The concept of blockers in poker has been around for a while but, until recently, it’s one that has been far more stressed in Omaha games. Lately, however, we’re seeing the concept applied more in Texas Hold’em as well. While the value of blockers may not be as high in Hold’em as it is in Omaha, they’re still well worth considering as a part of a greater overall game plan.
If you’re new to this concept or have heard a bit about it and are looking to get more insights and ideas, you’ve come to the right place. This article is fully dedicated to explaining how to get the most value out of your blockers in different situations. Whether you’re trying to catch a bluff, considering bluffing yourself, or figuring out if you should go for value, understanding the concept of blockers can be very helpful and significantly improve your overall poker strategy.
Blockers: They Are Exactly What They Sound Like
If you’re completely new to the concept of blockers and have just heard the term being thrown around, your initial idea or assumption about what these are is probably correct. As the name suggests, blockers are cards that block certain hands. In other words, they make certain hands less likely or completely impossible in your opponents’ poker range.
It is best explained with examples of flushes. If there are three hearts on the board and you’re holding the Ace of hearts in your hand (with another non-heart card), you may not have the nut flush but you can also be 100% certain that none of the other players still active in the hand have it either. By holding the A♥, you’re blocking the best possible flush, which can be a very useful piece of information that impacts how you play the hand.
Of course, this is only the most extreme of examples. The idea of blockers can be applied in other situations as well. For example, if you are holding 99 and the board comes T76, your opponents are half as likely to have the nuts because you’re holding two of the four key cards. This doesn’t mean that they’ll never have a 9 themselves, of course; it’s just that hands with a 9 are blocked which makes them less likely – although you’ll still need to account for other important facts as well.
Now that we’ve introduced the concept of blockers, the rest of this guide will deal with various ways how you can utilize this concept in your day-to-day play. While we can’t cover all the possible situations that may occur at the tables, we’ll try to go over some of the most important ones where your knowledge of blockers can come in handy.
Blockers & Bluffing: A Powerful Weapon When Used Correctly
The first thing we’ll look into is how the concept of blockers in poker can be applied to situations where you’re planning to run a bluff. We’ve already alluded to this possibility earlier, and now we’ll expand on the idea.
Say you’re sitting in the big blind and are dealt A♦T♠. Your opponent makes a standard open from the hijack position and you have him pegged as a somewhat tighter player, so you decide to flat and see the flop. The board comes K♦ J♦ 3♥.
This is clearly a board that is much better for his range than it is for yours, but you do have a gutshot draw to the nuts and that key card, the ace of diamonds, in your hand. Already at this point, you can start thinking about future streets and how you want to play them.
You play it inflow and check to the original raiser who makes it a half-pot bet. You call and the turn comes the 4♦. While this card doesn’t improve your hand immediately, it does give you even more outs to the nuts and also gives you more options for how to play the hand. You could now take control of the pot and fire a larger bet with the plan to also fire big on the river, or go for the check-raise, putting maximum pressure on your opponent.
Between the times you’ll actually improve to the best hand and the times they’ll be forced to fold because you’re representing the nuts, this can be a very effective tactic. You can afford to make this play because you know that under no circumstances could your opponent have the nuts (unless the river pairs the board of course). So, you can really put them to the test by betting big on the river (or even over-betting) to take full advantage of the situation.
Of course, like with many other strategic ideas in poker, you shouldn’t get blinded by this newly discovered concept and take it too far. You’ll still want to target opponents who can find the fold button (virtual or real). Bluffing a calling station is almost always a bad idea because they just don’t fold and don’t care too much about the story you’re trying to tell.
(Keep in mind that these strategic concepts apply to live games and also online games – whether you play poker at Royal Vegas casino online or live $2/$5 in LA)
Incorporating Blockers In Your Value Betting Strategy
While the whole idea of blockers is mostly discussed in terms of bluffing, it is also something you should have in the back of your mind when betting for value. When you’re the one holding the nuts and reducing other players’ chances of having a really big hand, you need to take this into consideration when sizing your bets.
Let’s consider a board of 4 5 K 6 8, with no possible flushes. You get to the river with 97 and have the absolute nuts. You’re looking to get value from your hand, but you should also keep in mind that the chances of one of the other players having a 7 is reduced. So, your value bet should be designed to target hands like a good top pair or two pair hands.
Of course, your decision will also be connected to other factors in the hand as well. Depending on how the hand played out up to that point, you may have a decent idea about other players’ range – which can massively influence the exact line (and bet size) you choose on the river.
The added value of this approach is that if someone does have a 7, giving them the second nuts, they could incorrectly read your value bet for weakness, which could induce a raise, leading to you winning a much bigger pot than you would have had you fired out a big bet, discouraging future action. On top of that, such a bet could induce some bluffs, so this play is very powerful when applied correctly.
Blockers & Ranges: Putting Two & Two Together
We’ve already mentioned that the concept of blockers goes along with other strategic poker concepts. Its value becomes much higher when you start incorporating other ideas and combining them into a sound and effective strategic plan.
When you’re thinking about blockers, you shouldn’t be thinking about them in isolation. Ideally, you want to think about them within the range you assign to your opponent through deductive hand reading at the poker table. We’ll demonstrate what we’re talking about here through some more examples.
Let’s say a solid player opens from UTG +1 at a 9-handed table and you make defend loosely with 5♥4♥. The board comes 2♥ 4♠ 5♣, giving you top two pair. You check to the raiser, they bet, you raise, and they decide to 4-bet you. Let’s now think about their range for a second.
They are opening from an early position and are a competent player. All straights include a 3, which they should pretty much never have in this particular spot. Their position virtually blocks them from having the nuts on this board.
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We’re holding the 4♥ and 5♥, so we’re blocking top set combinations. While they could still have it, the odds are severely reduced. This leaves a set of 2s, which isn’t all that likely either as not all players will even open pocket Twos from this position.
Since there is no flush draw, you’re most likely up against a strong over-pair that they’ve decided to play fast to protect against draws, which they’re beating at the moment. Yet, there are many bad cards that could come on the turn, so they’d rather get their chips in the middle while they believe they’re ahead. (And BTW, this applies whether you are playing cash games, tournaments, a sit-n-go, or other formats as well)
Using Blockers Preflop
Moreover, you could use blockers to make better decisions before the flop. Obviously, you should know which hands to play from each position, and if you not sure how to select appropriately, just grab a poker cheat sheet, but that should just be your starting point. If you’re interested, in this video I talk about the power of using blockers preflop.
When you get more information about other players by observing their tendencies, you can start adjusting these ranges, and this is where blockers come into play.
If your opponent is 3-betting preflop more than he should, you can start 4-betting him more often and use hands which block his value 3-betting range. So you should play hands that include an Ace (A9s, A8s etc) or a King (K8s, K9s, etc.) and place the pressure back onto him.
If you select the hands in the right way, your opponent will be less likely to have value hands (because of your blockers), and your light 4-bet will get more folds compared to doing it with random holdings such as suited connectors.
These are just a couple of examples where we can apply the concept of blockers and combine it with our general knowledge of ranges and tendencies to make better decisions. With time and practice, you’ll get better at recognizing these specific spots where putting two and two together will help you play your hands in the best way possible.
The Concept Of “Unblocking”
There’s been more discussion lately about the benefits of unblocking key hands in our opponent’s postflop range. Given that blocking is when visible cards make it less likely to have certain holdings, unblocking is when visible cards actually make it more likely your opponent could have certain holdings.
For instance, take this hand that I played in my $1/$2 poker VLOG. I break down an OESFD where my exact hand unblocks my opponent from having many of the hands I’d prefer them to have when barreling the turn.
By holding Q♦J♦, my opponent cannot have hands like A♦J♦ nor Q♦J♠, hands that would likely fold facing another bet on the turn. We would instead prefer to hold something like 7♠6♠ and unblock key combos in our opponent’s range that are more likely to fold against continued pressure.
Conclusion: Practice Makes Perfect
While the idea of blockers may be novel to many players, it is definitely a valuable concept that is well worth exploring and adding into your overall game-plan. Don’t worry about learning everything there is to learn in a day or two. As you could probably guess from this article, this is a fairly wide area that will take some time to truly master – which is totally OK, as you will expand your knowledge and deepen your poker survival kit as you practice these things between sessions.
The best way to master the concept of blockers, of course, is by actually playing and putting the idea to the test. Now that you have some fundamentals down, you can start looking for spots where an understanding of blockers could come in handy. As already mentioned, be careful not to overdo it, and don’t forget to take into account other information you may have about your opponents. It all comes into play when making your decision.
If you want to test your knowledge of this concept, take the free Combos & Blockers Quiz and score a quick 100% now!