Playing A Paired Board On The Flop

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It happens all the time.  A pair comes on the flop.

Often times, this means one play is going to be way, way ahead in the hand which can make it hard to get value from your hand.  But because it's hard to hit a pair on the flop, let alone trips this also tends to induce people to bluff more as well.

Today, we're going to look at three hands with paired boards and focus on a different approach for each situation.

Hand 1: Paired boards tend to be static

When we think of a "static" board, what we're talking about is a board where the equity of a hand is less likely to change drastically on the next street.  For the most part, a paired board is going to be a static board.

Hero is UTG holding [Jh][Js] and raises to $6.  The cutoff calls and the big blind calls.

Flop ($19): [Qs][9s][9c]

Big blind checks, Hero checks, Cutoff checks.

Turn ($19): [2d]

Big blind checks, Hero bets $12, Cutoff folds, and Big Blind folds.

In this case, Hero makes a large bet of $12 into $19 after nobody shows any strength on the flop.  This is a spot where Hero's hand has a medium strength because it's behind to any [Qx] and any [9x] so I think Hero makes a mistake.  Checking the turn here is a better play for two reasons.

First, there are still lots of hands which beat him in our opponents ranges.  Despite the fact that the flop got checked around, there are still lots of 9's and Q's in our opponents ranges and betting into them is very possible.

Second, it's going to be very hard to get value from Jacks in this spot, because there are so few hands that we're beating which will call a bet on the turn, let alone a larger bet. 

By checking this turn, we keep ourselves from inflating the size of the pot with our medium strength hand, as well as giving an opponent a chance to bluff on the river.  If someone has a lower pocket pair they're going to be unlinely to call bets on both the turn and the river unless they improve.  We also give ourselves a chance to value bet on the river which can look like a bluff after we check twice.

Further, I think the bet size here is far too large.  Our goal is to get the hands that have smaller pairs than ours to call, so a smaller bet size - 30-50% of the pot - would be far more likely to get a call from a hand like [7x][7x] or [6x][6x].

Hand 2: Check Raise Bluffs

People LOVE to bluff on paired boards.  It makes sense, because it's so hard for your opponent to have flopped trips, but it's VERY important to consider your range advantage or disadvantage to make bluffing on a paired board effective.

Hero is in the Big Blind holding [Tc][8d].  Button raises to $6.  Hero calls.

Flop ($7): [9s][4d][4c]

Hero checks, button bets $5, and Hero raises to $16 and button calls.

Turn ($39): [Jc]

Hero bets $30.  Button calls.

River ($99): [5s]

Hero goes all in for $87

OK, so Hero check raises on the flop out of the big blind to set up how he's going to play the hand.  But in this case, the range advantage is going to be with the button.

The button raising range is going to have many more combinations of a 4 than the big blind calling range.  The majority of hands that the big blind will call a raise with are their [Ax][4x] hands and [4x][5x] suited hands.  When you also consider that the button raising range has not only their premium hands but also many more hands with a four, you can conclude that the range advantage is with your opponent and you're raising into them while they're in position.  A huge mistake.

To stay balanced, you clearly have to have bluffs in your ranges, but you also want to make sure you're not bluffing too much and becoming unbalanced.

Hand 3: Relative Hand Strength

There are going to be times when you're making a call even though you think you're probably behind.  That's inherent to the game of NLHE.  But, it still makes sense to do because if you're folding too much you make yourself vulnerable to being exploited with too many bluffs from your opponents.  The solution to that, is sometimes call with less than optimal hands so your opponents know they can't continue to run you over.

This hand is an example of that very concept:

Hero is in the small blind with [As][Jd] and raises to $5.  Big blind raises to $14.  Hero calls.

Flop ($28): [Ah][Ad][4h]

Hero checks.  Big blind bets $21.  Hero calls.

Turn ($70): [3s]

Hero checks.  Big blind bets $55.  Hero calls.

River ($180): [9h]

Hero checks.  Big blind goes all in for $130.  Hero calls.

Big blind wins the hand with [Kh][Qh]

This is obviously a bit of a cooler, and despite the fact that on the river Hero probably suspects he's behind to either a better ace or a flush, folding in this spot would be far too weak a play in a heads up pot.

As a rule of thumb, when you have a stronger than normal hand which rates to beat and chop some of your opponents value bet range, you should be making the call.  By doing this, you will win 100% of the time when your opponent is bluffing but you'll limit your losses to the top end of your opponents range.

So, keep these in mind next time you're on a flop with a paired board - which will happen every time you play - and you'll see your win rate improve!