Theory Fundamentals - Blockers

5 months ago - written by Sean Belton
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What is a 'Blocker'?


A blocker simply describes a card that your opponent cannot have. It can either be a card on the board or in your hand or, sometimes in live poker, a card that has been accidentally exposed.


If you’re aware of a card that your opponent doesn’t have in their hand, you instantly have an edge. You can use that information to call, bluff, or value-bet with a slightly higher degree of success.


How Do Blockers Affect My Calling Range?



A lot of the time it is quite easy to distinguish hands which are good to call with and the hands which are good to fold, but we could use some help with the hands in between. Let’s consider the following board texture:



Our opponent has fired flop, turn and river. Clearly, we can continue with a straight, sets, two pairs, and overpairs. But what about the one-pair stuff in the middle of our range? What do we do with , for example? What about ? Or ?


It may seem counter-intuitive, but the first hand from the above list that should make it into our calling range is . Why is that? Let’s see what influence these hands have in terms of blocking potential.


Despite being the strongest of the three hands in terms of raw equity, the fact that we have the means we block a lot of the missed straight draws our opponent could be bluffing with.


With , however, we don’t block any of those missed straight draws, which increases the likelihood our opponent is bluffing. On top of which, the limits the number of flopped straights our opponent can have, slightly decreasing the likelihood that they are value-betting.


It’s now easy to see why is a bad choice of hand to call with in this spot. Even though we have second pair with top kicker - very close in absolute hand strength to - we don’t block any top pair combinations, but we do block the nut flush draw with the and thus remove a lot of bluff combinations our opponent is likely to hold.


Note: Just because we block certain hands, it doesn’t mean our opponent can’t still have them. We are simply taking a spot that is otherwise very close and making it slightly less close in our favour by picking hands with good card removal.


How Do Blockers Affect My Post-Flop Bluffing Range?


For the most part, when bluffing after the flop, you can use the same logic as above. You want to bluff with hands that block the stronger parts of your opponent’s range, while leaning towards a check or fold with the hands that don’t. Let’s consider the following board texture:



Our opponent has once again fired all three streets. What type of hands can we raise on the river as a bluff? Anything with a 9 in it would be the perfect place the start. Hands such as 99, 98, and 97 are not quite strong enough to win at showdown and therefore make bad calling hands but do make good hands to raise as a bluff, as having a 9 in our hand blocks both possible straights: T-9 and 9-6.


Note: When bluffing with blockers, it’s important to make sure we do so in spot where we can have value hands as well. If we don’t have many hands that raise the river for value, then we can’t go raising all of our 9X hands, else we will be unbalanced in favour of bluffs. On this board, however, we can conceivably have T9, 96, 88, 77, and QJ for value, so we can happily turn 99, 98, and 97 into a bluff, as well as some missed club combos that include a 9.


How Do Blockers Affect My Pre-Flop Bluffing Range?



The use of blockers in this instance is a lot more open to personal interpretation of your opponent’s range as well as your own range. However, the fundamental logic remains the same: we want to bluff-raise with hands that block the strongest parts of our opponent’s range.


Let’s say our opponent has opened with a raise from the hijack, and we choose to 3-bet from the button. Our value range is going to include big pairs and big suited broadway cards, but what sort of hands do we want to include in our bluffing range? Great candidates for 3-bet bluffing hands include medium suited connectors for their playability when called, and low suited aces because of their blocking potential.


For example’s sake, let’s say we choose to 3-bet bluff with in this spot. Our opponent’s 4-bet value range from the hijack versus a button 3-bet probably looks something like JJ+, AKs, AKo. That’s 40 combinations of hands. When you consider the fact that we have the , however, that number drops to 33 combinations because our opponent can’t have the AA, AKs and AKo combinations that include the . We also block some of our opponent’s calling range by having the , for example there are now fewer available combinations of AQ, AJ and AT.


This logic is what makes AQ such a great 4-bet bluff hand, because we block AA, AK, and QQ, and still have around 30% equity versus AK, KK, and QQ if we get called.


Note: Keep in mind we are using some low suited aces to balance out an otherwise strong 3-betting range. If we 3-bet every combination of AX suited, then we will have far too many bluff combinations and thus become exploitable. Remember, we are using card removal to carefully select good bluffing hands, not just tossing in a 3-bet every time we have a bad suited ace.


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