,I was still polarising my range which I think was a big mistake as I was getting called a lot and then was put in some awkward spots.

    I learned a lot from trying it and definitely 3bet far more than I call in the sb now but at lower stakes I feel it isn’t such an absolute strategy and having a capped range isn’t such a problem as there aren’t too many people who can recognise it and exploit it.

  • Hi Jimmy,
    Glad to hear you tried it at least, and it sounds like you learned something from the exercise.
    You know it really depends on which $10 and $25NL game you play. Where do you play?
    I’ve dipped my toes in those games on BlackChipPoker, and they’re surprisingly tough! I know they are on Stars as well. I would definitely recommend this strategy for those games. But if you play in very soft games with 2 or 3 fish per table, then you will likely find reasons to call a lot from the SB.

  • Jimmy

    I play on Unibet which is very soft and passive.I am returning to the idea of using the strategy more,I think the main mistake I made on my first attempt was 3betting my top 15-20% but I also kept 3betting weaker hands that I should have removed from my range.It was just a force of habit and I didn’t work on my range enough before trying this strategy.

  • “Very soft and passive.” Sounds like a great game!

  • brian

    Couple things.
    I think a very important aspect to this strategy is this: our most optimal position at the table is with the main ‘recreational player’ to our immediate RIGHT. in this case we have more of an incentive to call at least a few hands SB vs BTN, keeping their range wide and exploiting their general unwillingness to fold post flop when we hit something decent.
    Conversely, the worst place for a rec player to be from our point of view is to out immediate LEFT, so if we notice we are flatting a lot ‘to keep the BB in the hand’ we should be consider switching tables.

    One big reason why 3betting very wide from both the SB and BB vs a BTN steal is this: most players who open wide (45% or more) are not comfortable defending enough of their range by either 4betting or flatting so this is one of the biggest reasons to 3bet aggressively, not just so we simply defend enough vs steals.

    What about getting 4B? possibly the hardest thing to deal with when 3 betting a wide SB range (say 15-20%) is that we feel forced to fold most of this. We have to be prepared! Shoving hands like TT/JJ and some bluffs such as 55/44/A5s will likely have to be something we routinely do.

    Calling a 4B? What!? This is a very real and reasonable option as well. Why? We can exploit the bluffing portion of villain’s 4Bets on the BTN by flatting hands such as AQ/AQs/KQs/AJs, hands that we might not feel comfortable bluff 5B shoving with. We can easily throw AA into that mix for balance, especially since we will mostly have to fold to cbets on low boards.

  • Tuffnut

    How big do we / u 3bet? I think 4x is a great way to defend and gives us a good idea off the handstrength from our opponent when he calls or 3bet and/or when de BB squeeze it. Example for NL25. btn steals 0.75 we 3bet to 3$. We also force villain to make a mistake when he calls for setmine. If 4x works you can try to go a bit lower to like 3.5 and take a look of his FoldTo3Bet%. It should be >70% but also take a look on how many occasions. 70% over 3 hands is not a sample to relay on. Dont just 3bet because its fun or have a big Ego. 3Bet to let him fold (Against rock) or do it for value (Against fish/bad reg) make sure u know what type off player we are up to. Dont 3bet bluff against a calling station/Fish and when u get cought when 3betting with 67s then this is fine. Next time u get action when having a monster or win a big pot when u flop 2 pair or a good combodraw. If we make it 3$ and we take it down without a flop we win 1.10 each time. If this works 3 out of 4 we win 3.30 and loose 3.. we still make 1bb profit. If we make it 2.55 and win it 3 out off 4 we make 3bb profit. What do u think about the betsize when 3bet? I think 4x at the sb and 3,5x at the bb against a btn steal and just 3x in the bb against the sb.

    • Tuffnut, I think your comments and suggested size when facing a 3bb steal sounds great.

      A few things to add: you also see a lot of min-raising (ie to 2bb) on the button. In this case I suggest going to 9bb from the SB and 8.5bb from the BB. Your SB range is merged and stronger, so it makes sense to make a larger reraise from the SB than the BB.

      You can also attack someone with even just a 60% to 65% fold to 3bet.

      You said that after you get caught, you might win a big pot from the player the next time. Do you experience dynamics like this in your game that happen that quickly, versus the regs for example?

      • Tuffnut

        i think more players see this type of defence now when opening/steal 3x. They adjust to 2x to make their steals cheaper. That means dat we also steal with 2x today from the btn (i prefer to 0.55c=2.2bb) I Always 3bet to 2$ when btn opens to 0.50 from the bb and 2,25 in the sb.
        I wont happend that often we flop a monster with 67s. Ussualy we have to give up our bluff when get called but i see players will try to steal less when they notice we 3bet a lot in the blinds.
        Make sure you have an idea what villain will do after the flop when he calls our 3bet. Someone who has a very high cbet% and checks the flop has often big hand and let you do the betting. Be carefull you dont burn your money.
        That takes me to the next level, when we steal ourself and someone has a 3bet >6% from the sb or bb we can adjust and 4bet bluff more from the btn. So we make sure we dont 3bet to much in the blinds. Regs also make use of those stats.
        Rest us to work on our 3bet and calling range when in the blinds. Good 3bet cards are suited connectors/one gappers like 67/78/68/79 and suited Aces/Kings because of the A/K Blockers. I prefer calling with J10s AA/KK/AK and AQ/AJ when villain cbets a lot and for bad players always 3bet QQ+ for value.
        60% FoldTo3Bet is the minimum to 3bet from the blinds yes but i would recommend first to add this stat to your hud and start practice with players who have >70 to get familiar with it.

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