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Postflop Poker: Breaking Down the Blocking Bet

Ben Lamb

A blocking bet is a postflop move made from out of position, usually a small bet designed to prevent an opponent in position from making a bigger one.

Generally speaking, if you’re practicing good hand selection you are probably playing more hands from later position than from early position, and therefore more often than not will have position on your opponents after the flop. But sometimes you’ll have to play hands from out of position (e.g., when defending your blinds versus a steal), in which case the blocking bet can be a useful move to have in your arsenal.

Defining the Blocking Bet

Usually a blocking bet refers to a relatively small leading bet made by a player who is acting first on a postflop betting round. As noted, the bet is made to “block” an opponent from having the lead in the hand and thus the opportunity to make a bet himself — particularly one that is bigger than the out-of-position player wants to see.

For example, say you are in a $1/$2 no-limit hold’em game. A player in late position raises to $6, you call from the big blind with {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}, and the flop comes {A-Diamonds}{8-Clubs}{3-Diamonds}. You check, he bets $6 into the $13 pot, and you call. The pot is now $25.

The turn then brings the {4-Spades}. If you check, you anticipate your opponent will be firing another bet, possibly one larger than you want to face with your flush draw because it won’t be giving you correct pot odds to call.

Let’s say if you check he’s going to bet $20 into the $25 pot. With your flush draw, you have nine outs (the diamonds) and thus about a 20% chance to make your flush. Calling $20 to win $45 gives you 2.25-to-1 pot odds to call, but your chance of making the flush isn’t that good — it’s about 4-to-1 against.

Instead of checking and letting your opponent bet you out of the pot, then, you make a smaller “blocking bet” — say, $5 or $10 — with hope that either your opponent folds (which can happen) or just calls your small bet, thereby letting you see the river more cheaply.

Reasons for Making Blocking Bets

The blocking bet is a postflop move, but the reasons for making it tend to change with each postflop street.

Blocking bets on the flop can be used to slow down an aggressive opponent, taking the initiative away. You might make them with medium-strength hands you think might be better than your opponent’s after the flop — e.g., with {7-}{7-} on a {Q-}{8-}{5-} flop.

Blocking bets on the turn can be also be made with medium-strength hands with which you’d like to try to get to a showdown somewhat cheaply, or as in the case with the above example when you have a draw and want to see a river card without paying more than is reasonable.

Blocking bets on the river can sometimes be made as a bluff — such as when you miss that draw — or again when you have a medium-strength hand and anticipate your opponent might want to bet big (too big to call), and so want to try to set a lower price to get to showdown. (And if your opponent folds to your blocking bet, all the better!)

Other Considerations When Making Blocking Bets

Usually blocking bets are small — i.e., less than half the pot. It’s a little like what is sometimes called a “probe bet” or a small bet made to gather information cheaply, although it has a more specific purpose to keep your opponent from betting bigger.

Sometimes you’ll get raised after making your blocking bet — it is a weak-looking move, after all — in which case many times you’ll be forced to fold. Such is the risk you take with this move, although if your blocking bet is a small one it shouldn’t have been an expensive risk.

Experienced players know what a blocking bets are and will not be fooled by them. But against weaker opponents the blocking bet can be very effective. I’m referring to the type of player who will often shut down after the flop whenever an opponent takes the initiative away, even with a small bet.

Finally, the blocking bet shouldn’t be used too often. If you keep making blocking bets when out of position postflop, good players especially will start picking up on the pattern and respond effectively to what you’re doing.

But do look for spots when the blocking bet can be employed. It can be a winning move to make, even when out of position and looking at a board that hasn’t hit your hand.

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