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How to Read the Board in Poker

Good poker players know how to 'Read the Board', so they are always aware of what their opponents could possibly hold. This might seem pretty obvious however it is sometimes an area that is overlooked. I think there will be a time when every player has committed chips to a pot thinking they have the nuts, Reading the Boardonly to stun themselves at showdown in missing a bigger hand that was possible. As relevant as it is to know what your opponents might be holding, it is also key to know what hands are not possible so as not to worry defending against them. Here are some simple guidelines to get you started.

Keeping things simple, understanding how strong your hand is, against what is possible (given the board), should influence how aggressive you are and ultimately how you bet. Remember the aim is also to minimize risk - to do this you need to be able to weigh up what the risks are, so it is imperative that you can quickly size up the board.

If the board pairs (see board cards or community cards), someone may have a Four of a Kind. If there are no pairs on the board, no one can have a Four of a Kind. A pair on the board also makes a Full House possible. Both of these hands are very strong, so when the board pairs, pay attention, as someone may be holding a monster hand. It can be very easy to overlook these hands when you have a strong hand yourself.

Three of the same suit on the board offers flush possibilities. Often when the suited community cards are not particularly impressive (.i.e. consist of two low cards), it is far easier to ignore the danger that a player might have a flush. Remember, the value of the cards does not matter when making a flush (unless more than one person holds a flush, in which case the highest single card held by either player would win the hand - Ace being the highest card). There is far less risk playing A Club K Club than there is playing 4 Club 8 Club. Even if you hit your flush with the 4-8, you might still be behind against a 9 high flush or better. In time i think we all come to appreciate the risks of playing rag cards. As a simple rule, if you play suited cards and you make your flush, you should be prepared to lay it down, in the face of serious aggression. Don't get married to your hands.

You should also watch out for cards in sequence - for instance, the board comes 4-5-6 or 4-5-7 or 4-5-8, there is the possibility that an opponent has a straight. If the cards on the board only have two 'holes' or missing cards in a string of five consecutive cards, someone may be holding those cards. Remember that especially where you have a multi-way pot and there have been limpers, there may well be a range or players with rag cards, possibly connectors or suited connectors. At the same time, when cards like 9-J-Q show themselves on the board, beware that an opponent may be holding the 'missing' 10-K or possibly the 8-10. If there are two cards of the same suit, there may well be flush draws lurking. Any third card of the same suit should be a red flag to slow down (unless you hold it). An A-8 on a 4-5-8 board is pretty strong but you don't want to bust on a pair. Play aggressively however when you think you are likely behind, fold and move onto a better spot. As stated many times before, information is power so be sure to use all the information you have on a player, before making a decision. For instance, you might know their starting hand range, which might rule or at least lower the probability that they have a missing 6 or 7. They may be very tight and really only play face cards. Maximize your chances of winning. Reduce your risk. There is no need to put all your eggs in one basket, particularly in a lengthy session.

Reading the Board - Questions to Ask Yourself

Is there a pair on the board?
Yes. Both a Four-of-a-Kind and a Full House are possible.

Are there three suited cards on the board?
No. A Flush is not possible.

Are there three Sequence Cards on the board?
Yes. A straight is possible.

Can you use your cards to rule out possible hands?
Yes. Since if you have one of the K's, no one can have Four-of-a-Kind this hand and so on.

The cards that can make your opponent a possible winner are known as danger cards (or scare cards) and being able to recognize them can keep you out of trouble. Just because you have the best hand on the flop or pre flop, doesn't mean that you will have it on the turn or river. Be 'man enough' to know when you're beat and remember, it's usually less costly to make a bad lay down than a bad call.

Other Relevant Guides

Texas Holdem Starting Hands

The Importance of Seat Position

The Art of Bluffing

The Odds of Making Your Hand

Calculating Pot Odds

World Poker Tour


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