Poker pro Ryan Laplante won his first World Series of Poker bracelet in 2016 in the $565 ‘PLOssus’ event for $190,328. He followed that up with an even better year on the tournament circuit, finishing second in the $1,500 NLH/PLO event for another $165,983, runner-up in the Wynn Summer Classic for $161,169, and fourth in the Goliath Poker Series for $84,393.
The Brainerd, Minnesota-native now has a total of $1.5 million in career tournament earnings. Laplante, who was profiled in Card Player’s A Poker Life series, is also a poker instructor with Chip Leader Coaching and recently started his own YouTube vlog to break down sessions and hands.
Card Player caught up with Laplante to discuss blind defense.
Card Player: Can you share your thoughts on defending the big blind?
Ryan Laplante: Defending your big blind relies on a lot of different factors. It relies on your stack size, the position the raise came from, the raise size, the size of the antes, and also things like ICM (Independent Chip Model) considerations.
Another thing that can affect whether or not you defend your big blind is how good your opponent is. If a weaker player opens, whether they have a tight range or a loose range, you’re going to have much easier postflop decisions against that player.
If a really good reg opens to just over two times the big blind and I look down at J-7 offsuit, I’m not excited about it, but I’m probably calling. But if a weak player opens to 2.5x, I am definitely calling, and it’s not even a close decision.
CP: It’s interesting that you bring up J-7 offsuit as an example, when most amateurs wouldn’t play that hand from any position.
RL: It’s a pretty big leak in your game if you aren’t defending hands like J-7 offsuit in certain situations. Yes, J-7 offsuit can be a marginal hand, but there are times when it’s also a slam-dunk spot to call.
Understanding the difference between a situation where you are supposed to defend 45 percent of hands vs. 85 percent of hands is really important. If you are in a spot where you are supposed to be peeling 80-85 percent of hands, and you’re calling with only 30 percent, that’s a HUGEamount of equity you are missing out on.
CP: Isn’t everyone supposed to be losing money out of the blinds?
RL: That’s true. Unless you are in one of the softest games ever, everyone does lose money from the blinds. It’s just a matter of how much you’re losing.
If you’re defending only half the time you’re supposed to be, you are just hemorrhaging chips and you don’t even realize it. You’re goal is to be losing 30-50 big blinds per 100, and you could be losing 80. That’s a huge gap and can make the difference between, let’s say having a comfortable stack on the bubble or having to squeak into the money.
CP: Let’s talk specifically about the opening raise size, which these days is just over 2×. Back in the day when the opening raise was traditionally 3x, was that more of an incentive to fold?
RL: It’s a matter of what odds you are getting. The reason why I like J-7 offsuit as an easy defense of my big blind against a 2.2x raise, is because I’m getting somewhere between 4:1 and 5:1 depending on the blind structure and antes.
CP: A weaker player might argue that playing J-7 offsuit out of position will only get them into trouble. So how good does someone have to be postflop to start defending their big blind with a wider range?
RL: Well that’s part of it. If you want to be a better poker player, you need to be comfortable playing hands that aren’t the nuts. If you think flopping a pair of jacks with J-7 offsuit from out-of-position is a bad thing then you need to adjust your approach.
Playing poker isn’t about avoiding tough situations. People don’t get coolered every hand. And also, don’t be afraid to make a read. If you think your pair is no good, you’re always allowed to fold. The point is that you shouldn’t throw away the equity your hand already has just because you’re not sure what to do with middle pair.
Now, you can probably beat a $1-$2, or $2-$5 game by just playing solid preflop poker and avoiding all tough situations, but you’re not going to crush that game. If you want to maximize your wins and play top-level poker, then learn to be uncomfortable.
CP: Alright, let’s try a random situation that may come up for our readers. You’re in a $1,500 weekend event at the WSOP, and it’s level 2. An unknown player in middle position raises to a standard 2.5x, and you’re in the big blind. What percentage of your hands are you calling with?
RL: So it’s pre-ante, I have a deep stack, and I don’t know the raiser. I’d estimate that I’d defend with about 75 percent of my hands. That might seem really high to some of your readers, but I’ve been seeing other player adjust in the last year or so.
For example, I think most players now realize that suited hands are good defends. Broadway cards are good defends. So the question is, how deep into the offsuit hands are you willing to go? 10-8? Absolutely. 8-6? Happily. I’d say you start drawing the line somewhere around 8-4 offsuit, depending on how big the open was.