Poker Strategy: Blockers and Combos

Poker rewards skill and strategy a lot more than luck. Luck is only short-term, while pro poker is all about making a profit in the long run. Pro poker strategy is based on two things: Player analysis and math. Most depictions of poker in pop culture and media focus on player analysis. Watching a pro look like a mind-reader with carefully thought-out guesses is much more visible and entertaining than math. Player analysis is not just for show, as understanding your opponents can allow you to make better decisions based on how you predict they will react. It can even be done online with the help of poker tracking software.ย 

However, math can be just as or even more vital than analyzing your opponents, depending on your strategy. The pros constantly use math for a variety of applications. They use it to determine if their strategy will be profitable over time and optimize it. They even use it to make decisions during the game, like when to call a bet or how big their bets should be. Basic poker math is relatively easy to learn and will go a long way in making you a better player. This poker guide will cover two fundamental concepts of poker math: Blockers and Combos. 

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Blockers explained

Originally from Omaha poker, blockers have started seeing use in Texas Holdem. They are when you have your opponents’ outs as your hole cards, thereby “blocking” them from completing their hand. For example, the board is an eight, a six, a five, a ten, and a nine. However, you hold a pair of sevens. That dramatically lowers the probability of your opponents having a straight since you block off the potential 4-8 straight and the 7-Jack straight.

Uses of blockers

Blockers have a variety of uses because of the implications they have on your opponents’ hands: 

  • Pre-flop betting. Blockers are often considered when deciding which hands to 3-bet with pre-flop. A 3-bet is when one player raises, then the 3-bettor re-raises that bet. This play is aggressive and carries many risks, so blockers are invaluable. You would want to use either a strong hand like pocket aces or a hand with blockers that reduce the chance your opponent has a strong hand of their own. If you have a hand like A6, it may still be a good idea to bluff with this hand since it lowers the chances your opponents have pocket aces.
  • Bluffing effectively. The same principle applies to bluffing post-flop. Bluffing can be a good play if your made hand has little showdown value but excellent blockers. For example, the board is nine, eight, and six. You have pocket sevens, which is a relatively weak pocket pair that loses to a straight. Your opponent has just bet into you on the turn. Usually, you would consider folding since your opponent likely has a straight or could draw into it on the following round. However, re-raising as a bluff could work since it is unlikely your opponent holds/will draw a seven because of your hand. That puts tremendous pressure on your opponent and can make them believe you already have a straight while they don’t.
  • Calling bluffs. Similar to the previous example, having blockers lets you know the chances of your opponent having a particular hand are much lower. That can have the surprising effect of making a weaker hand better to call with. If the board is jack, ten, seven, and three, would you rather call a bet with jack king or jack eight? King is more potent as a kicker; however, eight blocks off the potential seven-jack straight. King itself also makes it more likely your opponent hits their straight draw on the following rounds. 
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Combos explained

Combos, also known as hand combinations or combinatorics, are another crucial mathematical concept. Since Texas Holdem does not have suit rankings, combos are ways to calculate how many ways you can be dealt a hand in a specific scenario. Combos could let you know how many ways you could be dealt pocket aces and how many possible straight draws there are on a given flop. 

Combo math

The basics of combos are elementary to remember. Any two separate cards like AK or 27 have 16 ways to be dealt, and any pair has 6 ways to be dealt. You can also break down any two cards into two cards of the same suit (four ways to be dealt) and two cards of different suits (twelve ways to be dealt). That does not take into account any community cards.

We can then use that as a foundation and add the community cards into the equation. The formula for two different cards is the product of the number of cards in the deck. If you hold KQ on a flop of six, king, and jack, your combos of AK are (no. of aces in the deck = 4), and (no. of queens in the deck = 4 – one in hand and one on the flop = 2). The formula for pairs is [(no. of remaining cards) * (no. of remaining cards – 1)/2]. If you hold J9 on a flop of a queen, three, and four, the combos of JJ are [(3 * (3 – 1))/2] or 3. 

Uses of combos

Combos are helpful to clear up certain misconceptions about probability in poker. An excellent example would be a player’s 3-betting range pre-flop. It is a narrow range, consisting of only AA, AK, and KK. Many people would think that the player is more likely to have a pair since there are two potential hands compared to one. However, using combos, we can see that there are 6 ways to make either pair, while there are 16 ways to make AK. They have a 57% chance of getting AK and only a 21.5% chance of either pair. That makes hand combos useful for understanding ranges better, as just knowing a range may not be the whole picture. You must also understand the relative probabilities of each hand. 

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Applying your skills

We hope this article taught you a lot about blockers and combos, as well as {{how to play poker}} through math. The best way to apply what you learned is through real games on sites like {{GGPoker}}, the world’s largest poker room. Online poker is more accessible and quicker. It even lets you use the indispensable poker trackers and heads-up displays, which are both free on GGPoker, so sign up today!