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Board Textures and Hand Ranges

Comparing them correctly for sharper play

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


In my last column, I discussed that the most useful way to read hands relies on the concept of hand ranges. Because your opponents do not provide you perfect information with their checks, bets, and raises, you cannot quickly narrow down their holdings to just one or a few hands. Instead, you must assign ranges of hands to them based on their actions, and you can refine these ranges as the hand proceeds.

You’re off to a good start if you can come up with relatively accurate hand ranges for your opponents as you play. But it’s also important to use these ranges to make the best playing decisions. The first step in doing that is to consider how hand ranges interact with board textures.

Board texture is classification of board type based on what hands the board makes probable. For instance, a board of KHeart Suit 8Heart Suit 6Heart Suit 2Heart Suit makes flushes probable, but full houses and straights impossible, and two-pair hands relatively improbable. Given the sorts of hands that people generally play, a board of KDiamond Suit JSpade Suit 10Heart Suit makes straights, two pairs, pairs, and straight draws relatively probable, while flushes and full houses are impossible. These are two very different board textures.

Different board textures interact with players’ hand ranges in different ways. Some textures paired with some ranges will produce a lot of strong and medium-strength hands. We saw an example of this in my last column. Our opponent in that hand raised preflop with a range of 2-2+, A-7+, K-10+, Q-10+, J-10, and 10-9 suited to 5-4 suited. The flop came QDiamond Suit 10Spade Suit 7Spade Suit. Most of the hands in our opponent’s range flopped either a pair or better, or a straight or flush draw here. Usually, you shouldn’t bluff when an opponent’s range fits so well with the board texture. With a bad hand in this situation, you should typically just give up.

Other board textures will produce mostly weak hands. For instance, our opponent raises preflop with the same hand range as before. The flop comes 6Diamond Suit 4Club Suit 3Heart Suit. How does our opponent’s range fit with this board?

He makes strong hands with 6-6, 4-4, 3-3, and the big pocket pairs — A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and perhaps J-J. He makes medium-strength hands with 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 5-5, 7-6 suited, 6-5 suited, and 5-4 suited. The pairs are only medium-strength because so many scary cards can come on the turn and river that will make it difficult to call large bets with them. The rest of his hands, the majority of all hands in the range, have missed the flop almost entirely. Our opponent’s range on this flop is, overall, quite weak. This is a reasonable flop to consider bluffing.

An ace on the board will have a significant effect on the board texture. This is because hand ranges often contain a lot of hands that have an ace in them. It’s also because a pair of aces is hard to beat, and also because it’s hard to bluff someone with a pair of aces.

For instance, consider this flop: ADiamond Suit 8Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit. Our opponent makes a strong hand with A-A, 8-8, 3-3, A-8, and most of the other A-X combinations. Our opponent makes a medium-strength hand with the pocket pairs K-K, Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, and 9-9. Also reasonably strong are the flush draws with all hands that are suited in diamonds. Most of the other hands in our opponent’s range are fairly weak on this flop.

Our opponent can have a fair number of strong hands, some medium-strength ones, and some weak ones. But we don’t yet really know exactly how likely each strength category is. To get a feel for the overall strength of a hand range, we have to count the number of hands in each strength category. When you’re counting hands, it’s important to remember that there are 12 ways to make an offsuit hand (that is, ADiamond Suit KSpade Suit, ADiamond Suit KClub Suit, ADiamond Suit KHeart Suit, …), six ways to make a pocket pair, and four ways to make a suited hand. Also remember that if a card appears on the board, it cannot also appear in our opponent’s hand.

Let’s briefly count up the hands in our opponent’s range. The flop is ADiamond Suit 8Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit. He can have any of 13 pocket pairs, 10 of which can be made six ways and three of which only three ways (since the cards on the board cannot appear in our opponent’s hand). So, that’s 69 possible hands. We called nine of these combinations strong, 30 medium-strength, and 30 weak.

He can hold A-K any of 12 ways — likewise for all of the other A-X hands except A-8, which he can hold one of nine ways. That makes 81 ways to have an ace, all of which are fairly strong. Our opponent can have K-Q, K-J, K-10, Q-J, Q-10, and J-10 any of 16 ways each, making 96 total board-missing combinations. But six of these combinations (one for each hand) are suited in diamonds, so we have six medium-strength hands and 90 weak ones; 10-9, 7-6, 6-5, and 5-4 are all weak hands, except when suited in diamonds. So, that makes four medium-strength combos and 12 weak ones; 9-8 and 8-7 are strong hands when suited in diamonds (a pair and flush draw), and medium-strength one-pair hands otherwise.

Adding everything up, we have 92 strong hands, 46 medium-strength hands, and 132 weak hands. Phew, that was a lot of math, but by doing it, we’ve come to an important conclusion: Our opponent is roughly as likely to have a strong or medium-strength hand as he is a weak one, and the vast majority of his strong hands involve him holding an ace. From this observation, we can develop a general strategy. We can bluff once with perhaps a half-pot or two-thirds-pot bet. Hopefully, this bluff will get our opponent to fold his hand when he has one of the weak hands in his range. If he doesn’t fold, however, we will give up, because he is quite likely to have a strong hand with an ace in it.

The first bluff is profitable, since we can expect our opponent to fold roughly half the time while we’re getting more than even money on our bet (by making a smaller-than-pot-sized bet). But subsequent bluffs are likely to be unprofitable, since his remaining hand range will be too strong.

You may look at all of that math and say, “No way can I do that at the table. Are you crazy?” But you don’t have to do it at the table. You can do it away from the table and just remember the answer while you’re playing. For instance, the lesson from this example is that it’s often profitable to bluff once with an ace on the board, but not to follow up with a second or third bluff if called.

If you think in terms of hand ranges and correctly compare ranges to board textures, your play will become much sharper. Spade Suit

Ed’s brand-new book, Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em, is available for purchase at He is a featured coach at, and you can also check out his online poker advice column,