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Blocking, Continuation and Floater Bets
This is a quick primer on three popular and effective ways players manipulate their tables and take down pots before showdown: blocking, continuation and floater bets.
A blocking bet is simply a bet designed to stop your opponents from betting.
Blocking bets are one of my favorite tools in an online game. They're still very useful live, but online has fewer options for exploiting a skill edge and this is one of them.
For example: You have J♥ Q♥ on a flop of K-J-9 with one heart. You have second pair, with a gut-shot and a back door flush draw. You're not sure you have the best hand and are worried about a rather aggressive player. There is $20 in the pot and you're first to act.
Now it's an unraised pot, and you're pretty sure if it starts getting checked someone will try to steal it. You're sure anyone with top pair is going to bet out. If they bet large enough, you simply cannot call. But you have a big enough hand you don't want to sign off just yet.
This is where you put in a blocking bet. You bet $12 into the pot. This bet is around the smallest bet anyone would make if you were to check-call. But it's also big enough someone's going to need a strong made hand to want to raise.
The pot's not big enough to warrant a big bluff, so chances are no one will raise. Even if your opponent has a weak to moderate top pair, most players here will simply call.
If your opponent flops the straight, most players here will just call to trap you, as there is no legitimate draw out there to threaten them.
If you don't take down the pot, you've bought yourself a cheap turn. And if you're behind on the flop, the turn gives you the chance to catch up.
Blocking bets are a good way to draw cheaply. The professionals use them frequently when playing against a hand they know has them beat. If you block properly, and keep the initial investment small, the implied odds against cracking a slow-played monster can make this a very profitable maneuver.
Continuation and Floater Bets
Everyone knows what a continuation bet (c-bet) is these days. Dan Harrington's rule for continuation bets says they should only be made when you are heads-up to the flop.
Although a great piece of advice, this rule serves as a nothing more than a wonderful guideline to start from. The rule is tournament-specific, and in a tournament, unlike in a cash game, chips are life.
In a tourney, there is much more trapping for small pots and you simply can't afford to lose the chips you would put into play with an ill-made continuation bet.
Cash games are different in a few ways. As I said, I still use Harrington's system as my base. When in doubt, I stick to it. But there are times when you're going to want to c-bet against multiple players. One of these times will be while trying to enforce a more active aggressive table image.
Sometimes you will be on a table full of people who like seeing flops and will fold if they miss. I've played at tables where I've literally raised 20 hands in a row, c-bet the flop and had it folded to me every time.
When people start standing up to you in that situation, you just change your game. The amount of money you lose when you get stood up to is still far less than all the money you made in the 20 previous hands.
Continuation bets are at the forefront of everyone's mind these days. It's one of the easiest concepts to grasp in poker. As a result, all the players who want to think they're really good will spend a lot of time thinking about them.
I'm not saying they're not important; I'm just saying they're only a small part of a huge game. Because so many people are so focused on c-bets, even amateur players will pick up on how often you make them. All really solid players keep a record in their mind of who c-bets and how often.
If you notice a player c-bets every time they raise, then you can check-raise them all night to pick up a few easy bets. Don't do it often enough they pick up on what you're doing. You can take many bets throughout the night, or a few bets in a few hands.
Other players are also adapting to the increased use of continuation bets. The floater is a newer term for a delayed c-bet. You delay your c-bet until fourth street, or let it "float." Another variation is to check the flop with the intention of a check-raise, regardless of your hand.
Sinking a floater is the same as trapping a continuation bettor: first you have to understand what they're doing, then play back at them by letting them do it and stealing the bets they make when they do.
Floaters are harder to pick up on, but at the same time are much more risky. By letting the opponent see fourth street, you've given him another card to hit a hand big enough to call your bet.
If you notice a player is paying attention to your continuation bets and starts playing back at you, you can then re-pop them to shut them down. It's a fun move, because you execute two bluffs with pure aggression, fully expecting them to fold.
When it works, it takes the wind right out of their sails, putting it into yours. You catch an amateur player making what he feels to be a professional play, and then crush him for it. It's beautiful.
Just be warned: sometimes they actually do have a big hand. ;)
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