The River Blocker Bet

In the age of Re-Entry Tournaments and awfully light open raises, many players are losing sight of an important concept: tournament life. They are thinking, “I’ll just rebuy if I’m wrong” or “If she has a big hand and I lose, I was unlucky.” Too many players are overworking to build stacks and giving up when they get low. It’s a well-known fact that the chip leader on Day-1 of the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas has never won the tournament. Equally as interesting is the idea that many players have needed to fold down to as few as 5 big blinds (very low) and eventually have found themselves with all of the chips at the end. There are multiple times throughout a poker tournament where you must play a hand based on the thought that no matter what happens on the turn and River, I will leave myself with over 20 big blinds unless I improve. Another healthy thought may sound like, “I will not lose my entire tournament here unless I have a big hand and get unlucky.” While it’s fun to show off a monster stack and be chip leader, more often than not the players with low to mid stacks catch fire at the right time and win the bulk of the cash. So why does an article titled “River Blocker Bet” spend so much time discussing tournament life and stack sizes? Because the River Blocker Bet is a tool that keeps you out of trouble and helps maintain your stack at the correct size if you must fold on the River (the last community card). It works by forcing your opponent to shut down or make a difficult bluff on the River to win a pot. In some cases it serves as a value bet. I’ve also found it to cause confusion for the other player in the hand as they ask, “what could you possibly have with this very small bet on the River?” In today’s example we’ll look at how a River Blocker Bet helped ease some of the stress associated with making a hard decision while holding a mediocre hand.

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If you’ve been following the blog up to this point, you’ve probably noticed that most hands begin the same. What would you do if you were dealt 10c-8s in the big blind with about 28 big blinds facing a minimum raise from the button? Why? As we move forward, we want to challenge you to really think about how you would play the hand vs. how The Poker Model suggests. In this hand I’ve been dealt a playable hand because I have over 20 big blinds, I have 2 cards greater than 7, and I’m in the big blind. Because SrJOAO1972 has a decent stack size (around 49 big blinds) and great table position (on the button with no one in the hand on his right), it’s more likely that he is raising “light.” Raising light implies that he could have a much weaker hand because of his position and stack. Simply put, the closer you are to the button in a preflop situation, the better your table position (excluding the big and small blinds). This is because there are less players on your left that can call or raise behind you. Also related is the idea that larger stacks tend to raise “lighter” than shorter stacks. A 2 big blind minimum raise from an 100 big blind stack is only 2% of the stack while a 2 big blind minimum raise from a 20 big blind stack is 10%.  Big stacks have wiggle room to see more flops than small stacks, which is why big stacks will raise with weaker (lighter) hands. While it’s very important to understand the aforementioned concepts, do not get too caught up in them. To echo from other posts, “players can have any two cards at any time,” do not be caught off guard or surprised when they have the last hand you would expect. I call the hand, let’s look at what happens on the flop below.

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10d-2c-3h. I’ve connected on the flop with top pair. At this point in the hand I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. Top pair is usually a winner, but the decisions associated tend to be difficult. Take a look at some hands that are already way ahead of my 10-8: 10-2, 10-3, 10-9, 10-J, 10-Q, 10-K, 10-A, 2-2, 3-3, 10-10, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, A-A. To make matters worse, almost any two cards have potential to improve on the turn and/or river and be ahead of my pair of 10s with an 8 kicker. A few of those hands that come to mind are A-5, A-4, A-3, A-2, 4-5, Q-J, K-J, K-Q, A-K, A-Q, A-J.

Stack sizes will also play a part in the strength of top pair. For example, if you have around 20 big blinds, top pair is usually good enough to move all-in when facing a standard continuation bet on the flop. This is because many times you will be called with worse than top pair by your opponent (middle pair or worse kicker) and be in a position to double up. In this hand, 10-4, 10-5, 10-6, 10-7, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, and a 3 with any kicker would likely be willing to play for all of a 20 big blind stack if bets and raises were made on the flop. My 10-8 would be beating those hands and put me in position to double up.

On the contrary, if a player had a medium to large stack (30-100 big blinds) and top pair, they may slow down a bit and not be set on getting all of their chips in the middle. The general concept here is that top pair is typically good enough to go all-in on the flop if you have a 20 big blind stack, while it is not strong enough to move all-in with medium to larger sized stacks.  The only hands that will call you in the latter example are hands that have a mathematical advantage over top pair, like 2 pair, over pairs, sets, and more. The above section is more advanced and we look forward to breaking down hands of this nature in other posts.

To review: I’ve called the pre-flop raise because I have two cards over 7 in my hand, a stack size of over 20 big blinds, and I’m sitting in the big blind. The flop has come 10-2-3, giving me top pair. I choose to check to the raiser, expecting a standard continuation bet. If my opponent checks, I will see what happens on the turn. If a bet comes I will be calling.

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As expected, my opponent makes a standard continuation bet. We already knew that I would be calling this bet when I made top pair on the flop. I wouldn’t consider folding top pair because a standard continuation bet from a larger stack with good position is usually very light. I also wouldn’t raise here because if I’m called or put all-in, then I’m most likely way behind (they have it). I think, “I’m going to put about 2 big blinds in the pot to call, how many big blinds will I have after?” The answer being about 25 big blinds. We are still cautiously optimistic at this point because while we most likely have the best hand, future bets will become bigger, any card can hurt us, and we may be approaching the 20 big blind mark soon in our stack.

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The turn (4th card) is a 2. This looks to be an okay card for me because I still have top pair on the board. I’m still ahead of any continuation bets made with “two overs” like Q-J, K-J, K-Q, A-Q, A-J or A-K. Also, none of the live draws on the board filled up with the second 2 on the board (hands like A-4, A-5, and 4-5 did not improve). While a hand like A-2 now has me beat, I’m not too concerned because it is far less likely that my opponent has it with two already showing on the board (<10%, there are only 4 total in the deck!). My main worry at this point are all of the 10s that have me out-kicked and all of the over pairs (a pair above the board, like Q-Q). I check again to the raiser because I do not want to build the pot in anyway, my hand is simply not good enough. If I make a bet, then I leave the door open for my opponent to raise. At this point in the hand being raised screams, “I have top pair beat and I want all of your chips!” My goal is to get to the River as cheaply as possible because there are too many hands that may have me beat. I’m hoping that he checks to the River. Why? Because a “second bet” or “double barrel” shows serious strength. I’ll be forced to toe the 20 big blind line in order to see the River.

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SrJOAO1972 makes a second bet. This is a very tough spot for me. Do I fold and take my 25 big blinds to the next hand? I’m not against it, there will be an easier spot for me in the future. In fact, I would advise that a fold should be made in this spot. The last thing you want is to make this call, check the River, and have SrJOAO1972 put you all-in. The Poker Model is built to keep you out of these situations. SrJOAO1972 had a big chip stack and great table position when he made his pre-flop raise so it becomes slightly less likely that he has an over pair (see “light” discussion above). My thinking went, “I can afford to call this bet, putting me around 20 big blinds, then make a river blocker bet no matter what comes. Yes, I’ll be breaking my own rule of going below 20 big blinds on the River Blocker Bet, but there are very few hands that beat me here, and I’ll guarantee leave myself with over 15 big blinds and my tournament life.” So I basically decided to go a bit lower than usual because of a unique board and opponent.

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So I called his turn bet and a Jack came on the river. As promised, I executed on my River Blocker Bet. The goal of the River Blocker Bet is to 1) ensure that I put in the number of chips that I want to and lose no more 2) slow down my opponent from making a very large bet on the River that may or may not be a bluff. While I’m not pleased with the fact that my River Blocker Bet took me a bit below 20 big blinds, it certainly accomplished its goal of making my River decision easy. If I check the River I’d most likely be faced with a difficult call for almost all of my chips. We were able to dodge that vulnerability by using the River Blocker Bet. This move was made to leave me with as close to 20 big blinds as possible and ensure that I do not go broke on the hand. In a deeper stack situation, make your River Blocker Bet about 1/3rd the size of the pot. So what happens now? Well, my decisions have already been made. If called, I’ll find out if I win a big pot. Either way I’ll have a stack that keeps me in the running to win the entire tournament (obviously we prefer to win). If SrJOAO1972 puts me all-in, then we truly know that he had it the whole time. When this happens, we’ll have wished we just folded to the second bet. It’s impossible to be perfect, take your short stack to the next hand and play that one well if the current one was a fail. What we have done is gathered the information to really know if our opponent had it without risking our tournament life. There is one other option: Our opponent can fold!

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It happened. SrJOAO1972 looked at a very small bet on the River, a small stack behind me and decided to fold. Maybe he was bluffing the entire hand, or missed a draw, or changed his mind along the way. The point is that players will do anything with any two cards. Just focus on being aware of your own stack size and what you can afford to put into a River Blocker Bet to keep you in the game.

Brett

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