A “blocker” is any card that you hold in your hand in regards to how it reduces possible holdings within your opponent’s range. Knowing which hands you opponent can’t be holding can help you a lot in both tournaments and cash games. This article aims to teach you how to use this concept.
When you think about blockers it’s good to be able count hand combinations in order to evaluate how wide your opponent’s range is in a certain spot. Combine this with an understanding of pot odds and you have the tools to improve your decision making a lot.
For example, if you face a pot bet on the river, the pot odds tells you that you need to call with the best hand 33% of the time to break even. If you can count that at least a third of your opponent’s range consist of bluffs, using blockers to improve the accuracy of you estimation, making that call will be a lot easier and more likely correct.
If you want to keep your game on a more basic level, don’t worry!
Just having an understanding of how common various types of hands are and how they are affected by card removal effects can still give you an edge on your opponents.
Pre-flop hand combinations
Pre-flop there are:
- 16 combinations of any non-pocket starting hand
- 12 combinations of any off suit hand
- 4 combinations of any suited hand
- 6 combinations of any pocket pair
So if you hold an ace for example, you have reduced your opponents possible combinations of [Ax][Kx] from 16 down to 12, the same goes for number of [Ax][Qx] and [Ax][Jx] with the combinations of pocket aces being reduced from six to three as well.
Post-flop hand combinations
Post-flop you need to consider removal effects of cards present on the board as well.
Say the flop is [Ax][Kx][4x] and you hold [Ax][5x]. This means that there are two aces left in the deck, so the number of hand combinations containing any one-pair ace, such as [Ax][2x] is calculated by taking 2×4, where two is the number of remaining aces, and four is the remaining number of 4s. So in this case there are eight combinations of every paired ace.
In regards to pocket pairs it’s easiest to simply memorise that there will be three combination for each set and one combination for quads.
In the example above, an opponent capable to hold every possible combination of a paired ace has up to 80 combinations of hands. This isn’t very relevant information as it will be enough for you to be aware that you are up against a very wide range. Which brings me to the next point..
How to use blockers post-flop
Blockers become more relevant the narrower your opponent’s range is, such as in 3-bet pots and on the river.
In the first example of this article, counting hand combinations of paired aces based on blockers isn’t the best use of your time at a table. As mentioned, it will be easy enough to know that if you hold a strong ace and your opponent plays loose enough to be able to hold any ace, that you can safely bet or call a bet without having to worry too much about being up against a better hand.
When bluffing it’s more important to block hands that your opponent will be bluff catching with than blocking the nuts. On the other hand, when you are bluff-catching it will be more important to block the strongest part of your opponent’s range rather than hands he might be bluffing with, such as blocking some hands that have missed a draw and firing again on the river.
Say for example that you hold , and call a bet in the big blind from a button open raise. The flop is , and you check-call your opponent’s continuation bet.
The turn brings and both players check. The river brings the and your opponent bets half-pot after you check.
In this case you can be fairly sure your opponent is making a thin value bet with a jack as you expect him to continue betting on the turn if he hits a king, straight, or picks up the flush draw.
If you consider your blockers, you are blocking combinations of [Qx][Tx] for a straight, [Qx][Jx], [Kx][Qx], , , , a set of nines as well as some other combinations of suited queens. So you are blocking big parts of your opponent’s bluff-catching range as well as most of the stronger hands.
Rather than bluff catching (calling) in this spot you can put in a big check-raise and expect to get a fold the vast majority of the time.
How to use blockers pre-flop
Use blockers by 3-bet or 4-bet bluffing in spot where you are planning on folding to a re-raise. The best “blocker hands” will be hands containing an ace or a king as this removes a decent chunk of your opponent’s combinations of pocket aces, pocket kings and ace-king.
When bluffing with hands that are likely to see a flop it can be a good idea to hold a hand without blockers as it will have more equity against your opponent’s pre-flop calling range. Say for example you 3-bet an opponent you know is likely to 4-bet bluff quite a lot. In this case you want a part of your 3-bet bluffing range to be able to 5-bet bluff.
So if you 3-bet with a hand such as , it will be a good candidate to shove over his 4-bet as you will have decent equity if you get called by his [Ax][Kx], compared to if you would be doing this with a hand such as which will be in much worse shape when called. Suited aces are still good candidates to bluff with in these spots as you will have an over card against any pocket pair except pocket-aces.
If you want to start consider blockers when playing I also advice to play the first few sessions with extra focus on this. It’s easy to play on “auto-pilot” or forget something you once learned somewhere along the way if you fail to make it a natural part of your game. So start off by playing a small number of tables with the sole focus to find spots where you can use blockers.
*Lead image courtesy of USA Today
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