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Blocking Bets

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[vital]Myth    United States. Feb 13 2007 17:17. Posts 12159

The Blocking Bet
(“block” for short)
By Corwin Cole

n - A small to medium bet made by an aggressor with a medium strength hand out of position. It is designed to define her hand, extract some value from draws and marginal holdings, prevent light bluffs, and control the size of the pot. More often than not, this kind of bet occurs on the turn, but it can also be employed on the river.

Fundamental Theorem
A blocking bet does not follow the Fundamental Theorem as strongly as many other types of bets in poker. This is because it does not induce opponents to make large mistakes (they will often get 3:1 or slightly better on a draw), and it prevents them from bluffing at you when your hand is worth a call. By design, its main purpose is to prevent you from making big mistakes, either folding the best hand or calling too many chips with the worst hand.

The idea is that your hand has some strength and is worth another bet, but you aren’t able to play for a large pot with it. So, you bet around half the pot, preventing your opponent from bluffing (if you had checked) and inducing your opponent to raise with better hands, in which case you can confidently fold. Thus you can only ever be making the mistake of betting half the pot into a player with a better hand, which rates to be a significantly smaller mistake on average than folding to a bluff or calling, say, a pot-sized bet.

Countermeasures and Dangers
Generally, the blocking bet fights aggressive players who have position on you and will float continuation bets on the flop in order to set up turn bluffs. However, it can be countered by daring bluffs when your opponent cleverly raises the turn after you block, despite holding air or a draw. It also tends to put you in a tough position on the river when your opponent just calls, because now you have fired two barrels and he has neither backed down nor shown significant strength, and your hand has to be of medium strength to employ this move in the first place, so you’re not sure where you stand. Your hand is probably only going to be called by a better hand if you contest the pot a third time on the river, unless the river helped you.

Recall that, in general you are in tough spots with medium hands out of position against aggressive players. When blocking, you are admitting that you’ll probably make a mistake now, and possibly again on the river, a reasonable percentage of the time, but you are trying to minimize your losses when making those mistakes. If you opted instead to check/call the turn and river, you’d often pay more than you would if you blocked the turn and then check/called the river.

When you block on the river rather than the turn, you should generally be a lot more confident in folding to a raise. The vast majority of players, up to a point where people are good, fearless aggressors (roughly $2-4 online), have very little courage to make a big play on the river when you have already bet it. It will be very rare that a blocking bet on the river will get raised by a counter-bluff. Because this is true, you should be more willing to counter-bluff a possible blocking bet on the river than the turn, but you must be very confident that your opponent understands the concept of a block and has the ability to fold when seeing the river. Many people are just unable to fold if the hand gets to the river, and a huge proportion of players are unfamiliar with advanced concepts like these. So, be very careful with the way you approach fancy plays like this, and make sure you are absolutely certain of your assumptions before going ahead with a bold move like counter-bluffing a blocking bet.

Now, notice that, by blocking, we have already assumed that our opponent is clever enough to set up later-street bluffs, after calling on the flop with either a draw or a mediocre hand. This is one major reason we might use the blocking bet in the first place. And because our opponent does have some bluffing equity on the turn and river, although he may technically have called with poor odds to a draw previously, he can still win the pot often enough to make those initial calls profitable. When you are on the other side of a possible blocking bet, consider what would make you fold if you were the blocker, and use that (sparingly) to combat blocks.

To counter possible blocking bets, you should be aware of those people who view you as an aggressive player and are probably solid, thinking, tight players themselves. When you find opponents like this, be careful that you are certain you do have an aggressive image and not that of a calling station. If you seem to be a station, these half-pot turn and/or river bets will be confident value bets rather than scared blocks.

Image Considerations
With the blocking bet, as with everything in poker, you have to mix up your game in order to remain inexploitable. Bob Ciaffone, not long ago, wrote an article for advising that you make large turn bets if you’re going to bet the turn at all. His arguments are fairly compelling.

Suppose, then, that we tend to bet hard on the turn if we’re going to play it, but we also employ a half-pot blocking bet at times. Any observant opponent after a sufficient number of hands will catch on to this, and play perfectly against us, recognizing our large turn bets as strong and our medium ones as marginal. Thus we must at least sometimes make medium turn bets with strong hands, and preferably we must be willing at times to make large blocking bets as well.

Now, suppose instead that we never employ a blocking bet. Then it will be clear that any medium bet, looking like a block, is actually a value bet and we will gain nothing from it. Finally, suppose that we do instead always bet the same amount, perhaps around two-thirds of the pot, whether we are blocking or value betting. In this case, we are probably forfeiting a slight edge over our observant opponents who do not have perfect statistics on our betting frequencies. By making slightly larger bets on average when value betting and slightly smaller ones on average when blocking, by all appearances (to most opponents) it will seem as though we are making identical average bets in both cases, and therefore they will misplay their own hands slightly more often. It is easier, and still quite reasonable, to always bet the same amount regardless of the meaning of the bet, but it is a bit better to imperfectly mix up your bet amounts if your opponents do not have perfect memories. And they don’t.

Lastly, if you block too frequently, then it becomes clearer what you mean by checking instead. Recall that we’re considering being out of position against aggressive players who are willing to set up turn and river bluffs. So we probably know that check/raising against this kind of player is a good idea when we have a strong hand, and this is something many players do. But if you tend to use blocking bets a lot, then by checking where you might normally block, you imply that you’re almost always going to check/fold or check/raise, in which case it’s correct for your opponent to take free cards on draws and bet only the strongest of hands. This is a major reason why blocking too often is a bad idea. Overall, a blocking bet should be something you use rarely, and should only be employed when you genuinely feel that your opponent is the type of player who will induce mistakes from you in position when you check. Because an opponent who gives you this much trouble rates to be a good, observant player, using a blocking bet every now and then will also mix up your game and maintain your unpredictability, which is beneficial.

Disadvantages and Alternatives
The blocking bet is not a maneuver you should find yourself using a lot. It implies discomfort with the situation and an unclear read on your opponent. If you know your opponent well (and he is more predictable than random), then you should probably never have to use a blocking bet. This is because you should have a good idea of where you stand without having to prevent yourself from making mistakes. Instead, you should be able to check/re-evaluate and be correct in your re-evaluation often enough to make few mistakes, or you should be able to value bet, confident that you’re justified in doing so right now. Blocking is, in a way, refusing to decide between checking and value betting.

In general, if you are playing properly and developing good reads on your opponents, you should then be blocking infrequently. But without a read or against a very tough opponent, this move can sometimes be employed for its immediate merits and its benefits for your image. And even against opponents over whom you have a significant advantage, you should sometimes employ a block just for the sake of opacity. The more mixed-up you can make your game appear, the tougher you will seem to your opponents, and the better things will play out in the long run.


#1: NLHE, full-ring.

Relevant stacks
Hero – MP3 (100xBB)
Villain – BTN (100xBB)
Preflop: folds to Hero, who raises AJo to 4xBB. Aggressive Villain on button calls. Blinds fold.
Flop: heads-up, pot is 9.5xBB. [ Jd Qc 6s ]. Hero bets 6xBB, a standard amount for him that can be either a continuation or value bet. Villain calls.
Turn: heads-up, pot is 21.5xBB. [ Jd Qc 6s 4h ]. Hero bets 11xBB, Villain raises 29xBB to 40xBB, Hero folds.

#2: NLHE, full-ring.

Relevant stacks
Hero – MP3 (100xBB)
Villain – BTN (100xBB)
Preflop: folds to Hero, who raises AJo to 4xBB. Aggressive Villain on button calls. Blinds fold.
Flop: heads-up, pot is 9.5xBB. [ As Th 2s ]. Hero bets 6xBB, a standard amount for him that can be either a continuation or value bet. Villain calls.
Turn: heads-up, pot is 21.5xBB. [As Th 2s 7h ]. Hero bets 11xBB, Villain raises 29xBB to 40xBB, Hero folds.

#3: NLHE, 6-max.

Relevant stacks
Hero – CO (170xBB)
Villain – BTN (320xBB)
Preflop: folds to Hero, who raises 77 to 4xBB. Aggressive Villain on button calls. Blinds fold.
Flop: heads-up, pot is 9.5xBB. [ 9s 4h 2d ]. Hero bets 6xBB, a standard amount for him that can be either a continuation or value bet. Villain calls.
Turn: heads-up, pot is 21.5xBB. [ 9s 4h 2d Ts ]. Hero bets 11xBB, Villain can no longer bluff light and folds.

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Eh, I can go a few more orbits in life, before taxes blind me out - PoorUserLast edit: 29/03/2007 03:16


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