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Poker Strategy | Advanced Poker

Exploiting the Blocking Bet

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In my last article

I described the blocking bet and gave particular instances in which it ought to be used along with types of opponents to use it against. One opponent you should avoid attempting the blocking bet on is an experienced aggressive opponent. These players have seen tons of blocking bets, recognize them, and exploit them. The blocking bet is designed to get to a cheaper showdown than a check followed by a call. Thus exploiting an opponent's blocking bet is achieved by denying a cheap showdown with either a bluff raise or a value raise.
In the bluff raise play, you spot a blocking bet and put out a big raise to steal the pot away from a presumably better hand than your own but not strong enough to stand up to a raise. Let's consider an example of this play. In a 25c/50c no limit game, you have {J-Hearts}{10-Spades} on the button and limp in behind two middle position limpers, the small blind completes and the big blind checks.

The flop is {9-Spades}{Q-Diamonds}{3-Hearts}. Everyone checks to you and you bet $2. Only the big blind calls your bet.

The turn is a blank {4-Clubs}, and after the big blind checks you bet $4 and the big blind calls. The river is no help, {7-Clubs}, but the big blind bets $1. Is this a blocking bet or a cleverly crafted value bet? At these stakes, it seems highly likely to be a blocking bet. It is a $1 bet into a $14.50 pot; that is not strength. The big blind most likely has called you down with a one pair hand and probably not much of a kicker.

From the bet size, you can reasonably infer that the big blind would like to showdown a weak hand for a very cheap price. The only way you are winning this hand is to bet. Bluffing rivers with busted draws is generally not something you want to get in the habit of doing, but if you can spot opportunities such as this one, then you give yourself a much better chance of success. In this example, a raise of something like $8 or $9 will probably get the job done, though you will need to adjust based on the opponent and what sorts of river bets you have seen this player fold to in the past.

If you make a value raise, then you exploit the blocking bet by charging more for showdown. Let's stay with the above example and change the river card to an {8-Clubs}. Now you have the straight when the big blind bets out $1. If you think that a $9 raise will fold out whatever weak holding the big blind has, then you need to bet less here as a raise. Something small that the big blind can call, say only a $5 raise.

Of course, with the nuts, things appear easy. Let's take a different example where you aren't quite so strong. You have {A-Spades}{J-Spades} and raise to $1.50 in middle position. The small blind calls and the flop is: {J-Hearts}{8-Clubs}{2-Spades}. The small blind leads out for $1.50 and you raise to $5, which the small blind calls. The pot is now $13.50.

The turn is a {6-Spades}, and the small blind check-calls your $9 bet. The river is a {6-Hearts}, and the small blind leads out $5 into the $31.50 pot. This is likely a blocking bet with a hand like K-J, Q-J or J-10 looking for a cheap showdown. Most players find it nearly irresistible to call a mini-raise on the river, but if you think you can get more, then you should raise to that amount. In this example, the small blind has shown a willingness to call larger bets, so I would raise to $15 or so. If you were to just bet $15 on the river, the small blind might fold, but after putting out $5 you are only asking for $10 more, and there is a greater likelihood of that being called.

As you move up in levels and encounter more skilled players, you can employ more variations of the blocking bet and its related plays. Though you should generally avoid blocking bets against experienced players, you can make what appear to be blocking bets but are really ploys to induce raises from the skilled opponent while you have a big hand. When the skilled opponent attempts to pick off your blocking bet, you then come over the top, and usually the pot is large enough at this point to justify a push. Pot odds will be good for your opponents and they will often make a mistake and call.

For example, let's reverse rolls in the above example. The middle position player raises and you call in the small blind with {8-Spades}{8-Hearts}, flopping the set. You make the sucker bet on the river, perhaps reading your aggressive opponent for Aces. When he/she raises to $15 you now push in the rest of your stack. Assuming you both start the hand with $50 stacks, your opponent has to call $19.50 in a pot of $80.50. Those are better than 4 to 1 odds and difficult to turn down, though a solid opponent will in that situation.

At the lower levels and against less skilled opponents, the sucker bet is going to be a wasted play. Your fake blocking bet will most likely function as a real blocking bet costing you a lot of money.

At the lower stakes, you should be making straightforward blocking bets in appropriate spots against appropriate players. Similarly, you should be on the lookout for other players employing the blocking bet and exploit these bets by bluff raising or raising your good hands for value.

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