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.
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.
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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.
Block bets are another tool in the crushers tool box. Consider if a block bet is appropriate when you reach river situations out of position to put your opponents in tough spots more often.
That’s all for this article! I hope you enjoyed it and that your learned something new!
As usual, if you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below.
What should you read next? I suggest What is Fold Equity and Why Does it Matter?
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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