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Steal Positional Analysis, Ranges, Bet Sizing | MED #2 Class 3 | Poker Podcast #99


Sky Matsuhashi

on October 12, 2016

I dive deeper into blind stealing with positional analysis, dealing with limpers, bet sizing, break-even math and stealing ranges.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


Steal Positional Analysis (2:55)

When it comes to stealing, you should only do so from the CO, BTN and SB.  You need to remember that your steal is ultimately a bluff, so you want folds from all the remaining players.  When you steal from the HJ or sooner, you need 4 or more players to fold, and that can be a tall order.

It's great to steal from the BTN because you only need two blinds to fold.  When you want to see how often the two blinds fold together on average, you multiply their Fold to Steal stats together.  So if the SB folds to steals 90% of the time, and the BB folds 80%, then together they fold .9 x .8 = 72% of the time.  We can run this same math calculation for a steal from the HJ.  We just need to multiply how often they all fold to a 2bet open raise.

Positional Analysis: stealing from the HJ

To figure out how often an opponent folds to a 2bet, you need to consider two different numbers; their 3bet and their Call 2bet %’s.  Every time someone faces a raise, they can either 3bet, call or fold.  You just need to add their 3bet and call %’s together to see how often they continue vs your 2bet open.  If they 3bet 5% and call 15%, then they play 20% of the time when facing a 2bet raise.  And if they play 20%, they’re folding the other 80% of the time.  That’s their Fold to 2bet %.

Let's say you decide to steal from the HJ.  Let’s give the CO a Fold to 2bet % of 80%, the BTN 60%, the SB 85% and the BB 60%.  Multiply all of these together: .8x.6x.85x.6 = 24%.  So, all four players will fold to your open only 24% of the time.  Seeing as how your steal is a bluff and you want folds, the HJ isn’t a good position to steal from.

This is why we only consider stealing from the CO, BTN and SB.  With less players to get through, your steal is more likely to work.  Plus, when you open too early you’re more likely to face IP callers, and that ain’t a bread and butter situation.  You’re likely at a card disadvantage and you definitely have positional disadvantage.

“Yeah, but…”  

There are situations where it might be profitable to steal from the HJ or even sooner, but that’s what poker’s all about.  We set lots of rules for ourselves, and often the math and logic agree with this.  But poker is situational and player dependent.  You might find yourself at a table where the 4 players to your left are all extremely tight.  This might be a good spot to steal from the HJ.  Or, these 4 players might have some glaring post-flop weaknesses you can take advantage of.  Great!  Make the steal.  As long as you estimate your steal as +EV, you're good to go.

Stealing Ranges (6:40)

In the first MED on Opening Theory, I gave you my ranges by position, and these included value hands and stealing hands.  So, to discuss your stealing range, let's look at stealing from the CO and all the range considerations that go into it.


So, the total opening range I recommend in the CO is 24%.  This is all pp’s, A2s+, A8o+, K7s+, KJo+, Q9s and QJo, suited gappers 75s+ and suited connectors 65s+.  This is a total of 314 hands, and this is what I recommend asa  “standard” opening range.  But of course, we usually have some info to go off of, and we want to use that info when we’re deciding what hands to open with.

You might look at the above range and ask, “A8o or better?  Why not all Aces?”  The reason is I think the 24% frequency from the CO makes for a very strong frequency, not too wide or too tight.  It's tough for your opp’s to exploit such a balanced late position range.

Let me ask you a question: Why might we increase or decrease this range?  Here are just some of the reasons why:

Reasons to INCREASE you range and steal more often from the CO:

  • Nitty BTN and blinds who fold a lot
  • You’ve got a tight image and you think your raise will be respected
  • Your opponents have glaring post-flop weaknesses that you know how to take advantage of should they call0
  • As the chip leader on the tourney bubble, you steal more frequently to accumulate chips.  The short and medium stacks are afraid for their tourney life so they'll fold a lot to your steals.
  • You enjoy stealing or you want to practice playing in steal pots with weaker ranges.  This is a valid reason to be stealing.
  • You want to create a LAG image vs all the TAG’s at the table so you can really sock it to them when you’ve got the goods and they just don’t believe you.

Reasons to DECREASE your range and steal less often:

  • The BTN is a LP calling station and you can’t bluff him easily post-flop when he’s got position on you
  • The BTN or the blinds are agro 3bettors and you don’t know how to play against such aggression
  • You’re uncomfortable playing in steal pots (but if that’s the case, you’ve got to start doing it to get comfortable)
  • The hand you're dealt is just too crappy, you expect to get called, and don’t want to play that hand post-flop
  • You’re multi-tabling online and are involved in other key hands right now, so you fold the marginal spots to concentrate on more important matters
  • The range I give says you should steal with a specific hand like A8o or A9o.  But, you’ve had a history of finding it difficult to play those hands so you think it’s best to just fold them.

So, as you can see poker is situation and player dependent, and changing some factors can lead to stealing more or tightening up and folding more.

Whatever decision you make should be the most +EV route.  Remember that folding any hand is neutral EV.  If you decide to play a hand by raising, calling, limping, shoving, over-calling or whatever, you’re doing it because it’s +EV and better than just folding the hand and losing nothing.

There’s a great rule of thumb for stealing opportunities: When in doubt, fold

Blind Stealing Bet Sizing and Math (12:50)

What sizing should we use for our steals?

The simple answer to this is:

  • 3bb’s for cash games
  • 2.25-3bb’s for tournaments (depending on the stage of the tourney)

Keep in mind that the bigger the sizing the less callers you can expect to have.  But you don’t want to give away your hand strength with your bet sizing.

If you’re like the old me, you’d may be sizing bets bigger with bluffs, and smaller with value hands.  Or, you might even be opposite of that.  Now, lots of opponents might not notice this, but if you vary your bet sizing based on hand strength, you’re giving your perceptive opponents a leg up on you.

Think about your own reads on opponents.  Have you ever thought, “Jeez, this guy’s got a strong hand, look at that bet sizing?” or “This guy’s super weak, look at that bet sizing?”  I’m sure you have, and you made decisions based on this read.  Well, don’t let your opponents read this in your sizing.  Keep your sizing consistent between your steals and your value hands.

Cash Game Steal Bet Sizing

A 3bb bet needs to work 67% of the time as a bluff (3/4.5).  Your opponents in the blinds often fold much more frequently than that.  And for the BB to make a +EV call at this sizing, he needs to have 31% equity.  Lots of hands have this against your steal position open raise, so he’s the most likely caller.  Most tighter BTN’s will fold because of the two players yet to act, and the SB will often fold because he’s only got ½ bb invested.

Let’s look at a 4bb steal.  That needs to work 73% of the time as a bluff, quite a jump, but that bigger sizing will get more folds.  That’s good when you’re stealing, but what about when you’ve got QQ+ and AK?  You don’t want folds there, so 4bb’s is just too much to bet with value hands because you want calls.

What about 2bb’s?  Well, the smaller sizing needs to work only 57% of the time as a bluff.  But, that tiny sizing will almost guarantee the BB will call and quite often the SB and BTN as well.  And making it 2bb’s with a value hand?  Bad idea.  You want to see a HU pot with AA, not a 4way pot with 8bb’s in the middle.

Tournament Steal Bet Sizing

I generally use the 3bb sizing in the early to mid-stages and while stacks are about 25bb’s or above.  When we’re near the bubble or stacks are sub-25bb’s, that’s when I start decreasing my sizing for every open, not just the steal opens.

In a FR tournament, a 3bb open raise needs to work 56% of the time as a bluff when antes are in play [3/5.4 (3+1+.5+.9)].  That’s great as your nitty and TAG opp’s will fold quite a bit more often than that.

When stacks get shorter I tend to decrease my bet sizing but I never go below 2.25bb’s.  At 2.25bb, your open steal needs to work 48% as a bluff.  Pretty good.  This also makes it so you lose less when one of your opp’s decides to rejam on you to steal your open, the blinds and the antes.

Whether you’re playing cash games or tourneys, consistency in sizing is key.  Disguise your hand strength by consistent sizing and your opponents won’t know what to put you on.

Stealing vs Limpers (18:40)

Okay, so, it’s not always folded around to us.  Other than facing a raise, we’re often facing one or more limpers when we’re in a steal position.  So, what do we do in a steal position with a possible steal hand vs these Lame ass limpers (LAL’s)?

Well, it might be time to iso raise.  An isolation raise is a raise with intent to get it HU with a particular player.  In this instance, we’re making it look like we want just the limper in the pot with us.  But, actually what we want is everyone to fold, so our steal nets us more than just the normal blinds or blinds and antes.

Ideally you want to target limpers with a high Limp/Fold stat.  You can find this in your HUD popups or through your notes and experience with the players.  If you don’t have this in any of your popups, go ahead and add it along with Limp/Call and Limp/Raise stats.

An important consideration is that you want nitty blinds as well.  Well, with 1 bb in the pot already from the limper, the BB now only needs 27% equity (2/7.5).  And actually, the BB can often count on the limper calling as well, so he only needs 21% equity (2/9.5 when you factor in the limper’s 2bb call).  Now, that’s going to make it tough to steal when the BB calls for such good pot odds and the limper calls as well due to the big pot.

4 Keys to Stealing with Limpers

  1. Increase your sizing to 3bb + 1 per limper. Do this for all value and steal hands.  If you’re consistent with this, your opponents won’t be able to read into this bigger sizing.
  2. Look for nitty blinds and foldy limpers. You want to be reasonably sure the blinds and the limper will fold.  You want to see high Fold to Steal stats and a high Limp/Fold %.
  3. Find post-flop weaknesses. Having a limper in the pot makes it more likely the hand will see the flop.  You want to be reasonably sure you’ll have position on the flop, and you want your opp’s to be fit or fold, or flop or turn honest in case one of them calls you.
  4. Have the chips to barrel them off. This is mainly something to consider when playing in tourneys.  If the effective stacks are 15bb’s, you’re much less likely to be able to effectively barrel your opp’s off on the turn or river.  Bigger stacks are required for barreling, so if you’ve got to fire multiple streets for your post-flop bluffs, make sure you’ve got the stack sizes to work with.

STUDY: PokerTracker 4 Steal Filters (21:50)

Steal Opportunity – this first one is the easiest to find.  It’s simply under Actions and Opportunities, Preflop Opportunities, then right there at the top, Steal Opportunity.  Turn it on and you’ll be shown all the CO, BTN and SB opportunities to steal in unopened pots.  While going through these hands you can look at hand strength, the players in the blinds and the effective stack sizes to determine if this is a +EV steal spot or not.

PT4 Steal Opportunity Filter

Steal and Faced a 3bet – this is a good filter to see how you reacted to a 3bet after stealing.  Go to Actions and Opportunities Pre-flop and turn on the “Attempted Steal” under “Preflop Raises”.  Next, under Preflop Opportunities go to the Reraise Opportunity section and turn on “4bet (facing 3bet).”  When you run this filter, take a look to see if all the steals you made were advisable, and look to see how you responded to the 3bet resteal.  Should you have folded, called or 4bet re-re-stolen?

PT4 Filter: Steal and Faced a 3bet

Challenge (23:30)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Make sure you aren’t revealing your hand strength through your bet sizing.  Look at all the hands you opened in the CO, BTN and SB this month.  Do you vary your sizing by hand strength?  Do you raise more or less for value, or more or less as bluffs?  If you find that your bet sizing is telling opponent’s your hand strength, resolve to correct this error.  Follow the sizing I recommended today, and stick to it.  Once you do this for just a few sessions, it’ll become ingrained in your game and you won’t have to think about it ever again.  And you won’t be giving your opponents this simple way to exploit you.

Up Next…

In episode 100, I'll give you another Q&A.  I'll follow that with episode 101, an interview with poker pro/coach Brad Wilson.  And episode 102 will be the 4th and final class of this Blind Stealing MED. I’m gonna talk about 3bet resteals, a little more on post-flop play in steal pots, some steal defense strategies and when to consider leaving that table because they just won't let you steal.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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