Thoughts on stealing in SnGs (long)
What follows are some thoughts and ideas about the art and science of blind stealing in 1, 2 and 3 table NLHE SnGs. A lot of it will apply to larger tourneys, but I am focussing on the smaller SnGs because i think blind stealing is an essential skill in the smaller games. I play mostly on Pokerstars
and am using thier regular games as the model here ie non-turbo, 1500 starting stack, standard payout etc.
A lot of this is fairly standard stuff so I don't claim any originality, but I do find it works for me. Obviously I'm happy for any additions, corrections and clarifications.
1. What stealing is and what it isn't?
Strictly speaking a steal is a raise that is designed to get the blinds to fold without any more action. A 3BB button raise with AA is a value raise not a steal as more often than not we want some action. A steal is when you hold your breath and pray that the blinds fold.
2. Why we need to steal
The most obvious reason is so that we don't blind out. As the blinds get to be a bigger proportion of our stack we just cannot afford to wait for premium hands to raise with. Also, a successful stealing strategy will more often than not get us up the leader board. This is especially true when the blinds get very big and a shove of t4000 wins an uncontested t1000 pot.
3. When to start stealing
I play a fairly standard TAG game so will usually find myself with a stack at about the t1500 I started with when the blinds go up to 25/50. At this point I will open up my range a bit anyway, but if I am on the button and the blinds are very tight (regular multitablers are great here) then I might pop in a little steal but I can quite easily let this blind level pass without any stealing. When the blinds are at 50/100 is when the action really begins.
4. Who to steal from
Stack size is probably the most important consideration here. If the aim is to get the villain to fold then our raise needs to be some sort of a threat to them. A player with a massive stack may call really wide just because they can and a very small stack may call wide out of desperation. Assuming we have a middling stack and the aim is to get a fold from the blinds, we should be targeting other middling stacks. The idea is that they will view our stack as a threat to theirs and will not want to get involved with us without a premium hand.
5. How much to bet
This is a critical decision and one that depends on the state of the game and relative stack sizes. I've divided this into two categories: the standard steal and the all in steal.
The standard steal will be a 2.5BB or 3BB raise when we have enough chips in our stack to fold the hand at a later stage without knackering ourselves. Suppose we are in a STT with t1800, blinds are at 50/100 and the blinds have about t1500 each. A 2.5BB raise will often steal the pot and open up a gap between us and these other two middling stacks. If one of them plays back with a reraise or they open on the flop having called then we can lay the cards down without too much damage being done. On the other hand if we are in the small blind with t1800 and the bigblind has t500 then a 2.5BB steal is pointless - we should be putting them all in (if we decide to steal) because if they play the hand at all they are pot committed, and we will find ourselves with the right odds
All-in stealing starts when the stacks get down to about 10-12BB (either ours or the targets'). The usual situation is where there are three or four people eliminated, our stack is about t2000 and the blinds are at 100/200. This is where the fun starts and it is usually the stage that defines who will do well. Many people freeze at this point of the game and don't want to get their chips in with anything but a top hand. This is what we are taking advantage of to boost our own stack. Opening all-in is quite a threat even to a big stack and it usually takes a very big hand to call it with, usually AQ+, JJ+. As the game gets really deep, and even the bigstack has only 10BB, then calling ranges will open right up, but then the rewards for successful stealing are that much greater too. The key to successful all-in stealing is to remember that we are betting that someone doesn't have a calling hand. We are using our stack to put pressure on their tournament - they know they can't win the hand other than by having the better hand, it's as simple as that.
6. What cards to steal with
The short answer is any two cards - we are betting that they cannot call. This is particularly true of a standard steal: if we raise with junk then it is easy to lay down if we need to. If they call we still have the option of bluffing a c-bet or value betting if we hit the flop big - at least with junk hands we should have a good idea of where we stand. The all-in steal is a whole different animal though as the option to fold has gone. If we are betting that the target doesn't have a calling hand and then they call we need to consider what they might be calling with, our hole cards become our insurance. Because we are stealing we can expect to have the worse hand when the villain calls - if we have the better hand either the villain is a moron or we were betting for value instead. Suppose there are five people at the table, we have t1800, blinds are 100/200 antes 25, we open shove from the cut-off and the big blind calls their t1500 stack. In this situation we can expect them to turn over a very high pair or a very high ace. We are going to be in pretty poor shape and probably in need of a minor miracle. There's one hand that we will almost certainly not want to be holding and that is A6o. A rag ace is dominated by any Ax that the villain calls with and isn't in great shape against KK, QQ. Given that a lot of calling hands will be a big ace we are better off shoving with 9Ts, a lot better off. A rag ace looks like a good hand to steal with ('Hey! I've got an ace!') but it is so easily dominated that when you run into AKs you'd be better off turning over 72o!
Ace-rag can be a very useful stealing hand at other times, though. For example, at the sharp end of the tournament when there are 3 or 4 players left people's calling ranges will have opened right up - maybe to the extent that any bit of paint will do. But this is perhaps getting into the topic of semi-stealing, ie we half expect that the villain will call with any half reasonable hand. This is a whole new area that is beyond what I want to say here - for now stealing is done when you don't expect
to get called.
I hope I've said something that might be of interest to somebody - it has been a useful exercise for me to put some of my thoughts on stealing into words.