How To Use Blockers When Counting Combos

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Hand reading is the cornerstone of solid poker. When you know what your opponent has, it’s far easier to apply pressure, hero call correctly, and take more profitable lines. Combos and blockers are huge assets when it comes hand reading, and when you have this skill hammered down you can dissect their range with absolute precision.

Let’s start by talking about blockers. A blocker is something that is very, very useful to understand when you’re counting combos, but if you don’t either of these two terms are let’s start with quick definitions:

A Combo

How many different ways a player can make a certain hand.

A Blocker

Based upon all the visible cards that we see, so the board cards our two hole cards, whatever it is, based upon all those how many different ways do those block certain amount of combos from possibly existing. This is a crucial part of hand reading and being able to say, “Wait, how many combinations of strong hands are there really?” Because with blockers in mind sometimes that number of strong combos can be massively reduced.

We’ve already done a full video on counting combos preflop and we’ve done another video on 3betting pre-flop keeping blockers in mind. This video is going to take a little bit more of a postflop focus. If we want to start let’s start by counting the combos of sets on this board.

We know normally there are six combinations of every single pocket pair, but because the king of clubs is on board that’s going to block the number of possible sets. It takes that six starting combos of pocket kings down to three. Same thing for JJ and TT and 22, which means that if we’re looking at sets on this board and only looking at possible sets, there are 12 possible combos.


Now, that’s of course assuming that they got to this situation with all of those combinations. If we raised pre-flop and our opponent called and we thought that they would always 3bet with pocket kings, chances are their action actually blocked out them having any combinations on this board. If we didn’t think that they would call a c-bet on the flop with deuces, then we don’t have to worry about them having that turn set.

You have to not only think about the math of this, the blockers and the combos, but you also have to think about the actions and what does that indicate about the possible combos that could even be left in our opponent’s range in the first place.

Now what if we wanted to count the number of two pair combinations? Two pair combinations are actually quite simple, you multiply the number of unseen cards of the one by the unseen of the other. That probably sounds a little confusing, so let’s actually give a clear example. Let’s say we want to figure out how many combinations of king jack our opponent could possibly have.


There are three unseen kings left in the deck, right? The king of hearts, king of diamonds, king of spades. There are also three unseen jacks of those same exact suits. Three times three equals nine. Very, very simple. Now what if we thought our opponent would only king jack suited pre-flop? We know that the king of clubs is spoken for, the jack of clubs is spoken for, which means the only way they can make king jack suited is king jack of diamonds, king jack of hearts, king jack of spades. Right back to three combinations of king jack suited specifically.

You can do the same thing for jack 10 suited, right? We see the jack of clubs, we see the 10 of spades, which means the only jack 10 suited combinations left are jack 10 of hearts and jack 10 of diamonds. There are two of jack 10 suited left. That allows us to very quickly see that based upon the exact board texture that we have the number of really, really monster combos of two pair and sets and all those kind of things can get massively reduced very, very quickly. Especially when you think that they only got to that point with the suited variant of that hand.


We can also do this exact same thing with something like one pair. Let’s say we want to calculate how many different ways our opponent could have ace king here, for whatever reason. If we look at pre-flop, they can have 16 possible combos of ace king as a starting hand. Being that we know that the king of clubs is spoken for we have four unseen aces times three unseen kings, drops us right down to 12 possible combos of ace king.

Now again let’s do the suited variant only, let’s say they only could have ace king suited pre-flop for whatever reason. We see the king of clubs, which means the only way they can make ace king suited is going to be ace king of diamonds, ace king of hearts, ace king of spades. We’re down to three of only ace king suited. See, it’s not too, too complicated once you know what to look for.

We can use this exact same concept while we’re trying to figure out how many combos of super strong hands there are. Let’s say we’re trying to figure out how many combos of ace queen there are in this situation. Again if we think they got here with all of them, there are four unseen aces times four unseen queens, which means we have 16 possible combos. If we thought they would only get to the flop with ace queen suited for whatever reason, again that boils us down to four possible combos of ace queen suited out of the total 16 of all possible ace queens.

Again we can use the same concept for lots of different things, but going a little bit further, what about flush draws? A lot of people will panic as soon as a flush draw fills, but should they really do that, keeping blockers and actual combos in mind? We can still count combos and we can still keep blockers in mind, right? Based upon this exact board with the king of clubs and the jack of clubs being spoken for it is impossible for our opponent to have ace king of clubs or king jack of clubs or ace jack of clubs or queen jacks of clubs, or any of those kind of hands because those specific cards are being blocked out given the cards that we can see.

In this exact situation think about the ways that they could realistically show up a flush draw here. If they had something like ace queen of clubs or ace 10 of clubs or queen 10 of clubs, are they more likely to raise the flop or just call it? Then if you think that they’re more likely to raise that, again blocking out possible combos based upon their actions, that really leaves them with only a couple like suited connectors that could possibly get here.


Again, would they have gotten here with 10 nine of clubs, or would they have raised the flop? Because if they would have raised the flop with a lot of the bigger clubs, that means they have what? Four five of clubs, five six of clubs, six seven of clubs, seven eight of clubs and eight nine of clubs. They have five possible combos of made flushes. Is that something we have to really panic about?

A lot of people will panic about flush draws filling when really if you think about combos and you think about the blockers and you think about the actions that they realistically took, you may actually be able to give them a very, very reduced amount of combos of that possible flush, in which case you don’t have to panic anywhere near as much.

So far we’ve just been talking about using the board cards to figure out combos based upon the blockers of those specific cards, but we can also, and should be using our own actual hole cards when we have that information. In this situation say we have jack 10 of diamonds. If we try to figure out how many combos of king jack suited our opponent can have, again the king of clubs is spoken for, the jack of club is spoken for and now the jack of diamonds is spoken for being that we hold it. We’re in a situation where they can make king jack suited with king jack of hearts, king jack of spades and that’s it.

We know that we’ve even further reduced the possible combos of that kind of hand, same thing with jack 10 suited, now there’s only one possible combo with J♥T♥ specifically. If we’re trying to figure out just king jack in general for our opponent, say suited and unsuited, we see one king so there’s three unseen kings. There are two unseen jacks, three times two equals six. There we go for all possible king jack combos.

Again, that concept is still present. We still consider the blockers, we still can multiply the number of unseen by number of unseen and that will get us where we need to be when we’re talking about things like two pair, figuring out how many ways our opponent can make top air, top kicker, those kind of hands.

This may seem a little complex and a little confusing at first, but I assure you with a little bit of practice this becomes much easier and will really help you refine your hand reading skills and your precision in your technical ability on the table. Because when you can keep a running tally of, okay, how many really strong combinations are in here, and then compare that to someone’s overall range, often times you’re going to find a lot more situations where you should be panicking far less and trying to value bet, or even possibly bluff, a tremendous amount more.

Just to make sure you fully understand this, I made a complete quiz for you so that you can actually put this knowledge right to use and get a quick score right now. It’s called the combos and blockers quiz, it’s brand new and honestly the average person right now is only scoring 45%, but I think if you learned what you needed to from this video you’ll be able to ace it in just a couple of minutes.

Take The Quiz

Take the Combos & Blockers quiz and prove that you have this concept mastered. Knowing how to quickly count combos is a vital skill that you need when hand reading and applying well-timed bluffs vs any opponent. It's only 10-questions and the average score is just 46% - think you can do better?


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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