Sunday, February 5, 2012

Breaking Down Board Texture

Long time readers of this blog know that I'm, well, a little enamored--some would say fixated--on my REDi system. Make Reads of what hand ranges and lines your opponents are on. Then Estimate your equities based on those reads. Decide what line you want to take based on your estimates. And then Implement that line in a way that maximizes your expected value. REDi. The system is deceptively simple. Yes, you have to actually do the work make it useful, but REDi works. It works pretty damn well, if I do say so myself. Just perform the four steps (read: perform them well) and you will make money at poker. Easy peasy poker.

Now, all of the REDi steps are obviously important, but the first one is really the key to making it all work. Make good reads, and the rest is actually quite simple. Make bad reads, and... well, it's kind of like trying to construct a house on a non-existent foundation; it's not going to remain standing up very long.

There are many things that go into hand reading. Last October, I wrote a small blog entry on my seven fundamental components of hand reading HERE. Take a minute to go back and refresh your memory if you want. Go on, I'll wait...

...Read it? Good. Now, today, I'd like to look a little closer at the first of those seven components: Board Texture. Why? Because it's something that even total beginners can learn to do quite easily, and it will immediately get you thinking in the right manner about your opponents' hand ranges. It will also give your game a solid boost in the direction of profitability.

The "board" is a term that describes the five community cards dealt face-up in the middle of the table. The "texture" of the board  refers to how coordinated those cards are in relation to each other, combined with how likely it is that those cards help or hurt your opponent's probable hand. This latter fact is why the concept is so important; if you can determine the board texture fairly accurately, and combine it with how your opponent is betting/reacting, you can begin to make fairly accurate reads on the type so cards he or she likely holds.

Now, before you read any further here, you might want to take a minute to go back and refresh yourself on wet/dry and heavy/light flop textures with another blog entry I wrote HERE. Go on, I'll wait....

...Read it? Good. Now let's jump into a simple example hand to illustrate some board texture reading and how it can help you avoid some tricky spots:

Let's say you're 100bb deep and OOP against a tight, nittish player. His 3betting range is 4%, which means JJ+/AQ+. You find yourself in MP with KK. You raise, and promptly get 3bet by this nit sitting on the button. You are certain that if you 4bet, he will fold out JJ and AQ+ every time, QQ some of the time, and KK+ never. Remember that we should be betting for only one of two primary reasons: to get a worse hand to call, or a better hand to fold (Value or Bluff). The probability of either of these things happening if you 4bet is pretty low, and therefore you wisely determine that 4betting is not profitable in this situation. As a result you decide to just flat and see a flop.

And what a flop it is: A-Q-J rainbow, which is clearly a very wet flop. But is it heavy or light? If we stop and reapply REDi here, we can quickly see that essentially every single hand in your opponent's range has you crushed on this flop. Hell, the worst possible hand he can hold is TPTK. Said another way, the board texture is both wet and heavy. In other words, you've got zero Value with your hand now, and a Bluff bet will almost certainly fail. Time to check/fold.

Now, instead, let's say the flop came out as 7-8-9 two-tone. This is still a very wet board, but it's also very light with respect to you opponent's hand range. Check-raising (or delayed check-raising) might be the most +EV play for you to implement here. All of the non-pair hands your opponent holds just missed, and the paired hands have to be afraid of the coordinated nature of the board. Now you probably can move a nittish player off a big overpair if you show enough strength.

So what's the difference between these two situations? Answer: board texture.

I strongly recommend that new players practice reading the board texture on every hand dealt at their table, whether they're involved in a pot or not. Absolute beginners need to begin with baby steps. Just simple things like asking the following questions will make a big improvement in your game:
  1. What is the current nuts on the board? Second nuts? And so on.
  2. What cards on the turn or river would make the board scarier? For me? For my opponent?
  3. How do the nuts change on the turn and river?
Once you get comfortable doing these basic things, the next step is to start asking yourself the following more rigorous questions on every single flop, turn, and river:
  1. How coordinated is this board? Is it wet, dry, or somewhere in between?
  2. How heavy is this board? Did it likely hit the villain's range?
  3. Is my opponent paying attention to board texture? If so, do I think that he thinks this board is heavy or light with respect to my perceived hand range?
  4. And so on..
REDi begins with R is for Reading. And this in turn begins with simple things like board texture. Build your foundation with these basics, or you may end up discovering that you've built a house of cards...

All-in for now...

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