During the poker boom in the 2000s, a common strategy that was used by both new and expert poker players was blocking bets.
If you don’t know what a blocking bet is, here’s the situation. You find yourself on the river with a weak-to-medium strength hand, and it’s on you to act first. You desperately want to get to showdown because you might have the best hand, but your hand isn’t strong enough to call a huge bet so you’re afraid to check it over to your opponent, who might have you crushed. So to try and make life easier for yourself, you decide to bet instead – a small bet, half the size of the pot at most.
The idea is that there are plenty of positives that can come from this bet. You could be called by a worse hand and win, or your opponent might fold and you save yourself the prospect of a tough decision. Even if you get called and lose, you’ve effectively ‘set the price’ that you are willing to pay to see a showdown so you may have lost fewer chips than if you had check-called a bet.
So blocking bets are the way to go, right? Well, it’s not quite that straightforward. Here are the reasons why you might want to avoid using too many blocking bets in Texas Hold’em poker in 2017…
Watch out for aggressive players
One of the main problems with blocking bets nowadays is that it’s pretty obvious what you are up to much of the time – and good, aggressive players will exploit this. Let’s say you are a good player (bear with me….) and you’re facing what looks like an obvious blocking bet of less than half the pot on the river.
Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes; what is the one thing that you would not like to happen? The answer is being raised. By the very nature of making a blocking bet, you’ve signified that you have a hand you want to go to showdown with cheaply. A raise here will very often win the pot. This is a main reason why you shouldn’t block bet against perceptive players; you will be raised a lot.
Of course, this works in reverse too. If you’re faced with a blocking bet and have a weak hand then you should consider raising as a bluff. Pick your opponents carefully though. You don’t want to bluff a poor player who always calls, so instead focus on thinking players that are capable of laying down a hand.
Don’t be scared
Sometimes it will be subconscious but an underlying reason behind many blocking bets is that it will help you avoid a tough decision if your opponent bets. This is actually a very dangerous mindset to have when playing poker. If you’re ever going to become a strong player, you must be comfortable dealing with tough decisions when they arise and attempt to make the best decision possible at the time. If you try to avoid them there is no way you will be able to make the most value when you have a good hand, bluff in the correct spots or pick off bluffs when you have a marginal hand (which is most relevant to block betting).
So, instead of block betting you should either bet outright for value when you think you have the winner and can be called by worse, or check-call when you think you have the best hand but might induce a bluff by checking. There are actually very few occasions where block betting will be the best play out of the options available to you.