From a casual perspective, poker can look very similar to gambling. You may think it’s all luck, and the winners are just people who happened to get the best hand. That could not be further from the truth. Underneath its exterior, poker has a lot of depth. Texas Holdem, in particular, is known for taking minutes to learn yet years to master. There are lots of ways player skill manifests itself in poker. From reading others’ habits and mannerisms so you know which cards they have, to using math to calculate when to bet or fold, poker has many ways to separate the good players from the bad. This poker guide will look at one of the fundamental math concepts poker pros regularly use: Blockers.
1. What are blockers?
Blockers are a concept originally from Omaha poker, but they have also started seeing use in Texas Holdem. Blockers are when you have your opponents’ outs as your hole cards, thereby “blocking” them from completing their hand. For example, the board is primed for a straight with a seven, a five, a four, an ace, and a king. However, you hold a pair of sixes. This significantly lowers the probability of your opponents having a straight since you block off the potential 4-8 straight and the 2-6 straight.
2. Using blockers pre-flop
Blockers are used in a variety of situations, and pre-flop betting is one of them. They help you decide which hands to 3-bet and 4-bet pre-flop. A 3-bet is when you first re-raise pre-flop, and a 4-bet is the second time you do that. This is a risky maneuver with plenty of possible consequences, so you want to be sure when going for it. When choosing which hands to do this with, the best are either incredibly strong hands on their own or hands with blockers that stop these strong hands. For example, if you choose to 3-bet someone, they have a range of hands they are likely to respond with depending on position. These hands are usually the strong pocket pairs like AA and KK. If you have a hand that will not win on its own but still has a strong blocker like an A4, it may still be a good idea to bluff. An ace in your hole cards reduces the chances that your opponent has a strong enough hand to 4-bet or call you.
3. Turning hands into bluffs
Another great use of blockers is using your already made hands as bluffs. This is great when your hand is not strong at the showdown but has very good blockers. Here’s an example: You have pair 7s. The board is jack, three, six, nine, and eight. Your opponent has just bet into you. Normally, if your hand has little showdown value and your opponent bets like that, it would be likely your opponent has a straight, and you should not call. However, with pair 7s, the chances they have a straight decrease drastically. This makes bluffing by re-raising a solid possibility since now they are in the same position as you were, with their opponent likely having a straight while they don’t.
4. Calling bluffs with blockers
Besides making bluffs of your own, blockers can also allow you to call others’ bluffs. There are some scenarios where calling with a good blocking hand is surprisingly better than calling with a stronger hand. For example, the board is ten, nine, six, and four. Is it better to call with a ten and jack or a ten and seven? Well, the ten and jack seem like an obvious choice at first glance. Jack is simply a better kicker than the seven. However, things quickly change when you consider the blocker value of the seven. You get to block the best potential straight with the seven, and the jack has a reverse block effect; you having this card means the opponent is less likely to have missed their straight draw.
5. Blockers and value bets
Finally, besides bluffs, blockers can even be used for value betting. If you are certain you have the best hand and, in turn, blocking others from getting a big hand, you need to plan your bet sizes around this. Let’s say the board has a standard straight set up, with a five, a six, an ace, a seven, and a nine. You have a ten and an eight, so you know for sure you have the strongest possible hand. To get the most profit from this hand, you need to size your bets around the fact your eight blocks others’ straight attempts and instead target weaker hands like two pairs. Another way this helps is that if someone else does have an eight, they might decide to raise your value bet. While rare, this can help build the pot if your opponent misreads the situation. The same thing applies to potential bluffs your opponents might try to get away with.
Where to practice using blockers?
We hope this article explained blockers well and taught you how to play poker better. If you want to practice and improve further, sign up at GGPoker, the world’s largest poker room. Learning is easier with online poker because of its variety of tools and options. You get access to poker trackers which help analyze your playstyle over time, and you can even play multiple games simultaneously.