One of the most important keys to success in no-limit holdem is knowing how to play when you are in the blinds. The primary reason that this spot is tricky is that the small blind and the big blind are the two worst positions at the table. You need to be able to make decisions about the strength of your hand, and how to play your hand, when you are the first person to act after the flop. This is not easy to do. Today I just wanted to go over a few things that I have learned in my experience of playing the blinds. These ideas will be particularly useful short-handed cash games, as you are constantly involved in playing the blinds.
The first type of situation comes when you are in the small blind. You hold something like A3 or A4. The guy on the button raises, and there is no one else in the hand. He has been raising every un-opened pot and you know he could hold any two cards. Every part of you believes that A4 is truly the best hand here. However, in my experience this just isn't the type of hand you want to call a raise with. When you call a raise with this hand, you basically need the Ace to come on the flop for you to have any type of hand. Thats 3 cards that help you on the flop. If this players is aggressive, you know he will bet on the flop regardless of what he has. If you don't flop an Ace, you really can't call him unless the flop was like 422 and you had the A4. Ok, say you get 'lucky' and the ace flops. Now you probably have the best hand, right? Well, you check the flop and as expected he bets. You like your hand so you call. Now the turn brings another card that doesn't hit your hand. You check again, and he bets even bigger. Well, what do you do now? You still 'probably' have the best hand. But it is very possible he could have an Ace and a higher kicker, made 2 pair, made a set, or could be bluffing. You want to call him here but it is very tough to continue with 1 pair, no kicker. This is why calling with a 'weak ace' preflop here is not a good play (if you think he is stealing, you are better off re-raising, and then betting big regardless of the flop). When you are playing the small blind/big blind to a late position raiser who is probably stealing, you want to call with hands that when you make your hand, you will be quite certain that it is the best hand. An example would be: any pocket pair, suited connectors (if you make a straight or flush it's pretty easy to know it's the best hand), Ace/Face card, or other hands like this. I would even rather play something like 9T or 9J than A2. Ax and Kx (when x is a small card) are just not good hands to be defending your blinds to late position raises.
The next situation I'd like to talk about is playing the big blind when it is just you and the small blind in the pot. This doesn't happen too often in a full ring game, but it happens in shorthand a lot. When everyone else folds and the small blind simply calls, you have to feel almost like 'you have the button now.' You get to act last on every street in this hand, including preflop. This is a HUGE advantage. You do not need a big hand to make the following play. If the SB just limps in, try raising 3x the blind. There is probably a 75% chance he will fold to this bet. On the flop he will probably check, and you should make a pot sized bet regardless. Unless this flop hit him hard, he will fold now. This play works great, and it also sets him up for when you pick up a monster on the BB. If you never made this play, what do you think he would do the first time you picked up AA in this situation? He would fold to your big raise. This would force you to limp in with AA here which would most likely just get you in trouble. So again, this play works well to steal a pot here and there, but also sets your opponent up for when you have a big hand. You should note that you should only do this about 1/3 of the time this situation comes up, as your opponents will start to realize it. But if you have a pocket pair, two high cards, two medium suited cards, or once in awhile two connected low cards, go ahead and make this play. You will be surprised at how well it works.