## Shorthanded Limit Hold'em: Basic Preflop Steal and Defense

In general, your defense standards should be largely dependent upon several things:

Â Â Â 1. The preflop range of hands of the blind stealer.
Â Â Â 2. The relative skill difference between you and the preflop raiser.
Â Â Â 3. Other smaller factors, like rake considerations.

The biggest thing you should be considering when you are debating a defense situation is whether or not you can play the hand losing less than you would by folding.Â Â While folding is technically a 0EV play, applications like PokerTracker track the individual profitability that you fold in the BB as being â€“ .5BB.Â Â When facing a raise, the question is not necessarily â€œwill I make money playing this hand,â€ but more so â€œwill I lose less money than .5BB by playing this hand.â€Â Â Phrasing the question this way is tricky, but can be helpful when doing post-play analysis of hands.Â Â Generally I would shy away from analyzing particular hands until you have a very large database.

Trying to figure out what a suitable range of defense hands is, you will need to break the situation down.Â Â First, I ask what I know about the preflop raiser; how do they tend to play postflop?Â Â Do they always play big pots, or do they give up easily?Â Â How hard will it be to make them fold if I flop a draw â€” and how likely are they to pay off with a wide range of hands if I flop a pair or better?Â Â From there, I start thinking about their likely preflop range, and how my hand will play out postflop vs. them.Â Â Finally, I start to formulate a basic postflop plan based on recent hands, on their image, my image, and combine everything else into a quick little decision to play or not play.
An example of this thought process:

I am sitting in the big blind.Â Â UTG raises.Â Â He is very tight with a UTG raising range of 88-AA, ATs+, AJo+, and KQs+.Â Â He plays aggressively postflop and is tough and tricky to play against.Â Â In this spot, Iâ€™d play incredibly tight.Â Â You are out of position vs. a tough opponent who has a handrange weighted toward very good hands.Â Â Hands like ATo, A9o, A7s, 86s â€” hands that I would defend with frequently â€” I would fold here.Â Â It seems simple, but I see a lot of otherwise very good players making mistakes like this; rather than folding hands that are marginal at best vs. this sort of opposition, they see the concrete strength of their own hand and decide to play anyway, whereas vs. a â€œnormalâ€ opponent (one who plays worse postflop or raises a wider range preflop) I would probably call with all of these hands.

A small note on position: an important thing to remember is that most players in 6-handed games will raise much more often the closer they get to the button.Â Â Consequently, against opponents who are in late position (CO, Button), I will defend with many hands that I would simply find untenable in defense versus an earlier raiser â€” hands like T9o, 98o, A8o, KTo-JTo, etc.

When I am looking at the strength of my own hand, I consider a few things:

Â Â Â 1. How the hand plays postflop.Â Â Is it a hand that prefers to win small pots frequently, or one that prefers to win large pots infrequently?Â Â A good example of this contrast would be between A3o and 76s; A3o will often win at showdown, but when it does, it will rarely win a big pot vs. a typical opponent.Â Â 76s, on the other hand, is a hand that, when it wins, will generally win a bigger pot: usually you wonâ€™t win much with top pair with 76s, but you will win a lot when you make a straight or a flush.Â Â This is a very simplified example, but the concept is important.
Â Â Â 2. How likely I am to face domination preflop.Â Â This is effectively the difference between defending with K3o and 87s.Â Â 87s will be dominated significantly less frequently than K3o.
Â Â Â 3. How often and easily I can win at showdown unimproved.Â Â This comes into play often when defending with Ace and King-high hands.

The idea has been to lend a hand in determining your own process for defending the blinds.Â Â There is no concrete â€œright or wrongâ€ to determining what range of hands you should defend with, or how often you should defend your blinds in general.Â Â Iâ€™d say that shooting for defending your big blind between 50 and 60% is probably in the neighborhood of correct.Â Â I know of several excellent players who defend much more often, and a few who defend less often.Â Â As much as it is an individual choice, it does effect our image, and more importantly, intricacies of our postflop play.Â Â The important thing to remember when beginning the exploration of blind defense is that the process of learning how to defend your blinds is going to be more important than specifically learning what to defend with.
A few other game-specific decisions

Despite all the analysis that goes into it, blind defense is really more art than science.Â Â There are lots of things that you can not quantify at any given moment, yet are important to realize in the midst of the game.Â Â Here are a few examples of hands that I played that are far from standard, yet in the moment that the hand went down, were completely normal for me:

The cutoff raises.Â Â I havenâ€™t played many hands recently and have been folding my blinds a lot; he, on the other hand, has been folding to a lot of flop checkraises and turn bets after stealing preflop.Â Â The big blind is a fairly tight TAG. I have T9s in the small blind and 3-bet.

Why?Â Â I have a tight image, and he is running bad.Â Â While at some point he is going to begin to show hands down more frequently than he is right now, at this point I think he is folding way too easily; even though I am out of position, I think that when he does not hit a hand, he will often fold to either a flop or a turn bet.Â Â In addition, when he has a big enough hand to take to showdown it will be easy for me to get away from my hand if it is not sufficiently strong.Â Â If I flop a strong hand and he merely flops a decent hand, I will win quite a few bets from him.Â Â I am facing a situation where I will often when the pot when neither of us hit, and when I will win a lot of bets when I hit and lose very few when he hits.Â Â By taking the initiative preflop versus a player who is trapped in weak-tight mode, I will win on scary boards that miss us both (this may even often include Kxx boards and Axx boards), and can still have the ability to win big pots when I flop a monster and he determines his hand is showdownable.

Even if he is tightened up a bit more than normal preflop, against a player who is running bad, this sort of moment-specific adjustment is important to recognize.

This example brings up a basic comment about defending your small blind.Â Â Which I advocate doing infrequently â€“ I probably defend my small blind less than 20% of the time overall, compared to defending my big blind around 50% of the time.Â Â If I were the big blind in this hand, I would 3-bet some portion of the time (maybe 20-30% of the time) and I would call and checkraise a lot of flops the rest of the time.Â Â In the small blind, it is important for me to 3-bet any hand I am defending with here, as I do not want to offer the big blind attractive odds of 5:1 on a preflop call.Â Â The ability for me to win with this hand unimproved is significantly decreased when there are multiple players in the pot.Â Â This is something that many newer players forget when they are defending in the small blind; often I see the mistake of people coldcalling with A9o, KJo, etc., when they should either be folding these hands or 3-betting them.Â Â Be thinking about how your handrange in the small blind does versus the opener; if it is going to be ahead often, 3-bet, taking initiative in the hand and often getting the pot heads-up.Â Â If not, strongly consider folding.Â Â It is rare that a coldcall in the small blind versus an openraiser is correct.

A final note on game-specific decisions: remember to always consider what other people think of you when you are stealing or defending.Â Â If they think you are playing super laggy, do not 3-bet Q7s in the small blind.Â Â If they think you are playing super tight, well, you might be able to get away with it (I wouldnâ€™t recommend it, but it is at least within the realm of possibility).Â Â The same goes for altering your steal range based on how you are running and how you are perceived: ideally you want to be able to take down as many pots, raised or unraised, without any contention.Â Â Keep this in mind each time you are facing a questionable preflop decision.