Using Blockers in Hold'em and PLO

Poker Strategy RSS / / 19 January 2012 / Leave a Comment

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Being aware of blockers helps in football and in poker.

Being aware of blockers helps in football and in poker.

Understanding what blockers are and how to use them can be of great help when trying to narrow your opponents’ range of possible hands.

We're all focused on the NFL playoffs here in the U.S. right now, what with the Super Bowl being just a few weeks away. The playoffs are a time when individual players often emerge as stars. However, football remains a team game, with every big gain or touchdown usually the result of more than one player having performed well on a given play.

For example, some running backs and returners are better at using their blockers than others, having the patience to allow their teammates to run interference ahead of them and thus enable them to gain more yardage than they could on their own. Being fast enough to outrun tacklers or big enough to avoid being brought down are both good qualities, but so is having the presence of mind to see the entire field and allow your teammates to help you with their blocks as you carry the ball.

"Blockers" is a poker term, too, referring to cards you hold in your hand that effectively "block" your opponent from making possible hands. It is an especially useful concept to know in pot-limit Omaha, but it comes up now and then in no-limit hold'em, too. Indeed, understanding what blockers are and how to use them can be of great help when trying to narrow your opponents' range of possible hands.

One place in hold'em where the idea of blockers is worth considering is when you get involved in a preflop raising war with a single opponent and you hold a hand that contains cards that would normally be considered as part of your opponent's range.

The most common example of this would be when you hold a hand like Ah-Kh and raise, then find an opponent reraising you and looking as though he's ready to get it all in before the flop. Let's say he's a tight player whom you know for certain never four-bets without holding A-A, K-K, or Q-Q.

There are six possible ways to make a pocket pair, so that means you've narrowed his range to a tiny sliver of the 1,326 possible combos in hold'em -- just 18 of them. But in fact you have "blockers" to no less than six of those hands (Ah-As, Ah-Ad, Ah-Ac, Kh-Ks, Kh-Kd, Kh-Kc). That actually reduces the chances you're being crushed by A-A or K-K by half.

The idea of "blockers" can be useful to consider after the flop as well. Say you've opened from late position with J-J and gotten a single caller, then the flop comes Q-10-4. Your opponent check-calls, then checks after a 9 falls on the turn.

As you consider your opponent's calling range preflop, then narrow it a bit after he calls your c-bet, you now are contemplating the possibility of his having flopped a straight draw. However, having two jacks in your hand considerably reduces the likelihood that he has K-J or J-8 here. Your jacks are "blockers" to his having made a straight, thus helping you reduce his range of possible hands.

The same idea can apply when a river card completes a possible flush yet you hold the ace of that suit. For instance, say you raise preflop with As-Kh, someone calls your bets after a 2h-Ks-8c flop and 4s turn, then bets into you when the 9s falls on the river.

One hand your opponent might be representing here is a spade flush, yet the As in your hand and the Ks on the board tell you that in order for him to have gotten there he had to have called your preflop raise with no better than Q-x of spades. He could have it, of course, but these "blockers" enable you to entertain other non-flush hands as more likely holdings for your opponent.

The concept of "blockers" actually comes up much more frequently in pot-limit Omaha where you hold four cards rather than two, and thus have a better chance of having cards in your hand that prevent your opponents from completing draws.

For example, if you have J-J-8-8 and the flop comes 10-7-2, the eights in your hand function as "blockers" to an opponent drawing to a straight. Or say you hold Kd-Ks-7h-6h and the betting gets heavy following the turn with the board showing 8s-Ah-4h-5c. You have the current nuts with your straight and a small flush draw. It's possible your opponent may be drawing to a bigger flush, but if he is the two hearts in your hand serve as "blockers" to him getting there.

When putting opponents on hand ranges in NLH or PLO, many players often have no problem discounting the community cards when making such estimations. But often we forget to discount our own hole cards as well. Don't forget to see the "entire field" and take your own cards into account when trying to read opponents' hands.

In other words, use your blockers. And increase your chances of running well.

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