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Using Blockers When Bluffing

by Ryan Fee |  Published: Mar 15, 2017

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Ryan Fee

The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

High-stakes players have a secret to successful bluffs: blockers. Most of you have heard this term before, but likely in the context of preflop. In this article, we’ll examine how considering blockers post-flop can actually make our bluffs work more often. To do this, we’ll take a look at an example hand from one of my recent sessions.

What Are Blockers?

The idea is actually quite simple: given the cards in our hand, we make it combinatorically less likely for our opponent to have a hand which includes either one or both of our cards. In hold’em, there are 1,326 possible starting hand combinations in total; there are 16 combinations of each two card ‘combo’ (such as 10-9 or K-J), and six combinations of each paired combo (such as A-A or K-K).

Thinking about ranges combinatorically is helpful when learning about or using the concept of blockers. For example, let’s consider A-K preflop. If we are dealt this hand, it is 50 percent less likely that our opponents will have either aces or kings (as the number of A-A/K-K combinations are reduced from 12 to six). Thus we should not be overly scared of running into aces or kings when our hand blocks both of them.
Effectively using blockers is a very powerful tool when selecting hands to use as bluffs, preflop and postflop. If we select hands with the right blockers, we can lower the likelihood our opponent will continue.

Using Blockers to Construct Bluffing Ranges

Let’s look over a hand that I played recently and think about how we can use blockers to choose the most effective bluffs.

We raise first in on the button and the big blind (BB) calls.

Flop- AHeart Suit 10Spade Suit 7Diamond Suit

BB checks. We bet. BB calls.

Turn- 2Spade Suit

BB checks. We Bet. BB calls.

River- 2Club Suit

BB checks – which hands should we bet with?

To answer this question, we need to have a rough idea of the button’s RFI range as well as the BB’s calling range. Using Poker Ranger (a program for evaluating ranges), we’ll take a closer look at what these ranges look like and how they should affect our own strategy going forward:

On this board, which runs out A-10-7-2-2, it is not difficult to decide which hands we can value bet for three streets from the button (A-J or better), which are the hands displayed in dark green (98 combinations of value hands total). However, in order to make ourselves more difficult to play against, we need to ensure that we also balance our bet-range with a number of bluff combinations. If we don’t do this, our opponent can easily exploit us by folding all but their strongest hands to our bets. By balancing our range with both value hands and bluffs, we limit our opponent’s ability to exploit us and we become much tougher to play against.

It is best to bluff with hands that block those which our opponent will check-call with on the river (those in dark green shown in the BB calling range matrix). By choosing to bluff with these hands, we are using blockers to capitalize on the reduced number of combinations that are available for our opponent to check-call with. Hands which are good to use as a bluff in this scenario are highlighted in pink below:

These hands are effective choices for us to bluff with for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they block a number of our opponent’s A-x hands that will definitely call multiple streets. For instance, if we choose to bluff with J-9, there are ten fewer combinations of A-J and A-9 in our opponent’s range. Secondly, these hands perform well as bluffs because of their ability to make very strong holdings by the river. J-9, J-8 and 9-8 are all able to turn the nuts on A-10-7 whilst still blocking hands in our opponent’s calling range.

While not always necessary, we can also use combinatorics to make sure our range is perfectly balanced. In the above example, if we bet the full size of the pot on the river with both our value hands and bluffs, we need to have two value hands for every one bluff in order to match the pot odds our opponent is being offered (2:1). Given that our value range consists of 98 combinations, our bluffing range should consist of approximately 49 combinations in order to be perfectly balanced in this spot. The bluffs highlighted in pink above total 52 combinations, which means we will have to give up with exactly three of them to remain balanced. Remember, in practice, remaining perfectly balanced is not always the best play (especially at low stakes).

Using blockers to construct your bluffing ranges is the best way to ensure that your bluffs will be as successful as possible. Remember, if your hand blocks a number of combinations in your opponent’s calling range and has little showdown value, it is more than likely a good choice to include in your bluffing range. ♠

Philadelphia native Ryan Fee is one of the top poker minds in the game today, with a WSOP bracelet and more than $3 million in live tournament earnings. Fee is also a lead instructor at UpswingPoker.com. The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

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