Today we want to discuss a play that is underutilized by no limit hold’em players. Rest assured, plenty of players use it and understand it, but for those who do not, which is most, you can use it quite effectively.
What is a blocking bet?
Typically blocking bet is a bet that one makes on the river to block a bigger bet by your opponent whenever you play poker for real money or not. Thus you make the blocking bet when out of position; that is, when you are not last to act. Blocking bets make you money, by losing less than you would have. For example, if you bet one-fourth of the pot on the river and your opponent just calls with the better hand then you save money if your opponent would have bet half the pot, say and you would have called that amount. Essentially, you are looking for a cheap show down. The blocking bet is also used to discourage a bluff by an opponent. Checking shows weakness, and this induces bluffs. Betting indicates strength and opponents typically do not raise when they sense strength unless they have a very strong hand themselves.
When It’s Better To Use Blocking Bet?
Obviously you do not want to make a blocking bet with a great hand. You want to bet your hand for value in such cases. A good candidate for a blocking bet is something like top pair with an okay kicker.
For example, you are playing 1/2 NL and have T[d]-J[s] in the BB and are heads up with another player. The board reads: T[s]-7[d]-6[d]-2[s]-2[c]. You have top pair, but it certainly isn’t a great hand. The turn and river cards look pretty safe and if your opponent was slow playing a hand like 7[c]-6[c] then you just caught up. Nevertheless, your nine kicker is nothing to get excited about, since lots of better tens are possible. You could also be dead to a flopped straight but the paired board should cause some worry to the opponent and moreover, if you lead here, a player with a straight is unlikely to come over the top now that the straight is no longer the nuts.
Let’s say the pot is $44, with you having bet on the flop and turn with only this other player calling. A $10 bet on the river qualifies as a blocking bet. A player with a hand like K[s]-T[h] may conclude that he/she now holds the best hand if you check the river and consequently fire a $15-$20 value bet. Moreover, a check may induce a bluff from a busted flush draw. If you check and your opponent bets $30, you have a very difficult decision to make. By betting, you create a situation in which a raise from your opponent carries much more weight. It takes a lot of courage (or foolishness) to come over the top with a busted draw or just a lone pair on the river. Your bet blocks your opponent from exploiting your weakness.
The bet also can make you money by garnering calls from weaker hands that would fold to a larger bet or just check behind. In our example, a hand like 7[c]-8[d] will likely call a $10 bet in a $44 pot. That’s not to say it’s a great call, but if your opponent has come with you this far in the pot with a hand like that, then a small bet will probably get called too. A hand like T[d]-9[d] will almost surely call from sheer frustration, having missed all 17 outs.
Examples Of Great Blocking Bet in Poker
Another situation in which the blocking bet is useful is when a scare card hits the river. A scare card could be a card that completes the flush or straight draw or just a high card like an ace. For example, you have K-K and have lead a Q high flop and a safe turn card, but now an Ace hits the river. A check may induce a bluff from an astute opponent, who can infer that after raising preflop and leading the flop and turn a check on the river likely means that you aren’t happy to see the ace. A check induces a bluff whereas a bet discourages it.
If you lead the river and your opponent comes over the top, you have a much better idea of what sort of hand your opponent has. It is unlikely that your opponent called you down with merely ace high, so it is more likely that your opponent has aces up or has slow played a set and you can fold in pretty good conscience.
Consider a case in which a flush card hits in a contested pot. You have K[d]-J[h] in the CO (cut off), lead the flop and called the button’s raise on a board of J[d]-9[d]-3[h]. Let’s say the turn brought a 4[c] and the river now brings a 2[d]. Let’s say you both checked on the turn. You could check here, but that indicates weakness and your opponent with a Q-J may just put out a half pot bet that will put you to a difficult decision. You can prevent this bluff by making a blocking bet. A hand like A[d]-J[c] will rightly conclude from your check that you do not have the flush and so will make a normal value bet, which will also give you a difficult decision. The smaller blocking bet also has a better chance of being called by a hand like Q-J or J-T, though passive opponents will probably check behind on the river with such hands.
Let’s consider one final example. You have J[h]-5[h] in the BB. You flop a flush draw and a MP (middle position) limper bets half the pot which is called by the button and you. Everyone checks the turn and the river completes the flush. You have a strong hand but not great. Unless one of the players has the nut flush, a bet is unlikely to be raised. A smaller bet may also earn a call by a weak hand like top pair depending on the player. As in the previous examples, you are hoping for a cheaper showdown than you might get if you check and allow the better hand to bet cold. If the button has K[h]-Q[h] and everyone checks to him/her on the river, a bet of more than one-quarter of the pot is surely forthcoming. If you make the blocking bet, however, the button will fear the nut flush and only call.
Now that we have some possible situations before us, we want to introduce a final variable. As with all poker plays, you must use the blocking bet selectively. There is little point in putting out a blocking bet against a calling station. Just bet your hand for value. The calling station will call with all sorts of hands that you have beat, so go ahead and make a good-sized value bet.
Similarly there is little point in putting out a blocking bet against a passive player. This player is unlikely to bluff you on the river or to make a thin value bet. If you think there is a real chance that you are behind then check. This player will let you know if you are up against a good hand.
Another player that we would not waste a blocking bet on is the weak-tight player. This player is usually just as scared of the river flush card as you are. Either bluff that card and push the weak-tight player out or check as the weak-tight player is only betting with the flush.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the basic loose aggressive player who will pounce on river weakness. Checking induces a bluff. If you have a strong hand then this player is a good candidate for check-raising the river, but with a vulnerable holding a bet on the river discourages a bluff that you may not want to try and pick off.
Finally the basic tight aggressive opponent is another candidate to try this play on. Checking may indicate to this player that you are not happy with your hand, and this can result in a value bet larger than what you could have paid for the showdown. Again, the purpose of the blocking bet is to lose less money than you would otherwise lose by checking and calling a bet. As with the loose aggressive opponent if you check the river scare card, an astute tight aggressive opponent may attempt to push you off your hand.
Exploiting the Blocking Bet
We described the blocking bet and gave particular instances in which it ought to be used along with types of opponents to use it against. One opponent you should avoid attempting the blocking bet on is an experienced aggressive opponent. These players have seen tons of blocking bets, recognize them, and exploit them. The blocking bet is designed to get to a cheaper showdown than a check followed by a call. Thus exploiting an opponent’s blocking bet is achieved by denying a cheap showdown with either a bluff raise or a value raise.
In the bluff raise play, you spot a blocking bet and put out a big raise to steal the pot away from a presumably better hand than your own but not strong enough to stand up to a raise. Let’s consider an example of this play. In a 25c/50c no limit game, you have J[h]-10[s] on the button and limp in behind two middle position limpers, the small blind completes and the big blind checks.
The flop is 9[s]-Q[d]-3[h]. Everyone checks to you and you bet $2. Only the big blind calls your bet.
The turn is a blank 4[c], and after the big blind checks you bet $4 and the big blind calls. The river is no help, 7[c], but the big blind bets $1. Is this a blocking bet or a cleverly crafted value bet? At these stakes, it seems highly likely to be a blocking bet. It is a $1 bet into a $14.50 pot; that is not strength. The big blind most likely has called you down with a one pair hand and probably not much of a kicker.
From the bet size, you can reasonably infer that the big blind would like to showdown a weak hand for a very cheap price. The only way you are winning this hand is to bet. Bluffing rivers with busted draws is generally not something you want to get in the habit of doing, but if you can spot opportunities such as this one, then you give yourself a much better chance of success. In this example, a raise of something like $8 or $9 will probably get the job done, though you will need to adjust based on the opponent and what sorts of river bets you have seen this player fold to in the past.
If you make a value raise, then you exploit the blocking bet by charging more for showdown. Let’s stay with the above example and change the river card to an 8[c]. Now you have the straight when the big blind bets out $1. If you think that a $9 raise will fold out whatever weak holding the big blind has, then you need to bet less here as a raise. Something small that the big blind can call, say only a $5 raise.
Of course, with the nuts, things appear easy. Let’s take a different example where you aren’t quite so strong. You have A[s]-J[s] and raise to $1.50 in middle position. The small blind calls and the flop is: J[h]-8[c]-2[s]. The small blind leads out for $1.50 and you raise to $5, which the small blind calls. The pot is now $13.50.
The turn is a 6[s], and the small blind check-calls your $9 bet. The river is a 6[h], and the small blind leads out $5 into the $31.50 pot. This is likely a blocking bet with a hand like K-J, Q-J or J-10 looking for a cheap showdown. Most players find it nearly irresistible to call a mini-raise on the river, but if you think you can get more, then you should raise to that amount. In this example, the small blind has shown a willingness to call larger bets, so we would raise to $15 or so. If you were to just bet $15 on the river, the small blind might fold, but after putting out $5 you are only asking for $10 more, and there is a greater likelihood of that being called.
As you move up in levels and encounter more skilled players at your favorite best poker site, you can employ more variations of the blocking bet and its related plays. Though you should generally avoid blocking bets against experienced players, you can make what appear to be blocking bets but are really ploys to induce raises from the skilled opponent while you have a big hand. When the skilled opponent attempts to pick off your blocking bet, you then come over the top, and usually the pot is large enough at this point to justify a push. Pot odds will be good for your opponents and they will often make a mistake and call.
For example, let’s reverse rolls in the above example. The middle position player raises and you call in the small blind with 8[s]-8[h], flopping the set. You make the sucker bet on the river, perhaps reading your aggressive opponent for Aces. When he/she raises to $15 you now push in the rest of your stack. Assuming you both start the hand with $50 stacks, your opponent has to call $19.50 in a pot of $80.50. Those are better than 4 to 1 odds and difficult to turn down, though a solid opponent will in that situation. At the lower levels and against less skilled opponents, the sucker bet is going to be a wasted play. Your fake blocking bet will most likely function as a real blocking bet costing you a lot of money.
At the lower stakes, you should be making straightforward blocking bets in appropriate spots against appropriate players. Similarly, you should be on the lookout for other players employing the blocking bet and exploit these bets by bluff raising or raising your good hands for value. Good Luck!