How to Steal the Blinds in Poker Tournaments

One of the challenges – and most important tasks – that all tournament players face is trying to maintain a healthy stack, let alone trying to build it into a dominating force that will carry them to the final table.

It’s difficult to do. There are so many variables; luck, what players are at your table, how the stacks are positioned around the table, the size of the field, blind levels, etc. etc. and so on.

One method that works well is stealing the blinds. This is a low and slow approach, where you build your stack incrementally, as opposed to isolating players, racing or reshoving (where you risk large portions of your stack usually). There’s less variance.

But stealing the blinds can work against you, too, if you’re not careful and aware of things like ranges, stack sizes and table images. So I want to share some of my tips for stealing the blinds so that you can get started on the right foot.

Wait for Antes

I suggest waiting for antes because they add so much dead money to the pot.

Take the 100/200 level, for example. Without antes there is only 300 chips in the pot. You have to raise/risk least 400 chips to win it. You’re risking more than you stand to gain.

However, if you add antes to the mix the pot is now 525. You’re now risking less than what you stand to win – a much better deal.

You’ll also notice that your stack grows much faster with antes than without. It’s possible to go from a short stack (<10 big blinds) to average stack (>20 big blinds) by picking up one pot.

Last thing – staying relatively quiet up until the antes kick in preserves your (tight) image which you can then exploit when it matters most.

Keep an Eye on Stack Sizes

Stack sizes are important to be aware of. You want to raise through and steal from stacks that have 20-30 big blinds.

I suggest this range because if target stacks that are too big, say more than 40 or 50 big blinds, you have less fold equity. With these stack sizes players can afford to play pots.

On the other side of the spectrum, if there are stacks with 15 big blinds or less, there’s enough dead money relative to their stack for it to make sense to reshove on you. And in some of these cases they’ll be so short that you’ll be priced in to call.

20-30 big blinds is the sweet spot – you have plenty of fold equity, and you can comfortably fold if they choose to shove over you.

What is Your Opponent’s Image?

Are the players to act after you loose, tight, aggressive, passive? The blinds’ images are most important, but if you’re raising from the hijack or cutoff you’ll want to be aware of the players in the cutoff and/or button, too. The image is important because some players are better to steal from than others.

The ideal player to steal from is tight/aggressive. The reason being is that they’re position-aware, so they won’t play back at you too light out of position. They’ll give up a fair share of pots. They’re also most transparent postflop – if they miss the flop they will often fold, and if they have a hand they’ll donk/bet the flop.

You can steal against other players, too, it’s just that the tactic is less effective. For example, if you raise a loose player you’ll probably play a lot of flops. Depending on how passive or aggressive they are, bluffs (like c-bets) might not be effective. These are things you want to keep in mind so that you can adjust what hands you choose to steal with accordingly. Sometimes it won’t make sense to steal at all, but rather to open hands purely for value. It just depends.

Keep an Eye on Your Own Image

Your image is important, too. I always recommend that players stay tight early on so that you can create the image of a tight/weak player. That way, when antes kick in, you can pick up the aggression and a few easy pots. No one is going to want to mess with the guy that has been card dead the entire tournament and/or waiting for the nuts, and then finally comes in for a raise.

That said, everyone’s style is different, and sometimes you’re dealt several hands in a row that make sense to play. Just keep in mind that the more active you get, the less hands you should open for a steal, and the more hands you should open for value. That’s because players will start to adjust for how many hands you’re playing (assuming you’re bluffing a lot) and will start to play back at you.