(25) QuickFact: Blocker Bluffs Have A Much Higher Success Rate When They’re Paired With Other Pieces Of Information.
Blocker Bluffing is +EV
The first thing to point out is that bluffing with blockers, or using blockers to aid your decision-making in PLO is definitely +EV. I’ve seen a couple of players and coaches in recent videos say they’ve basically given up on using blockers, because too often it gets them into more trouble than it’s worth. Well, the truth is that holding blockers provides a distinct information advantage, which means you’re certainly missing out on some easy profit if you choose to sit out of these situations.
One of the more obvious benefits of holding blockers is that it helps define opponent’s ranges. As you continue to develop as a player, the combination of holding blockers and using hand reading skills ultimately provides the opportunity to squeeze out a few extra big blinds every session that you otherwise would’ve missed out on without the blockers. We’ll get into more detail about how combinatorics has an impact on a variety of blocker situations towards the end of the chapter, but for now just realize that knowing how to use these two variables gives you a big edge on your opponents.
Another benefit of using blockers is that it can be great for your image when facing observant opponents. For example, if you attempt a naked Ace bluff and get looked up, those paying attention will think you’re spewy and capable of pulling other bluffs too, which means if you adjust properly by tightening up and widening your value betting range, you’ll be more likely to get paid off later.
A few weeks ago I was playing a session where I used blockers to try to represent the nut straight on the river, but eventually ended up getting called by a regular with two pair. Judging by what he was saying in the chat box, I knew he would take note of what I tried to do on the river. Afterwards, since I knew he would think I was spewy, I just bombed the pot against him anytime I had a good hand, because I knew he would pay me off because he saw me try to bluff in the earlier hand. The moral of the story is that even though I lost a big pot to him earlier, I ended up turning it into a good investment, because I easily made all of my money back and more against him in the next couple of sessions.
Now that we know why getting comfortable using blockers is important, the next question to ask is what kind of scenarios can we use blockers to our advantage? The two main blocker bluffing scenarios occur when we either have blockers on a board where a straight is possible, or when the board is showing three to a flush, and we have the Ace blocker to the nut flush, which means that nobody can have the nuts.
The main difference to point out, is that you need to be more cautious when using the straight blockers, because remember that having blockers to the nut straight only decreases the likelihood of holding the nuts, but that doesn’t mean someone can’t have the nuts. The benefit of holding the nut flush blocker comes from the fact that it’s impossible for someone to have the stones.
You might be thinking, “OK. Identifying the differences between these situations is easy enough, but how am I supposed to know whether I should pull the trigger or not? If I do decide to pull the trigger, what’s the best line to take to make them fold?” Let’s explore the answers to those questions in the next sections.
As you’ve probably noticed from earlier chapters, I’m a huge advocate of using every piece of information available to help me make the best decision. One of the most common mistakes beginning PLO players make is overvaluing the presence of blockers, or in other words, anytime they hold blockers to the nut flush or straight, they tend to ignore all the elements in the hand that are telling them to put on the brakes instead of continuing to fire away.
There are mainly three factors to look for in any blocker scenario:
- Opponent tendencies
- Stack size(s)
We’ll discuss opponent tendencies, stack sizes, and position individually in a moment, but for now the main thing I want to point out is that blocker bluffs have a much higher success rate when the fact that you hold blockers to the nuts is paired with other pieces of gathered information. Simply put, you’ll often need a good read on your opponent, or some other type of favorable situation to justify barreling away, because often times when you’re bluffing with blockers, you’ll have very little equity in the pot.
It’s All About the Tendencies, Baby!
Analyzing and accurately interpreting the tendencies of your opponents is what truly makes blocker bluffs (and for that matter any bluff) successful in the long run. A common mistake beginners make is overemphasizing the knowledge that their opponent can’t possibly have the nuts. Their thought process goes something like this: “Someone always has the nuts in PLO, and if I know they don’t hold the nuts, then they MUST fold if I bet the maximum on every street, right?”
Wrong. I’ve learned the hard way that most fish aren’t as enthusiastic about laying down flushes as I’d like them to be. Before you barrel off a stack with no equity in the pot, take a moment 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.
That being said, don’t think that making a fish fold is impossible. Analyze it like you would any other hand, and if you see weak bets or good opportunities, then go ahead and take it! The players to pull the trigger against are the tight and straightforward players. There are few things I enjoy more than knowing I made a tight player lay down the third, or even the second nut flush. This is probably because I’ve been the guy who made the bad fold many times, so I know how it feels!
Last, and perhaps most importantly, you need to view your image as objectively as possible to maximize the profitably of any bluff, especially blocker bluffs. Your image should be aggressive enough to get paid off, but not aggressive to the point where nobody ever folds to you. Dialing in the tendencies of your opponents goes beyond figuring out their leaks and how to beat them. It also means considering how they’re trying to beat you as well. I mentioned earlier that getting looked up in a big pot when pulling a naked Ace bluff can be very profitable in the future if the correct adjustments are made. The reverse is also true; if you keep attempting big bluffs with a terrible image, you will probably go broke soon.
Stack sizes play a key role in determining how successful your blocker bluffs are. You don’t have to be a math whiz to understand the correlation between lighter stack-off ranges and shorter stacks. In other words, 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.
There are a few exceptions to the rule, but generally the majority of good situations for bluffing with blockers occur in single-raised pots, because the SPR is high enough for us to check-raise with some fold equity, or fire a couple of barrels if needed. Trying a naked Ace bluff in a three-bet pot with 100bb stacks is generally a bad idea, since the SPR lies somewhere near 3-4, so it’s unlikely an opponent will lay down any flush. Recall from Post-flop Warfare that when the SPR is lower, you should typically lean towards semi-bluff raising instead of all out bluff-raising.
Why is position so crucial when we already know they don’t have the nuts? Since everyone fears the nuts in PLO, can’t we just click the “bet pot” button until they fold? Not so fast. There’s a better way to look at it.
Let’s revisit some poker fundamentals. Consider the two basic forms of equity: fold equity and pot equity. If we assume we hold a small amount of pot equity the majority of the time we use blockers to bluff, then a significant amount of fold equity is required to make up for the times we get looked up. Furthermore, 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. Recall from Chapter 2, that relative position refers to your position in relation to the pre-flop raiser. The ideal situation is when there’s a loose passive player on your right, and an aggressive player on your left. This is a 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 to illustrate my point. Say an aggressive player who c-bets 80% opens the BTN and a fish calls in the SB. In the BB holding A♣A♠5♥2♦, you elect to peel holding extremely weak aces. The flop is 3♣4♣9♣. The 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, there is also much 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.
Successful high-stakes cash game players are constantly asking themselves questions throughout each hand. Truthfully, if you ever catch yourself blank-minded during a session, take it as a sign that it’s time to get up from the tables.
I know we just covered a bunch of new stuff, so I want to do a quick review of what we’ve covered by providing you with a list of questions to ask yourself when considering a blocker bluff.
- Who’s the opponent(s) 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 had the nuts?
We covered all these in the previous sections, but the question I want to point out that we didn’t cover is the last one. This one is important, because competent players will be able to narrow your range down if you get careless and take a line that isn’t congruent with the same line that you would take holding the nuts. Fish might let you get away with sloppy play, but regardless, it’s good to get in the habit of taking good lines no matter who’s in the hand with you.