Poker is a game of incomplete information. We fixate about the ranges, patterns, metagame. We're obsessed with finding out what's hidden to our eyes. Unfortunately, with that attitude, it's very easy to forget about the basics and miss something obvious, hidden in plain sight... like the board texture.
Community cards often get much less attention than they actually deserve and in turn provide us with less information than they potentially could. In this article, we're going back to basics to try to answer the seemingly simple question:
How to read board texture?"
Types of Board Textures
First things first. As soon as community cards hit the board it's important to realize what kind of texture we're working with:
- Rainbow Board. Example: Kh7c2d. This one is a classic. With no flush draws possible both players lose a considerable chunk of feasible hands for both getting aggressive or calling a bet with. While playing those kinds of boards can get tricky at high levels of play they are usually synonymous with the good old "cbet and fold" play sequence.
- Two Tone Board. Example: 9s7s3c. Those boards are much more tricky to play since the possible calling ranges are usually much wider than on rainbow boards. Also, the likelihood of a potential cbet getting raised or check/raised is considerably higher.
- Monotone Board. Example AsKs8s. On this kind of board texture, the relative strength of the most popular holdings like the top and second pair type hands (or even two pairs and sets) goes down considerably. Also, drawing to a high flush is not as profitable since even if we manage to hit it our hand will be fairly obvious to figure out.
- Paired Board. Example JhJd6c. Similarly to the rainbow board, possible ranges for aggression and continuing in the hand get really narrow so there's not a lot of play to those kinds of boards especially against ABC players who will quickly let you know if they got a piece of the flop or not.
Board Texture and Implied Odds
Board texture can be very important when considering our implied odds. It's very hard to get paid off on a Kh7h2h4h5d board when we're holding AhQh (since the board is blocking the second nuts, discouraging medium strength hands from a thin call and making the flush as likely as it can ever be).
It's however much easier on a 9c8c7h3h2h since it's more difficult for our opponent to put us on backdoored nuts, plus there are many strong hands that villain can have (99,88,77, JJ+, 56s, JT, K-high flush to name a few). Similarly, value betting Q8o on an ATJ59 board is almost like stealing the proverbial candy from a baby while trying to do the same with 89 on a 5627J board will be considerably more difficult.
When we talk about blockers we usually refer to the decreased probability of certain card or holding in villain's range based on the fact that said card is in our hand. What we often fail to take into account is the fact that board is just as good - if not better - at blocking hands as our hole cards. One of the most obvious and also most valuable examples is the situation when a board with a possible flush draw includes the Ace of that flush-draw color.
An Ac2h5c board will block some amount of flush-draw combos in villain's range simply due to the fact that AX hands are among the most popular preflop holdings. Sometimes this decrease in probability will be extremely severe. Nitty UTG open raiser can have plenty of flush draws on a Jc2h5c board and virtually no flush draw combos on Ac2h5c.
Turn blockers can expose dishonest lines fairly easily. The most obvious example of that is Ace pairing the board on the turn and causing flop cbettor to slow down because the hand he was representing with said cbetsuddenly got far less likely. In a similar way, a second highest flop card pairing the board on the turn can inform us that range of the flop caller will be more draw-heavy since it can now include a lot less second-pair type hands etc.
Absolute and Relative Hand Strength
One of the biggest mistakes recreational players (and even less experienced regulars) make is getting married to the absolute strength of their hand no matter the flop texture. Maybe "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" but flopping a top pair with AhKh on a Ac4s9d board definitely feels a lot better than making a top pair with Jh9c on a 9s7s6h. Our relative hand strength is usually much more important than its absolute strength and the board texture will be the main determinant of said relative strength.
Let's consider a few other examples. You flop a set with 9s9c on 9h3d2c, you have the absolute nuts and the likelihood of losing the hand is very slim. The same set of nines on a 9h8h4d board is still the nuts but get's somewhat tricky to play correctly. Set of nines on JdTd9d is no longer the nuts and figuring out a correct line in that spot can cause you some real headaches.
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