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The Blocking Bet in No Limit Hold’em

By Tony Guerrera

Being out of position in no limit hold’em presents some tough decisions. When you have a monster, how do you extract the most value? When you have a decent, but vulnerable, hand, how do you extract value from hands you have beaten while, simultaneously, protecting your stack against hands that have you beaten? In this article, we’ll examine an important play to have in your arsenal when you are out of position: the blocking bet.

If you check to an opponent in position, there are two problematic outcomes that can occur when he bets. First, he might make a bet that you are forced to call with a losing hand. Second, he might make a bet that forces you to lay down a winning hand. Another problem with checking out of position occurs when facing an opponent who thoroughly understands value betting; against such an opponent, you will never get any value when you have his marginal hands beaten because he will check behind with his marginal hands. Fortunately, there is a way to minimize these problems against most opponents…the blocking bet.

A blocking bet is a bet made by an out-of-position player with the intention of preventing an opponent in position from making a problematic bet when checked to. This type of bet can be made on the flop, the turn, or the river. Below are two examples to illustrate this concept. Both of these examples refer to play on the river, but again, this type of play can be useful on any round of betting.

First, suppose that you have 30% of your opponent’s hands beaten. The pot is $100, and if you check to your opponent, he will bet $100 every time. If that’s the case, you are a underdog to win the hand. However, you are only getting odds to call, meaning that you have to fold. In the absence of any betting action on the river, your EV is $30, but when you check to this opponent, your EV drops from $30 to $0. Let’s see how a blocking bet can preserve some of your EV.

Instead of checking, suppose you bet $30. If you bet $30, let’s say that your opponent will fold the bottom 20% of his hands, call with the middle 60% of his hands, and raise with the top 20% of his hands (if he raises, you fold). The table below lists all the possible outcomes with their probabilities of occurring and their respective payouts.

Outcome

Probability

Payout

Opponent Folds

.2

+$100

Opponent Calls with Worse Hand

.1

+$130

Opponent Calls with Better Hand

.5

-$30

Opponent Raises with Better Hand

.2

-$30

The EV of the blocking bet is . By throwing in a blocking bet against this opponent, you increase your EV by $12.

Second, suppose that you have 65% of your opponent’s hands beaten. The pot is $100, and if you check, your opponent will bet $60 with the top 50% of hands in his distribution. The odds against you winning when he bets are . You are getting odds to call, meaning that you need to call this bet. The table below lists all the possible outcomes with their probabilities of occurring and their respective payouts when you check and call when your opponent bets.

Outcome

Probability

Payout

Opponent Checks Behind

.5

$100

Opponent Bets; You Call; You Win

.15

$160

Opponent Bets; You Call; You Lose

.35

-$60

The EV of this line of play is . Now, instead of checking and calling when your opponent bets, suppose that you throw in a blocking bet of $40. When you bet $40, your opponent folds the lowest 40% of his hands, raises with the top 10% of his hands, and calls with the other 60% of his hands. The table below lists all the possible outcomes with their probabilities of occurring and their respective payouts.

Outcome

Probability

Payout

You Bet; Opponent Folds

.4

$100

You Bet; Opponent Calls; You Win

.25

$140

You Bet; Opponent Calls; You Lose

.25

-$40

You Bet; Opponent Raises; You Fold

.1

-$40

The EV of this blocking bet is . By making this $40 blocking bet against this opponent instead of checking to him, you increase your EV by $8.

These two examples show that a blocking bet can preserve some of your EV. There are two mechanisms at work. Sometimes, a blocking bet can force your opponent to fold better hands. Other times, a blocking bet forces your opponent to call with worse hands, hands that he would have normally checked with from behind had you just checked. While these examples covered blocking bets in the context of river play, notice that blocking bets can be used in a wide range of other circumstances. For example, if you have a draw, a blocking bet may help you draw more cheaply. Betting with a draw also means that you can win the hand if your opponent folds-your opponent can’t fold if you check to him. Some players take using a blocking bet to draw cheaply to an extreme though. They will use a minimum bet into a large pot on the flop hoping that no one will raise them. If you are against such an opponent, raise him mercilessly to prevent him from getting good odds on his draw. Other players use this minimum bet as a trap, or to feign a trap. If you are against such an opponent, and you have a draw, take advantage of the huge odds you are getting. When facing minimum bets from early position, know what your opponent is doing, and then respond accordingly.

Of course, it goes without saying that a blocking bet isn’t an automatic play. Your opponent has to have a response distribution to your blocking bet that makes the blocking bet higher EV than his response distribution if you check to him. One very important example of this is when playing a keen opponent who knows that you will fold most of your hands to a raise on the river. If you continually throw out blocking bets, only to fold when this observant player raises, then the blocking bet is a horrible play. Against such players, you often need to resort to checking and calling on the river as opposed to throwing out a blocking bet, or you need to be prepared to fold less when your out-of-position bets are raised. The bottom line is that the blocking bet is a necessary tool to carry in your no limit hold’em toolbox, and you’ll find that it’ll help you in a wide range of situations. Just make sure you are using the right tool for the right job.

Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker by the Numbers


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