One of the things that you will commonly see players do at the lower stakes of live no limit is block bet. If you have never heard of this term all it really refers to is betting an amount that may freeze your opponent helping you to get a cheaper street or a less expensive showdown. Normally players make this block bet because they do not want to check call a large amount so if their opponents fall into playing defensively it costs them less in the long run.
Let us take a look at an example that I recently observed from a $2-$5 $1000 cap game. A younger, inexperienced player opened to $30 over one limper from the cutoff, an older gentleman called from the small blind and the limper folded. The effective stacks were $900. The board ran out J♠ 5♠ 3♥. The small blind checked and the preflop raiser continuation bet $50. The older man called. The turn was a 9♣ and the small blind checked once again. The younger player now bet $115 and was quickly called. The pot now stood at $400 and the river brought out the 2♠. The older man this time, however, came out and led for $40, one tenth of the pot. The kid in the cutoff thought for a while, looked dismayed and finally threw in the call. The small blind showed K♦ J♦ and the younger guy happily turned over A♣ A♥. Even though the younger fellow was happy that he won the pot he actually fell into the trap of being basically “blocked” at the river. The 2♠ was a scary card and it seemed like the old man did not want to call a big bet and rightly surmised that he would not get raised by any hand but a big flush so decided to bet small.
Even though it worked for the guy with KJ this time I really do hate block bets. When we look at the fundamental two reasons why we bet in poker—-1. Value 2. Bluff—block betting does not fit into these categories. I never understand why I would want to block a player and prevent him from bluffing and I also have confidence in my hand reading ability that I can often times check fold on the river with a medium strength showdown hand when nothing changes. In fact, on this particular river if the small blind had checked the younger inexperienced player almost certainly would have checked as well. And if he did bet he would be fairly polarized at this level as I would rarely expect a large value bet from AA—even though a good player should probably make it. So if this guy did bet large he could be bluffing OR I would just give him credit for a big hand and fold.
I think block betting came about because recreational players so desperately want to see a showdown. If you watch closely to these players they absolutely hate being bluffed out of pots when they have the best hand and do not want to be faced with tough decisions when they have what they deem to think is a strong holding. As you become more experienced in your own game block betting becomes really transparent. One of the things that you can use against the block bettor is the fact that they do want to see what you have, so, if you have a value hand, you can easily raise small and they will call you down. In the above example I would have probably raised to between $140-$200 goading a call from my opponent. On that same line of thinking we can do the exact opposite when we are bluffing. However, we must be extremely careful and pay attention to whom is doing the blocking. Some guys will not fold their hand no matter how much you make it. But let us say above we had A♥ K♥ and were trying to double barrel the guy off of a medium pair on the turn. The river, bringing that front door flush card, is very scary for a one pair hand like a jack and when he leads so weak we can immediately suss out what he is trying to do. If we raised his bet to say $350-$400 do you think he would call?
I actually think that more money is lost at the table at the lower stakes from people that do not value raise block bets with hands that fair to be the best as opposed to running big bluffs against weak leads. This concept is not only reserved for river play but you see it a lot of times on the turn too—whether it is in or out of position. Say for example we raise from MP2 in a $5-$5 with $800 effective stacks to $20 with A♠ K♠ and both the blinds call. The board comes out K♥ 2♦ 3♥. It gets checked to us and we bet $50. The small blind calls. The turn is the 9♥ and he leads out for $35. If he was a hand like 45ss here he actually has pulled an out of position block on us. You will not see this play made all that much on third flush cards, because the turn is so habitually check through at these levels, but I have certainly seen it happen when a card comes in that could hit a top pair’s kicker like in this hand say a jack or a queen. I have seen guys bet as little as $20 and freeze a hand like AK or AA.
If you pay close attention you can also notice in position blocking bets on the turn as well. How is this possible and why do players do it? Well, instead of checking back their hand on the turn possibly forcing them to call a big river bet they bet small and take a free river showdown. The most common situation where this occurs is when a player has a weak top pair and is trying to protect against draws or had a small over pair on the flop that now faces a turn over card. And we, as the out of position player, can actually use the same bluff large and value raise small technique in these scenarios although I usually prefer a check call, river donk lead for value or a very small check raise on the turn.
This situation usually comes up when I call with a broadway type of hand from the blinds and I am unsure whether I have the best hand or not until I evaluate my opponent’s turn bet sizing. Let us say that I call a mid position open raise to $25 with K♠ Q♣ in the big blind. The flop comes out Q♥ 2♣ 4♣. I check call a $40 bet from my opponent. The turn is an 8♠, I check and my opponent now bets out $50. I definitely interpret this bet as weak, and often times I will call again in order to bomb a non-clubbed river to make it look like I busted out on a flush draw. I also, in the past, have check-raised small when I have a really good handle on my opponent and think that he will call with a worse hand. And I have also check raised the turn very large with a club or straight draw knowing that my opponent is not all that strong due to his sizing getting him to fold a hand like JJ or TT.
One final note on block betting and something that you can use against someone that you know reads this article. We can sometimes pull a reverse block bet from out of position, which has the main purpose of inducing a raise. Say we make a front door flush and decide to lead really weak versus our opponent. Sometimes, especially against better competition, they will not only raise you for value with a hand that they think is best but also bluff you thinking you are weak. The next time you have made a strong hand on the river you can think about reverse blocking as a viable option along with leading or going for a check raise.