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Essential Examples of Blockers in Poker

Essential Examples of Blockers in Poker

Introduction

A lot of my more recent editions of this strategy column have been centered around what could be considered somewhat advanced concepts. Ideas like exploiting opponents and handling ranges can seem out of reach when you’re just starting out in no-limit hold’em (or any other type of poker for that matter). However, there are certain concepts that can be learned even when you’re starting out that will help you to build up to more advanced topics like handling ranges more quickly. This week we’re going to look at one of those concepts: blockers.

What Are Blockers?

A blocker is a card that has been removed from the deck that changes the probability of either an opponent having a certain hand or a certain type of card coming on a later street. For a simple example, if we hold AK before any action pre-flop, then that decreases the chances that an opponent would have AA compared to QQ. The idea is that there are only three aces left in the deck compared to four queens. The chance of a player being randomly dealt AA in this situation is 6.0 percent compared to 12.0 percent for QQ to give you an idea of the potential effects.

Blockers come up in a lot of situations, and they’re very important to know and learn if you want to get better at working with hand ranges. We’re going to cover some examples of how blockers work to help your understanding of ranges here.

3-Bet Bluffing Pre-flop

Suppose someone open-raises with {66+, AT+, KJ+, QJ, T9s-65s}, and we 3-bet them without looking at our cards. Here’s how their range breaks down:

  • 66+ is 6 combos * 9 hands = 54 hand combinations
  • AT+ is 16 combos * 4 hands = 64 hand combinations
  • KJ+ is 16 combos * 2 hands = 32 hand combinations
  • QJ is 16 combos * 1 hand = 16 hand combinations
  • T9s-65s is 4 combos * 5 hands = 20 hand combinations

So that’s a total of 186 hand combinations or 14.0 percent of starting hands. And suppose that Villain folds everything but {TT+, AQ+}. Here’s how that range breaks down:

  • TT+ is 5 combos * 5 hands = 25 combinations
  • AQ+ is 16 combos * 2 hands = 32 combinations

So Villain is continuing with a total of 57 hand combinations, or about 30.6 percent. This means he’s folding about 69.4 percent.

Insert Blockers

Now suppose instead that we’re 3-betting with A2. Let’s look at what happens to his range by starting with his total range:

  • AA is 3 hand combinations
  • KK-66 is 5 combos * 9 hands = 45 hand combinations
  • AT+ is 12 combos * 4 hands = 48 hand combinations
  • KJ+ is 16 combos * 2 hands = 32 hand combinations
  • QJ is 16 combos * 1 hand = 16 hand combinations
  • T9s-65s is 4 combos * 5 hands = 20 hand combinations

That’s 164 total hand combinations. And now his continuing range:

  • AA is 3 hand combinations
  • KK-TT+ is 4 combos * 5 hands = 20 combinations
  • AQ+ is 12 combos * 2 hands = 24 combinations

That’s 47 hand combinations. Note that now he’s continuing 28.6 percent of the time.

What you need to notice here is that our choice of starting hand for bluffing him increased his fold percentage by about two percent. Two percent might not seem like much, but when you choose your bluffing hands better based on blockers, that little bit adds up in a major way over time.

A Post-Flop Example

Suppose we have AQ on a board of Qs9s7h2s. We want to consider the flush draws that our opponent could have after the spade comes on the turn. Generally speaking, we will have a much stronger hand if we hold the ace of spades than if we do not. The reason for this is that our opponent will be likely to hold spade-spade hand combinations that include an ace; suited aces are typically decent starting hands in a lot of situations. Along these lines, if we have the ace of clubs, for example, that means the ace of spades could be in our opponent’s hand instead.

However, if we hold the ace of spades ourselves, then it acts as a blocker to all of the hands that our opponent could have. This is critical in a lot of situations in no-limit hold’em, especially when draws are concerned. Thinking about your opponent’s range has to be in the context of the cards on the board and in your own hand because those cards that have been dealt affect the chances of your opponent having specific combinations of cards for himself.

Omaha Flush Draws

There’s a classic blocker example in Omaha that’s pretty instructive. Suppose you make a flush on a board of Qs8s7h2h3s. If you have As4sxx, then your hand is going to be significantly stronger than if you hold AsKsxx. The reason for this is that holding the king of spades removes the possibility for an opponent to know that he holds the second nut flush. You’re essentially removing the next-best hand from his range (from his perspective), so you’re going to get called less often.

Note that the point isn’t just to learn about this particular instance that can come up in a game. The point is that you think about these examples and use that process of thought to get a better feel and understanding of the importance of blockers and how they work in the general sense.

Overview

Overall, you’re going to need to get a good feel for blockers and common situations where they matter if you want to learn to play just about any form of poker well. It’s a good place to start if you’re just starting to learn about ranges as well.

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