One of the easiest places to lose a ton of value in poker is with poor big blind (BB) defense. For example, you could be calling pre-flop too frequently, causing you to miss the flop more frequently, resulting in folding to your opponent’s bets. Or you could be under-defending your BB, simply bleeding chips at the table and giving your opponents an easy opportunity to steal your chips when they open wide from the CO or BTN.
To counter this, we should have a solid BB defending range, understand your hands’ playability and understand what a solid BB defending range should look like.
Position and Playability
If you were not aware, players will open at a higher frequency as they approach the button. This is because it’s less likely that they’ll play the hand out of position (OOP), and it’ll also be less likely that their hand will be beaten. This causes opponents to open a tighter range from early position but a looser range from late position.
This should be reflected in our calling range from the BB. Sure, we’re going to get a reasonable price from the BB most of the time, but we must think about ranges and equity realization. If you want to learn more about suited and connectedness, you can check this article here: The Importance of Suitedness and Connectedness in Poker. In that article, I discussed how the raw equity of a hand isn’t as significant as realizing a hand’s equity.
Hands with high pair value, suited combinations, or connected combinations will realize their equity better than others. The higher the card value and the more closely the two hole cards are connected, the more raw, pre-flop equity they will realize.
We should, therefore, only be calling with hands from the BB that have a good chance at realizing their equity and can money from our opponents in the long run.
This idea of playability is essential. We want to make our lives as easy as we can post-flop and limit mistakes. Our defending range should take this into account based on the position that our opponents have opened from.
An essential part of defending your BB is to have a good 3-betting range. This is to not only get good value from our strongest hands, but also by raising we will prevent our opponents from being able to steal our blinds as frequently. If they start opening too many hands at the bottom of their range, i.e., their worst hands, then they’ll often have to fold to our pre-flop raises. So long as we have a good frequency here, meaning be balanced, then our opponent will not be able to attack our big blind as frequently, and more often than not, they’ll be punished.
The raw equity of our specific hand required to profitably call pre-flop depends on how good of a “price” we’re getting. If our opponent opens to 3bb in a cash game with no antes, we’ll need to put in 2bb to make the call.
The total pot after we call would be 6.5bb (remembering the SB, which is usually one-half the size of the BB).
That means we need to put in 2bb to win a total of 6.5bb.
To break even, we would need to win our 2bb back out of that 6.5bb pot. You can’t take money out of the pot. So normally, we either win the pot or lose the pot.
We would need to win the full pot a percentage of the time to break even. To calculate this percentage, we take the amount we need to win from the pot, divide it by the total pot, then multiply by 100 (2/6.5 * 100), which is 30.7%. So we would only need to win the full pot 30.7% of the time to break even. This is because, in the long run, we would be winning that 2bb back out of the 6.5bb pot.
If our opponent only raised to 2bb pre-flop, we would need to put in 1bb to call. The size of the pot after we call would be 4.5bb, so to calculate the frequency, we need to win the pot: 1 / 4.5 *100 = 22.23%.
When our opponent raises to a smaller amount pre-flop, we need to win less frequently to break even. This means that we can call with more hands that have lower equity when the pre-flop sizing is smaller. Similarly, we should call with hands with more equity when our opponents’ pre-flop sizing is bigger.
I’ve developed BB defense ranges specifically for this blog article (which may differ from various other course BB defense recommendations). The range charts that I’ve included in this post represent a calling range based on the average opponent at 10nl Zoom or below versus a 2.5bb steal sizing. I’ve omitted information such as 3-betting or 4-betting from the chart to make it more easily understandable, so you should use your judgment on what constitutes a good hand to 3-bet with.
For more information on BB defense ranges, be sure to check out our course offerings.
BB Defending Range vs. CO Steal Attempt
BB Defending Range vs. BTN Steal Attempt