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A Look At Board Texture

by Ed Miller |  Published: Nov 09, 2016


I’m doing a series of companion articles to my most recent book, The Course: Serious Hold ’Em Strategy For Smart Players. It’s a step-by-step guide to mastering the live no-limit hold’em games that you will find in most cardrooms around the world.

Hand reading is the core skill of live no-limit hold’em play at the $2-$5 level and above. The more nuanced an understanding you have of your opponents’ hand ranges, the better you can target your actions to exploit them.

And at the core of hand reading is the study of board textures.

Before the flop, some players are tight and some are loose. But everyone tends to value the same sorts of hands. If you’re tight, you will play pocket pairs, and same if you are loose. If you are tight you will play big card hands like A-Q, and same if you are loose. If you are tight you will still sometimes play suited connectors like 7Club Suit 6Club Suit, and same if you are loose.

Of course loose players add hands like A-7 and JDiamond Suit 6Diamond Suit and 9Club Suit 8Spade Suit that tight players tend not to play. Even so, everyone tends to have the same sorts of hands—loose players just have a few more. No one folds K-K but plays J-2, for instance.

This means that once the flop hits, you can count on your opponents to have the same sorts of hands in their ranges. Pocket pairs. Big cards. Suited hands. Connected hands.
This preflop predictability allows you to look at the board cards and draw inferences about the likelihoods your opponents hold different sorts of hands.

A superficial study of board texture can yield some obvious results. Everyone knows that a flop with three different suits allows no flush draws, while one with two of a suit does allow draws. A flop with a lot of connected cards makes straights and straight draws possible, while disjointed cards makes them impossible. And so on.

But there are more subtleties to board texture if you give the topic a deeper look. One area where seemingly small differences in board texture really matter is on partially disjoint boards.

Consider boards where the cards are separated by two, three, and four ranks. So, for example, compare Q-7-2 with Q-8-4 with Q-9-6. On the first flop, the board cards are separated by four ranks (jack through eight and six through trey). On the second flop, the board cards are separated by three ranks. And on the third flop, two ranks.

No straights are possible on any of the flops. But straight draws become significantly more common as you move from the four-gap flop to the two-gap flop.

On the first flop, zero straight draws are available. On the second flop, there are still no open-ended draws, but there are six gutshot straight draws: J-10, J-9, 10-9, 7-6, 7-5, and 6-5. For a tight preflop player, this represents 24 total hand combinations (four possible suits times the six possible ranks). A tight player might play 300 hand combinations preflop, so these gutshot draws represent eight percent of all hands a tight player might see a flop with. That might not sound like a lot, but if your continuation bet gets called by an extra eight percent of hands it shifts how often you are being called—and the median strength of the hands that are calling you—by quite a bit.

It’s much more dramatic an effect when you look at the two-gap flop. Now there are three open-ended draws: J-10, 8-7, and 10-8. And there are still six gutshots: K-J, K-10, J-8, 10-7, 8-5, 7-5. These draws therefore represent about 12 percent of all hands a tight player might see a flop with.

The practical upshot of this board texture insight is that if the flop is Q-7-2, you can continuation bet into two or even three opponents and expect to pick up the pot a reasonable percentage of the time. If you bet into Q-9-6, however, you won’t win immediately very often.

Wheel Boards

Many players look at small flop cards and ignore them as “rags.” If a flop comes Q-6-2, for example, they may think, “Either my opponents have got a queen or they’ve got nothing.”

But as I pointed out above, these cards are never irrelevant. It always matters how well-connected they are. Contrast Q-7-2 with Q-6-2 and Q-5-2. As I mentioned above, Q-7-2 offers no straight draws, so this is as close to a queen-or-bust flop as there is.

But Q-6-2 has a three-gap pair of cards, which means that three gutshots are available. You will tend to get called substantially more often on a Q-6-2 flop than on Q-7-2.

But when you have two wheel cards in the mix, the effect becomes stronger yet. Consider Q-5-2. Not only is there an open-ender with 4-3, but there are four gutshots: 6-4, 6-3, A-4, and A-3. Perhaps your opponents aren’t a big threat to hold 6-3, but they’re quite likely to hold A-4 and A-3. Furthermore, if you bet the flop and get called, and an ace hits the turn, there’s now a much better chance that your opponent paired the ace versus the Q-7-2 and Q-6-2 flops.

Not All Flush Draw Boards Are The Same

This is a small, but useful insight about flush draw boards. Compare ASpade Suit 9Club Suit 5Club Suit with AClub Suit 9Spade Suit 5Club Suit. From the discussion above, you’ll recognize that these boards are both three-gap boards, and therefore they will afford a number of gutshot draws (though the 4-3, 4-2, and 3-2 draws will be unlikely for some opponents to hold.)

Each of these boards has a club flush draw possible, but if the 2Club Suit comes on the turn, will your opponents tend to have a flush more often on the first or second board?

They’ll actually tend to have the flush more often on the first board than on the second. The difference is the suit of the ace. Whenever a flush draw flops without using the ace of the suit, there are ten flush draws (out of the 55 total possible flush draw combinations available on any flush draw board) that use the ace. That is, A-K, A-Q, A-J, etc. Ace-suited is a hand even tight players will play preflop. So any time a flush draw flops and there’s no ace of the suit on board, A-x flush draws will be a substantial portion of all outstanding flush draws.

When the ace of the suit is on the flop, obviously all of these A-x draws are impossible. Unless your opponent is loose enough to play any two suited cards at any time, the impossibility of A-x flush draws will tend to weight the balance of your opponents’ possible hands somewhat away from flush draws. That is, the percentage of all of their hands that are flush draws will be less on the AClub Suit 9Spade Suit 5Club Suit board than on the ASpade Suit 9Club Suit 5Club Suit board. And, therefore, when the 2Club Suit hits the turn, they will hold a flush less often on the first board than on the second. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site