Concepts: The Block Bet
In contrast to most other bets, the block bet can be used in a wider variety of situations. It is more flexible and can be used in various types of situations where we want to prevent our opponent from trying to build up a big pot.
The only requirement is that we are "out of position" and thus able to bet first. If we have position on our opponent and he checks to us, we don't need to make a bet, and if our opponent bets before us, we no longer have the chance to manipulate the size of his bet. The intention behind the block bet is based on the fact that it is psychologically much easier for an opponent to bet a large amount if he recognizes a sign of weakness from us (e.g. if we check). But if we bet, then we are generally not showing any sign of weakness. This puts pressure on our opponent to decide whether he still wants to call the amount that he had originally planned to bet (assuming he had already given it some thought), even though we have just given him an unwanted sign (a bet).
A very common and all-too human way of dealing with this type of situation is to call. Since most players think they are less likely to make a mistake if they call, they often choose this option when they are under pressure. We take advantage of this human behavioural tendency by trying to manipulate our opponent into accepting the bet that we make, instead of one that he makes. Let's start with a classic example of a block bet:
- Example 1:
We're holding in the big blind. The player "under the gun" makes a minimum raise to double the size of the big blind. All players fold including the small blind. We call. There are four and a half big blinds in the pot. The flop comes . It is certainly possible that our opponent is holding an ace, which would mean that we are beaten at this point. On the other hand, if we bet, he could also think we have an ace. It is also very possible that our opponent is holding a middle or higher pocket pair and is now afraid that we might have a baby ace. We like to toss around different ideas with respect to our opponent, but our main motivation is to give ourselves the pot odds we need to see whether or not we can complete our straight draw on the turn or the river. We have eight outs (every jack and every six).
That means we need pot odds of approx. 4:1. One and a half big blinds might not be quite enough at this point. If we include implied odds we could also bet a little more. We bet 2 BBs which is about half the size of the pot. Our opponent calls and we have probably saved some chips. We assume that if we had checked, our opponent would have made a continuation bet that would have been bigger (e.g. 2/3 of the pot).
It is important that we distinguish between different strategies and bets. When a poker player bets, he should always know why he is betting and why he is betting precisely this or that amount. It is not enough to have a vague feeling that the situation would be suitable for a bet. Players who act this way often have no idea how they want to continue the hand in the later rounds of betting. They more or less just wait and see how their opponents will react and only then start thinking about what these reactions could mean.
A serious poker player will however try to assess the situation as accurately as possible and use this assessment to decide how to continue the hand. This is why we differentiate the block bet from other similar strategies.
Block bet vs. Value bet
The intention of the value bet is to get as much money into the pot as possible when we already think we have the strongest hand, while the block aims to do just the opposite. We want to keep the pot small because we think we are behind at the moment or in a marginal situation where we don't want to take big risks.
Block bet vs. Continuation bet
Block bets and continuation bets occur in very similar types of situations (when we are out of position) and both of these bets should be as small as possible but as big as necessary. However, one difference between the two is that we make a continuation bet when we hope that our opponent's hand is just as weak as ours and that our bet will get him to fold. When we make a block bet, however, we are assuming that our opponent is very likely to have a better hand at the moment, or could at least pretend he is ahead if we were to show any weakness. Thus, when we make a block bet, we always have a reason to assume that our opponent could bet a large amount and the intention of the block bet is to prevent this from happening.
Block bet vs. Probe bet
We often make a probe bet in position when the pre-flop raiser shows weakness, while a block bet only really makes sense when we are out of position. In situations where we also make a probe bet out of position, our goal is to try to get information about the relative strength of our hand. If our opponent responds with a raise, we will generally have to give up our hand. When we make a block bet, we don't want to give up our hand; we want to control the size of the bet. We are trying to influence our opponent to simply call our bet instead of betting himself, either because we want to see a cheaper showdown or because we are on a draw.
A block bet in later betting rounds
A block bet can be made in any betting round and the aim is always the same: To keep our opponent from making a bigger bet by getting him to accept and call our bet. For example, if we made a block bet with a draw on the flop and our opponent just calls, then we can do the same thing on the turn if we don't hit. One type of block bet that is particularly worth mentioning is the block bet on the river:
- Example 2:
We are holding in the small blind. Everyone folds to us. We raise three times the big blind. The big blind calls. The flop is . We make a value bet of 5 big blinds. Our opponent calls. The turn is the . We make another value bet, this time 12 big blinds. The big blind calls again. The river is the . At this point we could be beaten if our opponent has called post-flop with a backdoor flush or backdoor straight draw or . But this last scare card could also prompt him to bluff. We want to prevent all of this by betting another 15 big blinds on the river (a little less than half the size of the pot). The big blind calls again and shows .
The only time we make a block bet is when we are out our of position, no one has bet yet and we think that our opponent might make a bigger bet for some reason. However, we don't want to fold because of the current strenght of our hand or because of the fact that it could become very strong in a later round of betting.
We should not make a block bet if:
• our hand is very weak and we only have a few outs.
• our hand is so strong that we think it is the best hand at the moment.
• someone else has already bet before us.
• we have position on the opponent who we think might make a big bet.
• we have no reason to believe that our opponent will bet.
• there are too many players in the pot who would all have to be manipulated at the same time.