Defending the Blinds in Poker Tournaments

defending the blinds

Becoming a successful tournament player takes a wide array of skills but one of the most critical is defending the blinds. In an environment where survival is essential and stealing blinds and antes are imperative, a tournament player needs to know how, when and why they need to be defending their blinds properly. In this post, we’re going to share some helpful pointers on the how, when and why so you will be prepared next time you register for a tournament.

Why is Defending the Blinds Important?

To generate a decent ROI and ITM rate in mtts won’t just come down to luck in winning all in pre-flops or ability to play post-flop poker well. A big part of it is based upon your knack for picking up chips in “boring” or non-interesting scenarios. One of these scenarios is playing from the blinds, or big blind to be more specific. Contesting these pots are what will keep your stack healthy, ticking along and surviving the constant pressure from the increased blinds and antes. 

If you just play super tight from the blinds you are missing potential value and also giving your opponents an easy time. Even the most basic of poker players will recognise a weak tight big blind tendency and will abuse you every round.

By staying active in and protecting your big blind you will also deter some players from trying to steal from you. This is of great value as it means you will get more walks or play more blinds battles – which are fine when you’re the one in position.

How to Defend Your Blinds

Defending the blinds is achieved by one of two actions; calling a raise and playing post flop or 3 betting your opponent. Which option you choose should be based upon your opponents likely range of hands (based on seat and style), the amount it costs you to call, the stage of the tournament, your opponent’s playing style, the calibre of your opponent, the relative stack sizes and the type of hand you have. It probably sounds more complicated than it is so let’s take a look at an example to better illustrate.

Example of Defending Blind Defence & Analysis

Blinds: 1,000/2,000 and an ante of 250 at a 9 handed table. It folds to the cut-off who is tight aggressive but employs too much pot control post-flop. He raises to 4,500 and it folds to you in the big blind. He has 68,000 and you have 57,000.

Now let’s analyse the information we have already:

  1. Neither of us are short stacked yet (both > 28 big blinds)
  2. We are getting a great price to call (2,500 for a pot of 9,750). Some quick maths shows we only need around 20% equity to make the call.
  3. We have an opponent who is likely to be opening wide
  4. We are facing a moderately tough opponent but one who has a tendency to check post-flop a lot

Post Flop Play for Defending the Blinds

Armed with information above, we should be calling pretty wide here. We are a little too deep stacked to profitably 3 bet all in with anything less than top tier hands. Against this type of opponent, we know he will probably c-bet most flops if he misses but he will also c-bet if he makes a hand he will go with. A flop check from our opponent is likely to be mean a hand with showdown value or a bluff catcher like bottom pair or second pair. With these assumptions in place, we can now make some plans post-flop.

1) If we flop a draw we could try to check-raise and get it all in
2) If we miss entirely, we can check and consider barrelling turn and river if he checks back flop. There is no use betting just turn though as we know he probably is pot controlling
3) If we flop a medium strength hand, we can check/call flop and see how he proceeds on turn and river. Most TAGs won’t fire turn and river with these stack sizes unless he has “it”.
4) If we flop a monster hand, we can check/call flop then check turn hoping he has a hand. If he checks back flop, we can bet turn and put in a small value bet on river, enticing him to call with his bluff catchers.

Hands to Defend the Blinds with

Notice in the example above we didn’t even discuss hands – we already had plans based on the information we have. I know many of you will be specifically interested in what hands are valuable in blinds defence and which aren’t. First things first, the size of your opponents raise should influence your calling range. If they are open raising larger then 2.5 or 3 big blinds, you are getting weaker odds so you can’t profitably defend with the weaker hands. The opposite is true if they are raising smaller. A min raise from a weak opponent should be defended very liberally. After all, you can expect to win some pots post-flop which will compensate for your weaker hands too.

The images below are a guide on the types of hands you may want to call raises with. Please note that for simplicity I’ve not even gone into the player type, position or relative stack sizes. This is only on a standard assumption of a late position small raise (2.2 x bb). The hands in blue are certainly candidates for blinds defence and you could even mix in some other hands like the suited kings.

If you are not prepared to at least defend with the hands below, you may as well quit tournaments and play casino games at places that recommend.

When to Defend

We’ve covered why and how so now we need to handle when to defend the blinds. Basically, you want to defend when your stack size permits and when the odds of calling with your hand versus the opponent is likely to be profitable in the long run.

A hand like K7 off suit against a tough player who has raised 3 big blinds is unlikely to be profitable for you, particularly if you’re under 25 big blinds. You’re not getting amazing odds to defend, you’ll be out of position against a tough opponent and your hand doesn’t play well post-flop either.

Jack nine suited with 40 big blinds against an average opponent who has raised the 2.2 times the blinds will yield a positive return in the run. You will easily have enough equity to continue and you will have a better chance at winning some pots without contest post-flop.

Defending the big blind is more of a middle and late tournament strategy concept. In the early stages, you can play conservatively if you prefer. There are no antes involved and giving up 25 or 50 chips is insignificant. The more experienced and competent you are post-flop, the earlier the stage of tournament you will probably defend. I recommend waiting until the antes kick in before actively defending your blinds. Until then it’s not as important even on the best NJ poker sites where you are playing Americans.

If you are keen to improve your tournament play, why not join our training video membership? There are plenty of tournament videos. Membership is only £6 per month and you can trial it for free too.

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: