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Playing Paired Boards

24/10/2019 by Alexander Fitzgerald

Imagine you are at the beginning of a tournament or you have just joined a cash game. You have more than 75 big blinds effective. You raise with K-Jo on the button and the big blind calls you. The board comes 7-7-4 rainbow. The big blind checks to you. There is 6.5X in the middle. You raised 3X on the button preflop and he called. You have 72 big blinds left. What do you do?

Before we get any further, let me ask you something: How many times have you been in this situation? Hundreds of times, right?

Any time you come to a situation in poker and think, “God, I seem to always find myself in this spot,” that is a terrific situation to study.

Many poker players love waxing poetic about triple barrel bluffs. The truth is though that there are so many variables in those spots. It’s hard to replicate positive results. However, preflop, flop, and turn decisions are much simpler, and they come up constantly. If you can nail them then you will be a much better poker player.

At low to middle stakes, straightforward exploitative play will get you a good deal of money. Most of your opponents are playing okay strategically. They’re not terrible. However, they still are letting their cards determine many of their decisions. It’s once you get to the higher stakes or the tougher middle stakes games that you have to start exploring GTO. You need that kind of mental background when you play the same players constantly, as well.

So, let’s discuss our options on this board.

The first thing to realize is that no one has anything on this board roughly ever.

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If your opponent is somewhat disciplined from the big blind (unlikely) then he has no pair no draw 73% of the time. So, have you ever seen a senior citizen just bet two times the size of the pot on this board? The big blind player with the flat brim chortles, and then folds. He looks at the old codger as if to say, “you idiot.”

What the young hot shot doesn’t see here is he just got worked.

If the button player had K-J, for example, and he got his opponent to fold all of his high cards, then the button player made a profitable bet. A 2X pot-sized bet needs to work 66% of the time. Even if the big blind defends with 2-2 to that massive bet, then he’s still folding 73% of the time.

That play, admittedly, does not show a great deal of finesse, but it is workable. What isn’t workable is the strategy that many players employ. Did you say bet 1/3rd pot bet on the flop? Okay, let’s start there.

The turn is a 3 let’s say. Completing the rainbow. What do you do now? If you said bet half-pot, let’s go from there.

River is a Queen. What do you?

Many guys say check here, and that worries me. When you bet 1/3rd on the flop, which is a very powerful play in other circumstances, it allows some basic players to accidentally play well. With all their semi-decent high cards they call. On the turn, the pot is still so small they continue to call with most ace highs. They end up tabling a number of ace highs for the winner on the river versus us. You still make some money with that line, don’t get me wrong. You’re folding them out enough of the time. But the reason many GTO specialists bet that small on the flop is because they’re defending against the flop checkraise. If their opponent does checkraise they have a great deal of wiggle room to defend against it, because they led so small. They can threebet back or float. All great plays when properly executed. However, many fans of poker apply the 1/3rd pot-sized bet here without the knowledge as to how to balance flop threebets and floats. They also don’t have a developed triple barrel strategy, which gets them into trouble. Worst, the checkraise they are defending against almost never comes.

Versus many basic opponents, you don’t need to go for the most profitable/complex line which is difficult for an intermediate player to balance. You can settle for a decently profitable play that is easy to execute. If you bet half-pot on the flop almost no one is going to fold their high cards. You’ll get the broadways and the ace highs to call. Then, on the turn, you can bet 2/3rd the size of the pot. Most guys will give you a little head nod and fold their high card at this point. This is excellent news for us because both postflop bets will be profitable. Our preflop open will show a profit as well. All of our plays, in this hand, will be profitable.

If we bet half-pot on the flop most guys won’t fold their pretty paint, broadways, and gutshots. So they only fold these high cards. The ones marked with a red X.

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If he calls us with this then we’re only getting him to fold 27% of his hands. Our half-pot bet needed to work 33% of the time. But remember, our broadway cards have equity. If we hit them, it is likely we will have the best hand with top pair. You’ll notice with the arrow I placed that our hand has 34% equity versus this calling range. Of course, he checkraises sometimes, and sometimes we have reverse implied odds, but that 34% is still substantial. It will help us close the 6% gap we have.

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Plus, we have another move up our sleeve.

The turn comes out a 3, let’s say. Not really a blank. It completes some draws. It gives other draws more equity. However, if we bet 2/3rds pot we can assume high cards and gutshots are folding. Many guys will do that to an irregularly large bet size on turn. That bet needs to work 40% of the time, which is great news. Because our opponent is likely defending only 40% of their hands. Which means they’re folding 60% of their hands. That’s an incredible edge!

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Of course, like everything in poker, this is an inexact science. There’s a number of “ifs” in this analysis. That said, I find many guys at low-to-mid stakes games will give you one call with their high cards and backdoors and gutter balls, but they won’t give you a second. I’ve made a lot of money of the years getting people to fold on that turn. Even better, many people will raise their sevens on the flop and save me a turn bet.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you and your game. Good luck to all of you.

Alex Fitzgerald has written two books for us. Full details can be found here: The Myth of Poker Talent and Exploitative Play in Live Poker