AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 30.04.2021 · last updated 30.04.2021

If you’re new(ish) to poker and you’ve come across the term ‘blockers’ here and there, and you have an idea what it’s about but are not sure, then read on…

Quite simply, Blockers in poker are the visible/known cards which, by their very presence in a hand, serve to reduce the number of combinations of hands that would have used that particular card. Blockers can also, of course, even rule out altogether the possibility of combinations to exist.

Let’s say we have been dealt the Ace of clubs. This means that there is one less Ace in the deck, so we know that our opponent isn’t holding AcAh, for example, or AcKh. This is more significant than it might first appear, so here’s another example to further illustrate the implications of blockers.

We are dealt Kh Qh… First, we should remind ourselves of the possible combinations of starting hands. For instance, there are 6 pre-flop combinations for a pocket pair, and 16 combinations of AK, which in turn can be broken down to 4 suited and 12 unsuited.

What effect would our Kh Qh have?

Of course, our hand doesn’t block AA, JJ, 88 and so on, and nor does it affect any of the 76 combos, for instance. But the number of KK combos out there has been halved from 6 to 3. Our Kh also reduces the AK tally to 12 from 16, and we can also break these 12 combos down to 9 unsuited and 3 suited. Meanwhile, the potentially important combinations such as KQ, QJ, and  QT have also been reduced.

The further we venture into a hand, the more blockers come into play. Whereas pre-flop our hole cards are (from our perspective) the only blockers, the Flop brings with it three more cards. Note that these are visible to all and thus potentially significant in varying degrees to different players.

It’s quite possible, depending on the Flop, that the extra cards have no bearing on the influence of our hole cards as blockers. For example, if we have 5h 6h and the Flop comes Kc 9c 8d, there are no blockers to the opposition’s combinations such as 33, QJ or Ac Qc.

On the other hand, we can find ourselves post-flop with important blockers that ‘interfere’ with numerous combinations.

Be Realistic

It’s important to remember that we can use a combination of blockers and commonsense thinking to make realistic decisions. A good example of this concerns ostensibly scary flushes. It often happens that we have a decent hand but the presence of the opposition making a possible flush can lead us to slow down or put on the brakes entirely, even with the presence of blockers. For instance, let’s say we raised pre-flop on the Button and only a Middle Position limper went with us to see the Ks Qs Tc Flop. This looks pretty scary if we’re not the one dreaming of hitting the flush. But delving a little deeper, looking at the situation from a blocker perspective, and adding as an important ingredient a smattering of logic, we shouldn’t, in fact, allow ourselves to be too worried. We know that our opponent cannot have Ks Qs, As Ks, As Qs, Qs Js, Ks Ts, and so on because such combinations are ruled out by the board cards. That’s a lot of impossible starting hand combinations. Now, if we consider the opposition’s feasible ranges, it’s more than reasonable to assume that hands like 8s 2s, Js 3s, 9s 4s, and other weak holdings wouldn’t fall within a Middle Position pre-flop calling range. Once we remove both the impossible and highly implausible spade/spade starting hands we’re left with maybe 25 flush draw combinations to factor into our decision-making process, and maybe even fewer for tighter opponents with even narrower ranges. This leaves us less inclined to be negatively influenced by possible draws and, in turn, exert more pressure on our opponent.

Once we get used to the concept of blockers, including quickly making the relevant calculations, it’s clear that it will help our game considerably and allow us to make more informed, optimal and thus more profitable plays.

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