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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Feb 05, 2014

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Jan. 2, 13 – Block bets can normally be exploited by raise bluffing large and value raising smaller

One of the things that you will commonly see players do at the lower stakes of live no-limit is block bet. If you have never heard of this term, all it really refers to is betting an amount that may freeze your opponent, helping you to get a cheaper street or a less expensive showdown. Normally players make this block bet because they do not want to check/call a large amount, so if their opponents fall into playing defensively, it costs them less in the long run.

Let us take a look at an example that I recently observed from a $2-$5 blind, $1,000 cap game. A younger, inexperienced player opened to $30 over one limper from the cutoff, an older gentleman called from the small blind (SB) and the limper folded. The effective stacks were $900. The board ran out JSpade Suit 5Spade Suit 3Heart Suit. The SB checked and the preflop raiser continuation bet $50. The older man called. The turn was a 9Club Suit and the SB checked once again. The younger player now bet $115 and was quickly called. The pot now stood at $400 and the river brought out the 2Spade Suit. The older man this time, however, came out and led for $40, one-tenth of the pot. The kid in the cutoff thought for a while, looked dismayed and finally threw in the call. The small blind showed KDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit and the younger guy happily turned over AClub Suit AHeart Suit. Even though the younger fellow was happy that he won the pot, he actually fell into the trap of being basically “blocked” at the river. The 2Spade Suit was a scary card and it seemed like the old man did not want to call a big bet, and rightly surmised that he would not get raised by any hand but a big flush, so decided to bet small.

Even though it worked for the guy with K-J this time, I really do hate block bets. When we look at the fundamental two reasons why we bet in poker, value, or bluff — block betting does not fit into either of these categories. I never understand why I would want to block a player and prevent him from bluffing, and I also have confidence in my hand reading ability, so I can often times check/fold on the river with a medium-strength showdown hand when nothing changes. In fact, on this particular river, if the SB had checked, the younger, inexperienced player almost certainly would have checked as well. And if he did bet, he would be fairly polarized at this level as I would rarely expect a large value bet from A-A — even though a good player should probably make it. So if this guy did bet large he could be bluffing or I would just give him credit for a big hand and fold.

I think block betting came about because recreational players so desperately want to see a showdown. If you watch closely, these players absolutely hate being bluffed out of pots when they have the best hand and do not want to be faced with tough decisions when they have what they deem is a strong holding. As you become more experienced in your own game, block betting becomes really transparent. One of the things that you can use against the block bettor is the fact that they do want to see what you have, so, if you have a value hand, you can easily raise small and they will call you down. In the above example, I would have probably raised to between $140-to-$200, goading a call from my opponent.

On that same line of thinking, we can do the exact opposite when we are bluffing. However, we must be extremely careful and pay attention to who is doing the blocking. Some guys will not fold their hand no matter how much you make it. But let us say above we had AHeart Suit KHeart Suit and were trying to double barrel the guy off of a medium pair on the turn. The river, bringing that front-door flush card, is very scary for a one-pair hand like a jack, and when he leads so weak we can immediately suss out what he is trying to do. If we raised his bet to say $350-to-$400, do you think he would call?

I actually think that more money is lost at the table at the lower stakes from people that do not value-raise block bets with hands that fare to be the best, as opposed to running big bluffs against weak leads. This concept is not only reserved for river play, but you see it a lot of times on the turn too — whether it is in or out of position. Say for example we raise from middle position to $20 in a $5-$5 game with $800 effective stacks with ASpade Suit KSpade Suit and both the blinds call. The board comes out KHeart Suit 2Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit. It gets checked to us and we bet $50. The SB calls. The turn is the 9Heart Suit and he leads out for $35. If he was a hand like 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit here, he actually has pulled an out-of-position block on us. You will not see this play made all that much on third-flush cards, because the turn is so habitually checked through at these levels, but I have certainly seen it happen when a card comes in that could hit a top pair’s kicker (like a queen or jack in this example). I have seen guys bet as little as $20 and freeze a hand like A-K or A-A.

If you pay close attention, you can also notice in-position blocking bets on the turn as well. How is this possible and why do players do it? Well, instead of checking back their hand on the turn, possibly forcing them to call a big river bet, they bet small and take a free river showdown. The most common situation where this occurs is when a player has a weak top pair and is trying to protect against draws or had a small overpair on the flop that now faces a turn overcard. And we, as the out-of-position player, can actually use the same bluff large/value raise small technique in these scenarios, although I usually prefer a check/call, river donk lead for value, or a very small check/raise on the turn.

This situation usually comes up when I call with a broadway type of hand from the blinds and I am unsure whether I have the best hand or not until I evaluate my opponent’s turn bet sizing. Let us say that I call a mid-position open raise to $25 with KSpade Suit QClub Suit in the big blind. The flop comes out QHeart Suit 2Club Suit 4Club Suit. I check/call a $40 bet from my opponent. The turn is the 8Spade Suit, I check, and my opponent now bets out $50. I definitely interpret this bet as weak, and often times I will call again in order to bomb a non-clubbed river to make it look like I busted out on a flush draw. I also, in the past, have check-raised small when I have a really good handle on my opponent and think that he will call with a worse hand. And I have also check-raised the turn very large with a club or straight draw, knowing that my opponent is not all that strong due to his sizing, getting him to fold a hand like J-J or 10-10.

One final note on block betting, and something that you can use against someone that you know reads this article. We can sometimes pull a reverse block bet from out of position, which has the main purpose of inducing a raise. Say we make a front-door flush and decide to lead really weak versus our opponent. Sometimes, especially against better competition, they will not only raise you for value with a hand that they think is best, but also bluff you thinking you are weak. The next time you have made a strong hand on the river you can think about reverse blocking as a viable option along with leading or going for a check-raise. ♠

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on twitter @barthanson. Check out his podcast “The Seat Open Podcast” on seatopenpoker.net and his video training site specifically for live no-imit players ­— CrushLivePoker.com. He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at LiveattheBike.com.