Head to head pre-flop blinds betting structure
August 3, 2005 5:19 PM   Subscribe

More Texas Hold'em rule questions: What is the exact structure of betting the blinds (pre-flop) in a head-to-head match?

I've been playing Hold'em for a while now, and only recently had a head to head match with a friend. If there's only two of us, how do the blinds work? If he's the dealer, and I post the small blinds, and he posts the big blinds, do I then bet before the flop? How exactly does betting occur before the flop? Can someone walk me through the exact sequence of events?
Bonus question: I'm just starting to get an inkling for "position play" i.e. how to bet in relation to where you are in the deal... What's the prevailing wisdom, if any, for position play in a head-to-head match?
posted by asavage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
ok dealer is big, your small preflop.
and then you bet first every time post flop

position play heads up has a lot to do with the cards you receive. and how the small blind has bet previously
posted by CCK at 5:30 PM on August 3, 2005

In heads-up texas hold 'em the button (dealer) posts the small blind and bets first before the flop, after the flop the dealer acts last.

So basically

dealer starts first round of betting
other guy starts second round of betting
other guy
other guy

I feel that position is minimized during heads-up and that pot odds and strategy matter more. Pay attention to the odds your getting on you hands. Since play in heads-up is so aggressive this can help you figure out what large bets to call. There are a lot of good theory books that cover specific strategies but heads-up is a pretty personal thing. You have to develop your own style and experiment until you find a strategy that works for you. What any person recommends might not work for the way you play, no matter how qualified they are.
posted by cyphill at 5:44 PM on August 3, 2005

In a tournament situation, frequently by the time you get to a heads-up situation pre-flop, the blinds are so large that the only decision to make is whether or not to go all-in. If the blinds are still relatively small, pre-flop play is not all that different from normal, but you may want to be a little more aggresive and try to steal more blinds. Position plays in a heads-up situation becomes more complex later in the hand.

Later in the hand, you have several options in first position. If your hand is strong, a check-raise is a good play if you think your opponent will raise. If he probably won't raise, then bet. With a bad hand, check or bluff if you think you can get away with it. If your hand is mediocre, then bet if your opponent is more likely to call than he would be to bet if you had checked. Check if he is more likely to bet. Only check and fold with a bad had.

To really optimize your play, you have to be able to evaluate your expectations in the hand. Sklansky's book The Theory of Poker is a good teaching reference.

[Also, CCK is correct: the dealer posts the big blind, other player posts the small blind and is the first to act before the flop.]
posted by ijoshua at 5:50 PM on August 3, 2005

In heads-up play you are the small-blind and the button. Pre-flop, the button/small-blind acts first. Post-flop the big blind acts first. (note: partypoker gets this wrong, but the rest of the online world gets it right)

(advice post to follow)
posted by mosch at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2005

More generally, for poker rules questions, I suggest consulting Robert's Rules of Poker. A home game version of the rules is also available. Bob Ciaffone has put a lot of effort into creating a very useful standardized set of rules for the game, and was good enough to make it available for free!

(Note: it agrees that in heads-up situations, the button is the small blind.)
posted by mosch at 6:20 PM on August 3, 2005

CCK and ijoshua are incorrect about the blinds, this is a common misconception spread by partypoker (as mosch points out), see here and here and here.
posted by cyphill at 6:25 PM on August 3, 2005

Hm. I've always played that the person at the dealer's left is always the small blind, regardless of the number of players. I'm willing to concede that heads-up is a special case, but I'm not getting the reasoning behind it. Is it only so that a different player is in first position pre- and post-flop?
posted by ijoshua at 6:29 PM on August 3, 2005

When you're the small-blind/button... you pretty much never want to fold. If your opponent is really aggressive, you might fold the absolute worst hands, but against normal players... your only question is call or raise. It might also be worth folding one or two bad hands early in the match just to show that you know words other than 'call' and 'raise'.

What you raise from here depends on the ratio of the blinds to your stacks. If your stacks are > 30x the blinds, you don't really want to get out of line. Raise with pretty much any hand that would be playable from late position in a ring game. Raise with more hands against tight opponents and also if the ratio of the stacks to the blinds is low. (This progression is why you see such "trashy" hands played when you watch poker on television...)

If you're the big blind, you're out of position for the rest of the hand, so your goal is to end the hand as quickly as possible. You want to play very aggressively with any decent holding, and get yourself back onto the small-blind/button.

Many heads-up matches can be won simply by constantly attacking from position. Make sure you're on the right side of those attacks.
posted by mosch at 7:09 PM on August 3, 2005

ijoshua: Heads-up is a special circumstance.

The real problem is if you make the dealer the big blind, the small blind is correct to play extremely tight because they have little money in the pot, and will be out of position for the entirety of the hand. This makes for an excrutiating game, unless the players are terrible.
posted by mosch at 7:11 PM on August 3, 2005

As far as how to use position post-flop... first you need information. Does your opponent give away the strength of their hand with their bets? (betting draws differently than made hands... weak hands differently than strong hands, etc). Does your opponent fold to raises? How often do they check-raise? check-fold? check-call?

these (and more) are things you should be able to figure out with time and observation.

From there you want to use your position to:
1) bet/raise for value - you probably have the better hand. Against an opponent who is playing too loose, this is pretty much the only type of betting you'll do.

2) bet/raise for fold equity - you have no reason to believe you have the better hand... but you do believe your opponent will fold enough to make the bet profitable.

When evaluating this type of play, just look at it mathematically. If the ratio of the bet size to the pot size is lower than the probability of a call, it's an automatic long-term profit.

3) escape danger - you get to act last which means you can maneuver to try to get free cards and cheap showdowns... you should have a fairly decent idea of what your opponent is going to do, whereas he should have almost no clue what you're going to do... this makes your life easy.

There's far more than I can possibly fit into a mefi answer, but hopefully that's a start for you!
posted by mosch at 7:36 PM on August 3, 2005

mosch: Not to derail, but do you find that all good players are able to "explain" strategy like you've done here? I feel like I'm a pretty competitive, thoughtful player, but I've never had such concrete or cohesive thoughts about the game.
posted by mullacc at 10:46 PM on August 3, 2005

Okay, while we're at it, I got a couple more questions (did I mention how much I love askMetaFilter?):
1. If everyone calls the blinds (no raises), do the small or the big blind have the ability to raise?
2. Why, in Robert's rules of poker, does it say that players cannot play from chip racks? What's the reason behind this rule?
posted by asavage at 11:24 PM on August 3, 2005

1. I don't recall a game that did not allow the blinds to raise in that situation.
2. I've been to card rooms that allow it and some that don't. In AZ and Vegas, I seem to remember playing from racks but not in CA. I like playing from racks much better.
posted by mullacc at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2005

1. Yes. I seem to remember some rule about raising from the blinds, but that would be some other type of poker, not Hold'em. Probably some kind of house rule, at that.

2. Playing chips from chip racks slows down the game (fiddling with getting chips out and putting them back in) and allows the player to screw around with the game. For example, playing from two stacked racks that look full, but really the bottom one is half empty. Or playing with a chip or two hidden beneath the rack. Makes it harder for opponents to calculate how much you could potentially put in the pot (although they can ask for your chip count).

Slowing down the game might not seem that important, but the profit you make at poker comes from exploiting your opponent's mistakes. Maximizing the number of hands per hours naturally maximizes your profit along with it. That's one of the reasons why online poker can be so good to professionals; a live table might give you 30-40 hands per hour, a table on the net might give you 50-70, but on the net you can play 4 tables at once, for more than 200 hands per hour. Of course your efficiency goes down the more tables you play, so you have to find a comfortable spot. In live play you can't really multitable, stuck with one table only. Anything to make the game faster is good for you.

So, are you guys doing an episode on poker? Are there any good poker myths, at that? :)
posted by splice at 3:59 AM on August 4, 2005

Incidentally, Doyle Brunson practically gave a seminar on how to play head to head last night on the World Poker Tour against Lee Watkinson. It was really amazing to watch.
posted by fletchmuy at 5:21 AM on August 4, 2005

Yes, you can raise from either the small or the big blind. The dealer will point to the big blind when it comes to his turn and say something like "option"

You can't play with racks on the table because you can't always see what's under them (cards, money, chips, who knows what else). You pretty much can't play with anything on the table except chips and cards.

Much of the advice that mosch gave above is quite good. A lot of it is contained in books on the subject of holdem (or other poker books -- his advice is not specific to holdem). I recommend Sklansky's Theory of Poker, or his book "Texas Holdem for Advanced Players" or his book on winning Low Limit Holdem. He is a master at making these kind of subtleties clear, and I've found that although I was a good player before I started reading books, I now know *why* I do some things, I do some other things different and I do some things I did before much, much better. Reading about these things also gives you a terrific functional vocabulary to discuss these things with friends, and the ability to *think* about them away from the table.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:50 AM on August 4, 2005

Not to derail, but do you find that all good players are able to "explain" strategy like you've done here?

Thanks mulacc. All of the better players I know can think about the game in this fashion. It's been pimped many times in this thread, but "Theory of Poker" is really the ultimate text for learning how to think like this. It also defines the standard vocabulary for discussing these things.

1. If everyone calls the blinds (no raises), do the small or the big blind have the ability to raise?

Yes. Additionally, some people like to "straddle". A straddle is when the player to the left of the big blind makes a blind raise before getting cards, which effectively acts as a very big blind. In return, this player gets to act last pre-flop.

Note: straddles are nearly always chip suicide, but they're usually legal, and live.

Why, in Robert's rules of poker, does it say that players cannot play from chip racks? What's the reason behind this rule?

It's SLOW. It's against the rules at most casinos but if you're playing badly, most players (myself included) will let you keep doing it, without asking you or the dealer to fix the situation.

Most casinos will let you keep the racks on the table, so long as you have a working stack that's not in the rack. Personally, I don't see the appeal of a rack... a huge pyramid of chips is just so much sexier.

A lot of it is contained in books on the subject of holdem (or other poker books -- his advice is not specific to holdem)

7 card stud players:
SuperSystem - the stud chapter by Mike Caro
7 Card Stud For Advanced Players - by Zee, Sklansky and Malmuth

Holdem beginners:
Winning Low Limit Holdem - Lee Jones
Getting Started In Holdem - Ed Miller
(I forget what it's called) - Gary Carson

Limit Holdem (more advanced):
Holdem Poker for Advanced Players
Small Stakes Holdem - Ed Miller (it's really about maximizing value against loose opponents... which happens to be common in small stakes games, but also applies cleanly to the 20/40 and 40/80 games I frequent)

No-Limit Holdem (more advanced):
Super/System (or S/S 2) - Brunson's NLHE Chapter.

Tournament Poker:
Harrington on Holdem Volume 1 & 2- Dan Harrington - Almost all the stuff in this book used to be 'figure it out yourself'. I'm still not sure how I feel about a book this good documenting portions of strategy that most players get wrong.

Limit Omaha/8 or Stud/8:
High/low Split Poker - Ray Zee

Pot-limit Omaha:
Omaha Holdem Poker - Ciaffone
Pot-limit and No-limit poker - Ciaffone and Reuben
How good is my pot-limit omaha? - Reuben

Understanding poker:
The Theory of Poker - Sklansky

Psychology and Poker:
Ace on the River - Greenstein
posted by mosch at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2005 [4 favorites]

Psychology and Poker was supposed to have: I
Inside the Poker Mind - Feeney
Psychology of Poker - Schoonmaker

Ace on the River was supposed to be under "Playing Professionally".
posted by mosch at 11:11 AM on August 4, 2005

mosch: are you in CA? if so, I'm all jealous. I didn't play poker when I lived there, and now that I do, I'm stuck in Dallas, TX. There are lots of (quasi-legal to illegal) venues here but it's all no-limit holdem. Nearest decent limit games are on the TX/OK border.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:56 PM on August 4, 2005

Rusty: Yep, I'm in southern California, home of the wildest LHE games on earth.

I have really mixed feelings about the no-limit explosion. It's killed my favorite type of holdem (pot-limit), and the skill/luck ratio is so much higher than limit that it's almost unfair to new players.

Hopefully someday all these new recruits will try the other games, and realize that they can be fun too.
posted by mosch at 3:28 PM on August 4, 2005

shit sorry I did write that wrong. You would think playing poker everyday like I do I would know the rules better
posted by CCK at 5:14 PM on August 4, 2005

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