Poker Strategy: Big Blind Math and 16-30 Big Blinds

Poker hand with chips

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Once your stack drops to 30 big blinds and below some fairly stiff rules start coming into play. This is really the core of tournament play as most of the time you'll be competing with stacks of 30 bigs and below. Understanding and applying the rules below will put you in good shape against most of the field, and even good players will have a hard time taking advantage of you as these rules are mathematically based and largely unexploitable when used well. You will still need to play good poker and adjust to whether your opponents are tight or loose, aggressive or passive, whether they call too often or fold too much, but overall, knowing these rules will increase your winnings regardless of who you play.

30 Big Blinds

At 30 big blinds, it is no longer correct to three-bet and then fold. When a player open-raises, if you reraise (a three-bet) you will normally be getting better than 2-1 on the rest of your chips if they raise again. With 2-1 odds, there are very few hands that are not worth calling with against a normal opponent's range of possible hands. And if you have one of the hands that should fold, why were you three-betting in the first place?

You can no longer reraise a player you suspect is weak and fold than they show you otherwise, so don't get tricky with your three-bets; have a good hand and be prepared to go all in with it.

16-22 Big Blinds: Resteal & Squeeze Stack

This stack size is perfect for three-bet shoving (raising all in over a raiser you suspect is weak) and squeezing (shoving all in when one or more players have limped. The reason the stack size is good is because you still have enough chips to make opponents fold, but small enough so that the risk/reward ratio is very good—especially if antes have started going in. Once there is a limper or raiser in the pot, you can increase your stack size by a huge percentage just by getting folds. Considering that you will also win a certain number of times when you are called, this play is a very important one to have in your arsenal and is the reason you see people getting so aggressive with these medium stacks.

In live poker, stick to squeezes more than resteals. Live players tend to open much tighter (they play fewer and higher quality hands even when situations dictate looser play) and fold less often when raised. Since this play depends largely on getting folds, if a player won't fold, the play is no good. A limp from live players often means the player is just looking to see a flop cheap and will fold when you deny them this possibility.

Online, players overall are much more aggressive, and you won't get much of a chance to squeeze in the later stages of a tournament. However, that aggression means they're opening much looser and you can take advantage with resteals. You will get caught occasionally, but if a player opens for three times the big blind and the total antes equal one big blind, then you're going to win that plus the two blinds for a profit of five and a half big blinds: a 25%–34% increase in your stack. Not only is that a huge increase, but you'll also note it almost always gets you right back out of the resteal range. This means you'll be going right back to tight 30bb play and you'll continue to have a tight image if you drop back into the Resteal and Squeeze range.