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How To Exploit A Weak Player On A Disconnected Board Texture

by Reid Young |  Published: May 14, 2014

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Reid YoungGreat players know that board texture is nearly everything in deep-stacked poker.

All of the different ways that boards develop across different flop, turn and river permutations are what make the game of no-limit Texas hold’em so incredibly complex and fun; but, all those possibilities are a lot to quantify. That’s why for this article, we’ll be learning a common mistake less experienced players make all the time on dry, or disconnected, board textures.

As understanding of board texture becomes more nuanced and complex ideas are understood, better decisions are made and money is won more often and lost less often. In about as general a way as one can speak about the subject, there are two classifications of board textures in no-limit hold’em poker: dry boards and wet boards. Other common names for the same terms that are a little more pragmatic are disconnected boards and connected boards. First, let’s consider a common connected board example.

Our opponent raises preflop and let’s say that we call in position with sufficiently deep stacks and JDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit. The flop comes 9Diamond Suit 8Spade Suit 2Heart Suit and we call our opponent’s continuation bet (c-bet) with our two overcards to the board and our open-ended straight draw. Not a bad flop! The turn is the 3Club Suit. Again, our opponent opts to bet a large portion of the size of the pot, but also small enough that the chances that we can river a queen, jack, ten, or seven entice us to call. Unfortunately, the river is the KHeart Suit, which doesn’t improve our hand. Again, our opponent bets. Our jack-high isn’t altogether impressive or valuable, and if we need to call a portion of our opponent’s river bets in order to keep him from betting in the spot 100 percent of the time and profiting, then jack-high probably isn’t a great first hand to use when we want to start calling! We have stronger hands to use as calling hands like pocket tens in case our opponent is value betting with a worse hand or he’s bluffing with a hand like queen-jack, that still beats our jack-ten.

Now, what about less connected board textures? Instead of having busted draws like our missed jack-high straight draw that we can fairly obviously “naturally fold,” something different happens quite often on these disconnected boards. Players often over-value the weakest portion of their river distribution, and it costs them dearly. Let’s say that we make the same preflop call, but this time we are holding ADiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit and the flop comes AHeart Suit 9Spade Suit 2Club Suit. We call the c-bet, and we decide that it’s worth it to call another bet on a turn KClub Suit in case our opponent is bluffing. On the river 3Spade Suit, our opponent bets about the size of the pot. What should we do?

If you’re a less experienced player, or just think you aren’t a less experienced player, and are considering strategy along the lines of “call you idiot, we have top pair,” then please allow this article to change your poker career. Let’s start with our potential turn calling distribution since folding A-4 suited on the flop would be completely ridiculous. To create a potential turn calling distribution, let’s take a brief look at the flop play and how it breaks down. Once we know how the turn plays out for most players, then we can create a river strategy based on the turn play.

On the flop, let’s say that we plan to call with a few backdoor draws and gutshots so our hand isn’t obviously a pair of aces or a pair of nines only. These are hands like 5Heart Suit 4Heart Suit and JSpade Suit 10Spade Suit. And of course, it is possible that we have the rare monster hand like A-9 suited, A-2 suited, 9-9 or 2-2; but, all those hands are very unlikely to be in our turn calling range, and not just because of the combinatoric unlikelihood. Other discounting factors for these monster hands may include our inclination to raise with those hands on the flop, and so they aren’t likely to be in our potential turn calling distribution. We “used” those hands up on the flop raises that we determined are more valuable than the alternative of slow playing. So when we face the second postflop bet from our opponent on the turn KClub Suit, which hands of the remaining flop calls are you using to call the turn bet?

Given the flop calling distribution, or if you prefer, the full potential turn calling distribution, of some suited 5-4 combinations, some suited J-10 combinations, pair of nines hands, and pair of aces hands, we know how most players will continue, and it shouldn’t be surprising. Most players will only call the turn bet with aces in their hand and fold every other type of hand. That strategy is probably a decent play against passive opponents who don’t bluff the turn often enough. But now we know that we need to account for the massive amount of turn folds some players make and how it’s affecting the river calling strategy. Those same players frequently make the mistake of calling the river with all the same one pair hands, all those aces from the turn call. And there’s the rub. Frequently on the river, these players have the exact same calling distribution that they have on the turn. More clearly, never bluff these players and always value bet the same value hands from the turn.

Because most players reraise with A-K preflop in most positions, if a player calls the turn with only pairs of aces and unless he has been lucky enough to make two pair on the river, then the aggressor has a very easy time value betting any hand like A-10, or A-9 and better for nearly any size he prefers, as he knows his opponent’s distribution is all one-pair ace hands. Even more specifically, the aggressor knows that the majority of those A-x hands have a low kicker card, because the strong ones typically reraise preflop and that those hands are very likely not folding. A turn value bet is therefore nearly always a river value bet against this type of player.

So if you’re one of those players who always calls with top pair in this situation, be aware that your opponent has nearly perfect information on your holding and that he should be catering his strategy accordingly. After all, it isn’t a huge leap, even for an intermediate player, to exploit this leak in one’s game. The aggressor knows that you’re not folding. He knows you have a weak ace. And he knows that you only very rarely river two pair. To combat the aggressor, the defending player should only call with a portion of his A-x holdings. Of course, this first includes those A-x hands that river two pair, and also the stronger of the single pair hands, those like A-J and A-10 suited. That means some top pairs should be folded on the river, given our play on earlier streets.

On the other hand, if you spot a player with these tendencies, and several players do play this way, take to heart that you have a very valuable tool at your disposal: the ability to exploit another player’s less than advanced understanding of board texture and the fact that your hand is clearly worth a very effective value bet if it beats the majority of the weak ace combinations. While the same player may not make mistakes on connected boards when draws miss, you know that you’ll be able to light him up on those disconnected boards because his calling range won’t adapt to your aggression. Happy hunting! ♠

Reid Young is a successful cash game player and poker coach. He is the founder of TransformPoker.com.