What is a Block Bet & When Should You Do It?
Block betting is a poker tactic that has been around for a while.
For many years, players debated its effectiveness using their own intuition. However, now that solvers exist, we have definitive proof that block bets are the correct play in some situations.
This article covers what a block bet is and when should you do it.
I also included 4 keys for block betting at the end, which I took directly from a poker pro’s Block Betting lesson in the Upswing Lab training course. There’s a special surprise for people who make it past that section as well.
A block bet is a relatively small bet (20-40% of the pot) made by a player who is out of position. The most common goal of a block bet is to discourage an opponent from making a larger bet when checked to.
Some people call them blocker bets, by the way.
When these 4 factors are at play, you should consider block betting:
- You are out of position on the river.
- Your hand is likely (but not certainly) better than your opponent’s hand (>50% equity vs their range).
- If you went for a medium or large bet, you’d get called by too many better hands.
- If you check, your opponent can put you in a tough spot with a medium or large bet.
Common Situations to Block Bet
So, which spots lend themselves to this kind of strategy? Let’s go over a few common ones.
1. The preflop raiser has checked back twice.
Example: The button raises and the big blind calls with 6♦ 6♣. The flop comes J♠ 7♥ 2♠ and both players check. The turn is the 5♣ and both players check again. The river is the 3♠.
In this spot, the big blind may consider a block bet, expecting to get called by hands like ace-high, 2x or 5x.
2. The preflop raiser c-bet on the flop, then checked back on the turn.
Example: The button raises and the big blind calls with A♠ 7♠. The flop comes 7♣ 5♠ 2♥ and the big blind checks-calls a bet. The turn is the J♣ and both players check. The river is the Q♦.
In this spot, the big blind may consider a block bet, expecting to get called by hands like 5x and 2x.
3. You check-raised on the flop and barreled on the turn, then the river completed many (but not all) of your draws.
Example: The button raises and the big blind calls with 4♣ 4♥. The flop comes J♠ 4♠ 3♦ and the big blind check-raises versus a bet, which the button calls. The turn is the T♦ and the big blind bets, which is again called by the button. The river is the 7♠.
The big blind may consider a block bet with his set*, expecting to get called by hands like Jx and overpairs (with which the button may fold versus a larger bet).
*It is imperative that the big blind also block bet with some nutted hands (like flushes) to protect his overall block bet range.
4. You c-bet on the flop out of position and bet again on the turn.
Example: The cutoff raises with T♠ T♥ and the button calls. The cutoff’s c-bet is called on the 9♠ 8♣ 2♦ flop. The cutoff bets again on the 4♠ turn and the button calls. The river is the K♠.
The cutoff may consider a block bet in this spot, expecting to get called by hands like 9x.
5. You c-bet on the flop out of position and the turn action checked through.
Example: The cutoff raises with K♣ 8♣ and the button calls. The flop comes 8♠ 7♠ 2♦, on which the cutoff c-bets and the button calls. The turn is the Q♠ and both players check. The river is the 5♦.
The cutoff may consider a block bet in this spot, expecting to get called by hands like J8 or 7x.
Note that all of these spots can apply to multiway pots as well.
The Secondary Benefit of Block Betting
There is an added benefit that comes with a well-implemented block bet strategy…
Block betting forces your opponent to come up with an optimal response, which is very difficult to do, especially if they haven’t studied how to play against block bets.
This means that your opponents will usually fall in one of the following two categories vs the block bet: over-bluffer or under-bluffer. If you are able to determine which camp your opponent will fall into, you can extract so much more expected value (EV) by making sick hero calls (vs the over-bluffers) or big folds (vs the under-bluffers).
Let’s take a look at a very common example.
Suppose you defend your big blind against a preflop raise from the button. You go on to call a 33% pot-sized c-bet on the flop and the turn checks through.
The board is T♥ 4♣ 3♦ 7♠ Q♥.
Here is what the solver deems to be the equilibrium (GTO) strategy for the player in the big blind:
The lightest color (salmon?) represents a 25% pot bet.
Looking closely at the grid, we can see that the hands with which the solver likes to block bets are mainly:
- Second pair (Tx hands)
- Pocket nines and pocket eights
- Middle pair (7x hands)
- A few top pairs and better*
*Including some of these relatively strong hands in the block bet range protects the rest of the range (related article: How to Take Advantage (And Protect Your Own) Capped Ranges).
Middling hands like second/third pair are the heart of this range, and those hands have between 60 and 70% equity. In other words, there is a very good chance they are the best hand right now.
But the equity of those same hands plummets when up against a range that will call a medium-sized or big bet. For example, if you bet half the pot or more, the likely calling range has over 50% equity versus the 7x hands.
Bit of an advanced side note: 88, 99 and the Tx hands retain over 50% equity versus the calling range, even when a bigger size is used. However, segregating the 7x from these slightly stronger hands would enable the button to start raising ridiculously thin for value against the block bet, which would also allow him win the pot more often with bluffs.
Another common example is when you 3-bet from the small blind against the button and she calls.
Suppose you c-bet small on a A♦ J♦ 4♠ flop and get called. The turn 7♥ goes check-check and the river comes the 6♠.
Here is what the solver deems to be the equilibrium strategy for the small blind’s range:
Some second pairs (like KJ) are block-betting, but there are also a lot of top pairs that choose this size. Those top pairs have over 85% equity at this point. This is different from the single raised pot example.
It’s because ranges are much narrower in 3-bet pots, which means that blocker/card removal effects are magnified. When you have top pair with an ace in this example, you block a significant portion of the range with which your opponent will call a 75% pot bet.
When faced with a 75% pot bet in the above scenario, the button can fold half of his second pairs and remain unexploitable, which makes betting that big with an ace pretty marginal. But the ace is not blocking that much of the range with which she can call a 25% pot-sized bet.
KK and QQ have around 65% equity, but they definitely cannot comfortably value bet for a medium or big size. Checking with them and facing a 75% pot bet is also undesirable. Betting a quarter of the pot, however, minimizes the losses against top pairs while getting value from all of those Jx hands.
Now, let’s get into some premium content from poker pro Gary Blackwood’s Block Bet module in the Upswing Lab.
Keys to Block Betting Mastery
Before diving into Gary’s 4 quick tips, I want to share some useful quotes from his module:
The purpose of a block bet is to block your opponent from betting a larger size, typically on the river, as a way to protect certain parts of your range that might be uncomfortable calling.
By block betting, you are essentially setting your own price on the river. It blocks your opponent from betting bigger and makingcertain hands in your range quite uncomfortable.
Another very important advantage of block betting is to squeeze out extra value from worse hands that would never value bet themselves.
Let’s use a very vague example, say you have J8 on T8223, and your opponent has Pocket Sevens. If you check, your opponent is going to check back almost always. But if you block bet, you are winning some amount of big blinds that you wouldn’t have won if you didn’t block bet the river.
And with that, let’s get into the keys
Key #1: Block Bet Often
The solver almost always incorporates a block betting strategy on the river after the turn goes check-check. This applies to both single-raised and 3-bet pots.
Key #2: You Can’t Block Bet In-Position
A mistake beginners often make is that they try to incorporate a block betting strategy in-position. This is almost always a mistake. Block betting is only applicable to the out-of-position player because it’s a way of trying to prevent the in-position player from building the pot.
When you’re in position, however, you already have control over the pot size when it’s checked to you because you’re last to act. Small-sized value bets on the river can certainly be effective, but that’s used as part of an entirely different value betting strategy compared to what you’re trying to accomplish with block bets.
Key #3: Only Block Bet When You Can Get Called By Enough Worse Hands
Perhaps the most important rule to block betting is that you can only block bet profitably when you can get called by a sufficient number of worse hands. Gary explains:
When you are in game, ask yourself if you can get called by enough combinations to justify block betting, and go from there.
Slightly overdoing it is often better than slightly underdoing it. So if you are unsure, then I would suggest leaning towards blocking slightly more often. The reason for this is that, even at mid-stakes, the in-position player will usually not respond correctly vs a block bet.
Key #4: Split Your Range
In a lot of cases, you can get away with block betting a much wider range than you might typically expect. However, because block betting can be so effective, many players can get into the habit of block betting far more than they should (especially with value hands).
Some hands don’t benefit from a block bet sizing as much as they do from using a bigger size. It’s important to arrive at almost all rivers with a two-sizing strategy in mind: typically one small block bet sizing and one big bet sizing.
The big bet sizing should be driven by a lot of our best value hands along with a sufficient number of bluffing hands to remain balanced.
Final Thoughts: Know Your Thresholds!
I’ve covered a lot of the broad ideas behind block betting in this article.
However, dialing in the details is all about practice and attentive study.
The in-depth Block Betting module inside the Upswing Lab has all you need to nail down this strategy.
Poker pro Gary Blackwood reviews hundreds of different board textures to identify patterns and develop heuristics to make sure you know exactly which hands to check, block bet, or bet big with.
It’s an amazing study resource that can save you many hours of study time while also taking your block betting skills to a professional level fast.
Want to keep improving your skills for free? Might I suggest reading this article next: What is Fold Equity and Why Does it Matter?