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Blockers For Beginners: Part 1

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jun 18, 2023


Blockers and unblockers in no-limit hold’em have been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, and the reason for that is because of solvers.

Since it is impossible to memorize solver solutions to a virtually infinite number of situations, players examine GTO solutions to uncover why the computer favors one strategy in one situation, but a completely different strategy in a situation that appears very similar.

Before we delve into blockers, let me begin with a public service announcement.
Learn multiple variations of poker, not just no-limit hold’em!

I have been preaching this my whole life. I have written about it before for Card Player and Doyle Brunson was kind enough to include my thoughts on the topic in the book Super System II. Without going into a huge amount of detail, here are a few important reasons:

• No one variation stays popular forever. California poker used to revolve around high draw and then lowball. East Coast poker was all stud and high-low declare. None of those games are particularly prevalent now.

• Sometimes there is a ‘live one’ who is throwing away huge sums of cash, but prefers a specific game, and you must have some degree of competence in that game to get your share of the winnings.

• Playing and studying only one variation of poker can become extremely boring.

• Concepts from one variation may give you useful insights into another. Blockers are one such topic.

Let’s look at blockers in a few other games. In no-limit 2-7 single draw, you want to make the lowest hand possible, so the nuts would be 7-5-4-3-2. In this game, it is common to open with a bet, stand pat while your opponent draws, and then bet again.

As with most strength-showing plays, you want to mix some bluffs in with your value hands. Here, a value hand might be 8-6-4-3-2. But what hand would make a good pat hand bluff?

7-7-2-2-2 is a great bluff. Why? Because you block a lot of the low cards your opponent might have or need to catch if he draws. There are similar examples in many other lowball games. When your hand or the dead cards include cards they need, they are less likely to have them.

Playing stud high, you have two pair, and you are worried that your opponent might have a straight. If you have two pair, aces and kings, but their board is 10-8-7-2, you have to be afraid they have J-9 or 9-6 for a straight. If your hand was two pair, jacks and nines however, it is much less likely they have a straight. This is especially true if any other jacks, nines, or sixes has been folded.

Essentially blockers are frequently very important in bluffing situations.

If you are bluffing:

• You want to block some of the value hands they might call with.

• You also don’t want to block any draws that have missed, which they will fold.

If you have a bluff catcher:

• You don’t want to block their bluffs.

• You would like to block some of their strong hands that might value bet.

In no-limit hold’em you don’t see as many cards as you do in other games, but blockers can still help you make better decisions in close spots. Here are a few examples:

You raise from the button with QSpade Suit JSpade Suit and the big blind calls. The flop is KDiamond Suit 10Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit. He checks, you bet, and he calls. The turn is the 4Heart Suit, pairing the board. He checks and you fire a second bullet. He calls. The 5Heart Suit arrives on the river. He checks again, and you have to decide if you want to bluff with your missed straight.

Assume he will always call with a king or a four. He might fold a ten. He will definitely fold ace high or worse. This is a good spot to fire a third bullet. Why? A lot of his calls that will now fold are diamond draws, and you don’t block the diamonds.

When you are thinking of bluffing, you don’t want to block draws that have missed.

Let’s look at this same situation from the point of view of the big blind. You have called pre-flop, and on the turn. Now you are faced with a river decision with a marginal hand like a pair of tens, a bluff catcher. Should you be more likely to call with QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit or 10Heart Suit 8Heart Suit?

If you’re not paying attention to blockers, you’d make the mistake of thinking you would prefer tens with a queen kicker to tens with an eight kicker. Now think of it from the point of view of blockers. As mentioned above, when you have a bluff catcher, you don’t want to block their bluffs. QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit blocks a lot of their flush draws and some of their straight draws that have missed.

When you block their misses, they are more likely to have a value hand. 10Heart Suit 8Heart Suit doesn’t block their flush, straight or gutshot draws. You should much rather call with it, even though the eight kicker is worse than the queen kicker.

The fact that 10Heart Suit 8Heart Suit is a better bluff-catcher is no guarantee that your opponent is bluffing, of course. He may happily show you A-K. In the next column on blockers, I’ll look at an example in detail, and get into the simple math showing how blockers or unblockers can change the odds. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka The Bald Eagle or Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 60 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Aria and Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library, and DBA.