How to Steal in Tournaments

In order to be a winning tournament player, you have to include blind stealing as apart of your overall strategy. Stealing the blinds will help you to keep your stack above average, so that you can avoid having to resort to a push/fold strategy. It also gives you a moderately active image. That way you can still get some action when you want it.

That said, stealing, much like taking something without asking in the real world, comes with risks. Consequences too. If you want to minimize your risks, and avoid getting caught, there are a few things you should be aware of when stealing in tournaments.

Low Blinds = Not Worth Your Time

You won’t see a sophisticated jewel thief shaking down a kid for his lunch money. It’s not worth the risk of having to spend years in prison over a couple bucks.

You should approach the early stages of a tournament with a similar mindset. Poker tournaments will start players with 2k, 5k or 10k chip stacks, and the blinds will start at 10/20 or 25/50. The blinds will only represent 1% (or less) of your stack.

1% isn’t worth your time, especially when considering the consequences. One consequence would be having to deal with the awkward situations you might find yourself in post flop. Stealing early on will also give a loose image. You’ll be given less credit in the later stages, making your steals less effective, not to mention less profitable.

I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t steal the blinds in the early stages. What I am saying is that you should focus on stacks of cash, gold or diamonds — not milk money. Pick your spots wisely early on.

Stealing the Blinds with Min-Raises

Once the antes kick in, then you can start to mix in some blind steals. With the antes added in, the pot can represent as little as 10% or as much as 40% of your stack. That’s money worth stealing.

The approach I take when stealing blinds is to min-raise. Not everyone agrees with this. Let me explain why I like it though.

It all comes down to pot size. For example, when stealing the blinds, the idea should be to invest as little as possible while trying to maximize your returns. If the pot has 750 in it at 100/200/50, and you decide to 3.5x to steal, you’re trying to win 750 by investing 700. You have to win the blinds approximately 1 out of 2 attempts (50%) to breakeven. However, if you min-raise to 400, you only have to win approximately 1 out of 3 attempts (33%) to breakeven.

Which is easier to accomplish — winning 33% of the time or winning 50% of the time? 33%, all day long.

When you min-raise, your c-bets are smaller too. Think about it — raise up to 700, and say that you’re called by the big blind. There is 1950 in the pot. Your c-bet will have to be something like 1100 chips. However, if you min-raise instead, the pot will only be 1350. Your c-bet can be 650 here, almost 500 chips less.

My whole idea behind the min-raise is to reduce the risk of losing a lot of money. When I min-raise, I reduce the amount I can lose stealing, c-betting the flop and I also reduce the amount of times I’m restolen from, since there is less dead money in the pot.

Being Aware of Your Opponents When Stealing the Blinds

It should go without saying, but if you don’t want to get caught stealing, you really need to pay attention to your opponents. Look for two things — image and stack size.

Image is easy. Pay attention to what your opponents do. Do they play a lot of hands or only the nuts? Do they give up their blinds without a fight, or do they constantly defend them? Don’t only consider the images of the blinds either, consider the players on the button and in the cutoff too (depending on where you’re stealing from). The more players that you have to go through, naturally the higher the risk. You can reduce this risk by adjusting your stealing frequency and value/bluff hands, depending on how you perceive your opponents.

Stack sizes are important too. During the late stages of a tournament, you’ll find that a lot of players are hovering right around 15-25 big blind stacks. These are perfect stack sizes for resteals, because the pot will make up so much of their stacks.

If you want to avoid the awkward spots of having to call off with 98s because you got cute and tried to steal, you’ll want to narrow your range to more hands that you’re willing to call shoves with (than not). That’s the only way to avoid getting caught stealing with resteal stacks to your left, and having to pay the consequence — a sizeable chunk of your stack.