Learn The Three Keys To Dominating Any Blocker SituationI was recently asked an interesting question that I’d surprisingly never been asked before.
…One of my students asked me, “What’s the most exciting thing to do in PLO?”.
After a few moments of deliberation I responded that without a doubt, “it has to be pulling off a naked ace bluff in a monster pot.”
I think most players would agree that there’s nothing better than knowing your opponent can’t have the nuts, making them lay down a big hand, and then turning it over to
Blocker bluffing encompasses many of the things that make PLO such a beautiful game. Since you’re dealt four cards, the ability to represent a wide range of hands is naturally built in, as is the tendency of players to be scared of the nuts on all streets.
Using blockers as ammunition to force your opponents into submission isn’t all glory though. I’ve actually noticed that many beginners are either misapplying or overusing blocker tactics.
Here in this article, I’ll teach you how to identify the common situations where you can use specialized blocker knowledge to make MORE money, while also highlighting the prominent mistakes made by beginners.
…I’ll begin by discussing the Three KEY Components of any given blocker scenario, and then I’ll use some concrete examples to illustrate the important points.
The Three Keys To Dominating ANY Blocker Situation
There are two main blocker scenarios…
1. When you hold blockers to the nut straight.
2. When you hold blockers to the nut flush.
There are arguably several more elements that can taken into consideration when dealing with blockers, but from my experience, there are three KEY considerations you must make to dominate any blocker situation.
Here they are…
1. Opponent Tendencies.
2. Stack Sizes.
Now, let’s drill down into each of these three so you can be sure to use them to your advantage at the tables today.
1. Opponent Tendencies.
Regardless of the setting, analyzing and interpreting the tendencies of the opposition is critical to picking a line that’s conducive for executing a successful bluff.
A common mistake beginners make is over emphasizing the knowledge that their opponent can’t have the nuts. After all, someone always has the nuts in PLO, and if I know they don’t hold the nuts themselves, then they have to fold if I bet big enough, right? WRONG.
I’ve learned the hard way that most fish (particularly at the low and mid stakes), aren’t very fond of laying down flushes of any rank, so before you barrel off a stack with no pot equity, take a few moments to consider the likelihood that your opponent is capable of laying down a strong made hand like a flush, a straight, or even a set. Pull the trigger against the tight and straightforward players, but avoid pulling big bluffs against calling stations and your wallet will thank you.
2. Stack Sizes.
This one is important. You don’t have to be a math whiz to understand the correlation between lighter stack off ranges and shorter stacks. More simply, make sure the effective stacks are large enough to make people fold. There are few things more costly in poker than building up sizable pots just to give up on them later. For example, trying a naked ace bluff in a three-bet pot with 100bb stacks is generally a bad idea, since the SPR is only ~3-4, so it’s unlikely an opponent will lay down any flush. Most blockers bluffs are best suited in single raised pots where the SPR is ~10-12 which allows you some maneuverability. In short, when devising your bluffs, take a moment to make sure that stacks are deep enough to fire a couple of barrels if you need to.
…Why would position be so crucial when we already know they don’t have the nuts?
…Since everyone is scared of the nuts, can’t we just click the “bet pot” button until they fold?
Not so fast killer, there’s a better way to look at it.
Let’s revisit some poker basics.
Consider the two fundamental forms of equity: fold equity and pot equity.
If we assume that we won’t have any pot equity the majority of the time we’re using blockers to bluff, then we’re going to need a significant amount of fold equity to make up for the times we get looked up.
So if the goal is to increase the profitability of our bluffs, how can we accomplish this?
…One way is to use relative position to our advantage.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with what relative position is, it basically refers to your position in relation to the pre-flop raiser. The ideal situation you’re looking for is when there’s a loose passive player on your right, and an aggressive player on your left. This is an extremely profitable situation because a lot of dead money is created when the aggressive player follows up with a continuation bet and gets called by the loose player on your right.
I’ll give you an example just to help illustrate my point. Say an aggressive player who c-bets 80% opens the BTN and a fish calls in the SB. You’re in the BB with AcAs2h5d and decide to peel with your extremely weak aces. The flop is 3c 9c 4c. SB checks, you check, and the BTN c-bets close to pot, followed by a call from the fish. This is a great spot to check raise bluff, because not only do both players have narrow continuing ranges when you c/r, there’s also a lot of dead money to collect when you win. This works out well because not only does a check/raise look stronger, our bluff doesn’t have to work as often because of the overlay from the dead money.
Hand History Review
To reinforce the concepts we’ve talked about, I’ve provided few hands to show you how to use these ideas. Additionally, I provided the reasons for whether my blocker bet successfully worked or didn’t work.
Relevant reads: Preflop raiser appears to be very loose passive (71/14), but otherwise I don’t have any specific reads on the rest of the table.
$2/$4 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Hero (BB) $644.70
Preflop: ($6, 5 players) Hero is BB 9d As Ac 8h, 1 fold, CO raises to $12, BTN calls $12, 1 fold, Hero calls $8.
Flop: Jc 5c 4c ($38, 3 players), Hero checks, CO bets $19, BTN folds, Hero raises to $48, CO calls $29.
Turn: Qc ($134, 2 players); Hero bets $101, CO calls $101
River: 6s ($336, 2 players); Hero bets $321, CO calls $321
Final Pot: $978
Hero shows 9d As Ac 8h
CO shows 4d 6c 6d 7c
Here’s The Breakdown for #1
Even though my bluff attempt went up in flames, I like the line I took. Generally, this is the line I take when I’m pulling a naked ace bluff. I prefer check/raising over barreling with the the naked ace for several reasons.
…First, people will frequently play passively on monotone boards, especially in multi-way pots. So if you’re in position and decide to barrel, they’ll mostly just call you down instead of putting the money in on the flop since they’re scared of the nuts.
…Second, a check raise looks stronger than leading, and there’s also more dead money from the c-bet in the pot to collect when our opponent folds to a check raise, which means that our bluff yields more profit in the long term.
What I don’t like about this hand is the simple fact that I neglected the tendencies of the opponent I was facing. I don’t mind check/raising the flop since he’ll probably fold most hands that aren’t flushes, but attempting to barrel opponents that are this loose is definitely a losing play in the long run. As was discussed earlier, the most important factor in any poker hand is the tendencies of your opponents. Against players this loose, it’s more profitable to narrow your bluffing ranges, while widening your value range.
Relevant reads: BTN is a passive fish, and the SB is a straight forward reg; no history with either players.
$2/$4 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Pre-Flop: ($6, 6 players) Hero is BB 3d Ks 8d Kd 3 folds, BTN raises to $8, SB calls $6, Hero calls $4
Flop: Tc 5s 9h ($24, 3 players) SB checks, Hero checks, BTN checks
Turn: Qh ($24, 3 players), SB bets $12, Hero raises to $54, BTN folds, SB folds
Here’s The Breakdown for #2
I included this hand to illustrate a couple of points. I mentioned earlier that the success rate of your blocker bluffs is dependent on several factors besides the simple fact that you know they don’t have the nuts. Using some observation skills, it’s easy to see that this bluff is going to work a high percentage of the time. Since the flop checked through, it’s difficult for the BTN to have made a straight on the turn since most players (even passive ones) would’ve bet the flop with a draw or made hand on that type of board texture. Furthermore, since the SB plays straightforwardly, it’s unlikely that he would only bet half pot into two others players with a strong hand, because most regulars bet strongly on boards like that both for the purpose of getting some value and protecting against draws.
For example if I were in his spot, I’d bet at least 80% pot given that he’s OOP against two players on a board that suddenly just got much wetter. Even if he does happen to show up with J8**, there’s not much he can do besides fold since I appear to be so strong. In short, the combination of a bet sizing tell with some simple hand reading skills makes this an easy bluff that we can expect to work a high percentage of the time.
Relevant reads: Villain in this hand is an unknown, but has solid pre-flop stats so far (23/14). BB is a loose-passive fish.
$1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Pre-Flop: ($3, 6 players) Hero is BTN 8d Qs 9h Qd; UTG raises to $6, 2 folds, Hero calls $6, 1 fold, BB calls $4
Flop: 9d Ts 3c ($19, 3 players), BB checks, UTG checks, Hero bets $19, BB folds, UTG calls $19
Turn: Js ($57, 2 players), UTG bets $50, Hero calls $50
River: 5d ($157, 2 players), UTG goes all-in $137.95, Hero calls $137.95
Final Pot: $432.90
Hero shows: 8d Qs 9h Qd
UTG shows: straight, King high Th Kd Qh Ac
Here’s The Breakdown for #3
I included this hand to illustrate what can happen if you put too much emphasis on using blockers while ignoring the other more important elements in the hand. Preflop is an easy call on the BTN since I have a hand that plays well in single raised pots in position, especially with the weaker player in the BB. I think the flop is standard as well. The BB calls really wide preflop, so I’m not concerned about this board hammering his range too often. The UTG raiser would have c-bet with an overpair or a big draw, so many times he’s going to check/fold and give up when I pot the flop. Additionally the times he does peel, I can narrow his range down to medium strength draws or broadways, which makes barreling him on blank turns extremely profitable.
The turn is where the action gets interesting. Leading close to pot on a scary turn card is typically indicative of strength, so being in position with the second nuts puts me in an awkward situation. At the time I made the mistake of leveling myself into thinking he was bluffing because, after all, I HAVE two queens in my hand, so this means he can’t have the nuts right?
Acknowledging that I have blockers to the nuts is great, but ignoring more relevant information about my opponent’s cards is what ultimately led me to make a bad call. For him to be bluffing here, an unlikely sequence of events would have to play out. He would basically have to turn an overpair that he didn’t c-bet into a bluff, turn a set into a bluff, or be leading into me with the ignorant straight or the same straight I have; all of which are unlikely against an unknown player with an EP opening range composed almost entirely of broadways and big pairs. What’s more likely is him peeling the flop with something similar to what he had, and then following up with a standard value line that most players take when they have the nuts OOP. There’s really no reason to believe that he would ever get out of line in this spot.
The main lesson you should take away from this hand is that you shouldn’t let blockers force you to take a bad line or spew away a stack. Yes, having blockers to the nut straight reduces the odds that you’re beat, but it certainly doesn’t eliminate them. Furthermore, having blockers definitely won’t cause your opponents to get out of line against you on scary boards, so if you’re catching a lot of heat in a situation where he’s representing the nuts but you hold blockers, you should probably still consider folding. Opponent tendencies are more important in situations like this than the simple fact that you have blockers to the nuts.
Relevant reads: Villain in this hand has been aggressive both pre-flop and post-flop so far. No other reads.
$0.50/$1 Ante $0.20 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Preflop: ($1.90, 2 players) Hero is SB 6h Kd 6s 4s, Hero raises to $3.40, BB calls $2.40
Flop: 9s Td 3s ($7.20, 2 players), BB checks, Hero checks.
Turn: 5d ($7.20, 2 players), BB bets $7.20, Hero calls $7.20.
River: 4h ($21.60, 2 players), BB bets $21.60, Hero raises to $86.40, BB folds.
Here’s The Breakdown for #4
I mainly included this hand just to provide an example of a spot where having blockers should encourage you to bluff your opponent almost always. Given the line I’ve taken, I can easily represent the nut straight, and even if he has the second nut straight, he’ll still be making a mistake by calling given what my range should be in this spot. It’s important to note that if I did actually have 67**, I would probably take a very similar line. Simply put, make sure that when you’re blocker bluffing, take a line that makes sense in the eyes of your opponent. Don’t spazz out and take a suspicious line that you never would if you actually had the stones. Just relax and play the hand as if you wanted the action, and the rest should be easy.
Relavent reads: Villain (65/55 3b of 13%) seems solid. Only read so far is that he doesn’t barrel wet boards light, especially in three-bet pots.
$2/$4 Pot Limit Omaha Hi (2 Players).
Preflop: ($6, 2 players) Hero is SB Kc 8c Th Kd, Hero raises to $12, BB raises to $36, Hero calls $24.
Flop: Td 9s 7c ($72, 2 players) BB bets $64, Hero calls $64.
Turn: Qs ($200, 2 players), BB bets $192, Hero goes all-in $733.50, BB calls $541.50.
River: 3h ($1,667, 2 players, 1 all-in)
Final Pot: $1,667
BB shows: 8s Js Jd 3d
Hero shows: Kc 8c Th Kd
Here’s The Breakdown for #5
Lastly, I included this hand because it’s a good example of why you should remember to always be cognizant of opponent tendencies, as well as the importance of considering your equity if you’re called. Basically it doesn’t matter that we know it’s unlikely he has the nuts, because the other information we’ve gathered in previous hands trumps the worth of our blockers. The problem here is that we’re in terrible shape when we get called, and given our read that he doesn’t barrel wet boards light, we’re going to get an outcome like this too often to make our bluff profitable. Even if he didn’t turn the straight, many hands he’s willing to barrel with that aren’t made hands will be forced to call given the pot odds, so using our blockers as the only basis for pulling the trigger is definitely -EV.
The main thing to take away from all of this is to remember to take the same approach to blocker situations as you would any other hand.
Ask yourself questions like:
Who’s the opponent in the hand?
How much fold equity do I have?
Are the stacks deep enough to make him fold?
Can I barrel him if I get called?
What’s my equity if I get called?
What kind of line would I take if I actually had the nuts?
This will clears up some confusion about blocker situations. Go out and use this stuff to pad your bankroll.