The Game Theory of Board Texture: Part 1 – Low Dry Flops

Pete Clarke | Poker Theory and Concepts

Once you understand board texture, you can really start to piece together the nuts and bolts of No Limit Holdem and begin to unravel the mysterious bet-sizing and frequency choices made by the top players. In chess, amateurs commonly study the games of the world’s finest, so why not learn poker in the same way?

In this series of articles, we embark on a voyage through the different board textures, starting at the uneventful low dry flop – where the pre-flop situation remains mostly unchanged, to the soaking wet flops, where a myriad of powerful hands become a distinct possibility.

In all of the instalments in this series, we shall be examining how board texture affects strategy in the common late position battle spot of Button vs. Big Blind – one of the most mainstream confrontations in all of 6-max cash.

Introducing Range Advantages

There are two type of advantage that give one player’s range the edge over his opponent’s.

  • Equity Advantage
  • Nut advantage

Equity Advantage

Equity Advantage means that your range is an equity favourite against your opponent’s range. In other words, if your range and your opponent’s saw the turn and the river and went to showdown, your range would win more often.

Having an equity advantage allows you to bet your range at a higher frequency, or in other words, to bet more of the hands in your range than you could if ranges were equal. This works well because when your opponent’s range has an equity disadvantage, he is forced to fold more of it to your bets than he would need to if ranges were equal in strength. This allows you to bet more hands for value and protection with impunity and makes your bluffs automatically profitable. That’s right, having more big pairs than your opponent indirectly affects the EV of betting with 7-high!

Nut Advantage

Nut Advantage means that your range contains more of the very best hands possible than your opponent’s range does. This doesn’t have to mean the absolute nuts, but on a board such as 9♥9♦3♦, the nut advantage is pretty firmly dependant on who has the most trips. Having trips is very important to nut advantage here as 9x is both a common and powerful hand. On a flop like 9♠4♠2♣, however, sets are the absolute nuts, but as these goliath hands are so hard to make, having overpairs still contributes massively to the nut advantage of a player’s range.

Having the nut advantage allows us to use a bigger sizing with more of our range. The reasons for this are quite clear once you break it down. Very big hands want to play very big pots because they do not have to worry about increasing their losses against stronger hands. Contrast this to a thin value betting hand which would rather keep the pot smaller because if it goes too large it might isolate itself mainly against better hands. Whenever you have more nutted hands in your range than your opponent does in his, your range benefits from putting more money in the pot both with strong hands and with bluffs. If Villain folds too much then, fine, our bluffs will perform amazingly. If he calls too much, then our value hands will clean up.

Some beginning players have the misconception that your goal when holding the nuts is to keep your opponent in the pot at all costs. This is false. There is little gain by having an opponent stick around in a tiny pot. The real aim should be to win the most money possible on average and this means building large pots to sometimes get called down in. The EV of getting called sometimes in a giant pot much surpasses getting one small bet at a higher frequency in a small one.

A Low Dry Flop – 882r

In this notation, ‘r’ stands for ‘rainbow’, meaning that there are three different suits on the flop. ‘Dry’ means that the flop is hard to connect with and that the average player will have a lot more card-high hands than he will have pairs, draws, or monsters. Paired flops, like today’s one, are about as dry as it gets because they are so hard to hit. When there are two eights out, there are only two left in the deck. The 2 makes the flop even drier because most pre-flop ranges do not contain many holdings involving a deuce. Most Deuce/X hands end up in the muck before the flop gets the chance to emerge.

We shall call this flop ‘low’ because there are no high cards present. We shall be referring to a flop like 882 as low and a flop like A88 as high. It only takes one high card to make a lot of top pair combinations possible in a raised pot (because people favour starting hands with higher cards) and this alone can change the situation dramatically from what is was before the flop came down.

Equity Advantage on 882r – BU vs BB

Since a flop like 8♣8♦2♥ is so dry and so low, the high pairs and big cards that the BU raiser’s range contained pre-flop are still strong hands. Moreover, big blind usually called the open-raise with two unpaired cards and those cards were unlikely to both be large and were less likely to be suited than if he had 3-Bet. Therefore, the BB player has a lot of air here and his range is an equity underdog to the BU’s range. We can assert here that BU has the equity advantage and should therefore bet very often. BB will have to fold a lot due to his weak range on this board and this will allow BU to bet often in order to deny equity to his opponent. Moreover, the high fold equity generated by BB having to throw away a lot of his trash hands will guarantee that bluffing will be profitable for BU – even with a completely trash holding.

One big mistake some new players make is to adopt high standards about how promising a hand they need to make a bluff. On the flop, when your range has have a big equity advantage, almost any hand will do.

Nut Advantage on 882r – BU vs BB

Pre-flop, BU had the range advantage because BB would have 3-Bet many of his big pairs. Because he merely called instead of raising, he doesn’t have hands like [99-AA] very often, whereas, BU has all of these hands in his range. Since a flop like 8♣8♦2♥ is paired, it actually removes a lot of BU’s nut advantage, when it comes down, levelling the playing field in this respect. BB is calling a lot of random suited cards to defend his blind as well as hands like A8o (assuming that BU makes a normal 2.5BB raise). This means that he will make trips a very relevant amount of the time and leapfrog those overpairs when he does.

Therefore, although BU’s range advantage makes him want to bet often – to bluff, to deny equity, or to value bet; depending on his hand – the fact that he does not hold a similarly powerful nut advantage – makes him want to bet smaller when he bets.

BU does not need to bet huge to get value with JJ vs Ace High. In fact, there are very few good hands in BB’s range. He is quite likely to have either a monster hand (trips) or a fairly bad one (Ace-High) so there is no need for a big value bet here from BU.

Nor does BU need to bet big to deny equity. When he has AQ and wants to make J9 fold – before it hits a pair – a small sizing will do nicely.

And when BU is bluffing with T7s, he does not need to bet much to make BB fold K7s.

Conclusion

In summary, game theory suggests that due to having a big equity advantage, BU’s range should frequently bet for either value, as a bluff, or for equity denial on a low paired flop. BB will have to fold a lot on these boards due to his weak range and this will help BU’s EV when he bets. However, BU does not want to make big bets because the BB has a lot of nutted hands on this flop. BU does not hold a nut advantage and so his range does not desire massive pots.

BU should bet 80% of the time on this flop. I will leave you with this image from a solution for this very spot.

Light pink means bet small (33% pot).

Red means bet big (75% pot).

Green means check.

As we predicted with our reasoning above, there are very few big bets and checks. BU bets often with a small sizing.

Have a look over this strategy and I’ll see you soon for the next instalment of this series.

Loading Comments

Loading more content...