Unlike the more light-hearted, chance-based online casino games such as slots or roulette, poker online games are all about strategy and skill. Ever since David Sklansky published the fundamental theorem of poker, players have looked for ways to add to their repertoire of tricks. One aspect that beginner players often overlook is betting. Being a game of incomplete information, poker turns betting into an art that skillful players can use to their advantage. One bet that’s been getting a lot of attention lately is the so-called block bet. Played right, this subtle tactic can help out-of-position players gain the initiative, control the pot and see the river with the minimum of risk. Let’s take a closer look at how block bets work, when to play them and when to avoid them in Texas Hold’em games.
Understanding the block bet in online poker
Also known as a “blocking bet” or “blocker bet,” a block bet is a smaller-than-average bet (usually around 20-33% of the pot) that you make when you’re out of position (first to act, in other words) with a drawing hand in a game of online poker. The idea is to pay less to see the next card, in hopes that your opponent will be unsure how strong your hand is and call instead of raising. Checking to the action gives your opponent the chance to make a big bet (value, bluff or semi-bluff) that you can’t call profitably. This will usually be enough to force you off the table. A blocking bet allows you to take the initiative and avoid this. The trick is to know which are the right circumstances for a blocking bet and when it’s just a waste of good chips.
The blocking bet: A practical example
Imagine you’ve joined one of BetMGM’s daily online poker tournaments and the game is in the pre-flop betting round stage. You’re holding a jack of spades and a ten of spades so it’s worth seeing the flop. Another player limps and you limp behind. The button re-raises and the first limper folds. Then the flop comes ace of spades, seven of hearts, two of spades. Suddenly you have a flush draw, so you check. The button bets 50% of the pot, but your stack is deep enough to give you decent odds to hit your flush, so you call. The turn comes and out comes the king of clubs, which doesn’t complete your draw. And you’re first to act. Now you could check, but what if your opponent then bets too much to make it profitable for you to go along for your flush draw? The alternative is to make a block bet of approximately a third of the pot. If your opponent calls, you get to see the river for a relatively low price. If they re-raise you, they’ve either got a monster hand or are trying to bluff. Either way, it’s probably best to save your chips and fold.
The advantages of block bets
As you can see, the chief purpose of a block bet is pot control. The advantage is that by keeping the pot size small, you minimize your risk when you’re out of position. In poker, it’s always preferable to have as much information about your opponent as possible for optimal decision-making. If you don’t know enough to predict what your opponent is going to do, a block bet helps to hedge the risk. If you complete your draw, you’ll be paid well. If you make it on the river, chances are any player with a pair or better will pay you off, especially with a strong drawing hand like ace-king. (If you miss the river, checking and folding is most likely the best way to go.)
Block bet situations
Block bets can help you save chips and improve your long-term win rate in a couple situations over and above the previously described situation where you have a drawing hand. Say you’re holding a marginal hand. A block bet can stave off your opponent’s aggression and double up as a thin value bet.
Another situation is when you’re pretty sure you have the second-best hand. A block bet can help to confirm this: If you make a block bet and your opponent raises, it’s likely that your hand will come off second best in most cases.
Then there’s the situation when all the cards are out and you’re up against a known bluffer on the river. Your opponent’s big river bet could mean a monster hand or it could be a total bluff. A block bet can prevent this dilemma and give you the chance to make it to showdown with a minimal investment.
How not to play block bets
As with most tactics in Texas Hold’em, the thing to avoid with block bets is predictability. If the only time you’re ever making small bets is for block bets, you can rest assured that your opponents are going to pick up on the signals sooner or later. They’ll start bluff-raising your block bets and you’ll have nothing to counter with. Effectively, you’ll be paying them for no good reason. To prevent this from happening, mix in some block-sized value bets to keep your opponents guessing. They may even make mistakes for you to exploit, such as raising against your best hands in the belief they’re countering a block bet.
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