Reading the Board

Here is a simple exercise that I recommend for new players. Take a 52 card deck, shuffle it several times, and deal three cards face up. Pretend that you’re looking at the flop in a game that you’re playing. Now, ask yourself these questions: “What is the best possible hand? What is the best possible draw? What did I have for breakfast?” (Okay, you can scratch that last question. I was just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

These are the things to look for: Is the board paired? (A full house and quads are only possible if the board is paired.) Are the cards all the same suit? (A flush is only possible if there are three cards of the same suit on the board or if you’re near a toilet—sorry, I’ll try to be serious.) How wide is the gap between the cards? (If the gap is wider than two cards between each card, a straight is not possible.)

For instance, let’s say the flop is 10h 5d 2s. A rainbow flop like this (all different suits) means that no one could have a flush or a flush draw (four of the same suit). The best possible hand here is three 10s. The best draw would be an open-end straight draw if someone is holding 3 4.

Go ahead and toss another card up there. The turn is Ah. Now go through your same questions: Is the board paired? No. Are there three of the same suit? No. Is a straight possible? Yes. What is the best draw? If a player is holding the Kh Qh or the Kh Jh, they have the nut flush draw and nut straight/straight flush draw.

Now, let’s hypothesize that you were in the big blind and were holding the 3 4. What card do you not want to see on the river? Any heart, any Jack or any Queen would be a scare card. (One of those cards could make a flush or a bigger straight.) In addition, if the board pairs, a full house is now another possible threat.

After you’ve gone through that thought process, go ahead and toss another card up there. The river is the 7d. What does this mean? It didn’t pair the board (no full house or quads are now possible). There are no three cards of the same suite (no flush is possible). No one could have a straight higher than yours. So, in your hypothetical game you have the stone cold nuts. Now you bet an amount that you think will get paid off. Maybe it’s the farm; maybe it’s just a couple of hens and a tractor.

Alrightythen, put those cards aside and toss up another three and do the exercise again. Go through the entire deck at least once. Do this every day for a month and you’ll be reading boards like a pro.

Remember: flushes and quads and full houses are easy to read. The majority of misread boards are with straights, so be sure to look at the gaps between cards. A straight board, like 7 8 9 K, is easy to spot, but what about 6 Q 9 5, 9 A 5 7, or 9 10 3 6.

You would be surprised by how many people are unaware of those possibilities. Don’t be one of them. Be sure and watch for my next article, “The Math: How You Too Can Be a Mathter Poker Player.”

So until next time, remember the number one thing in poker is to have fun and enjoy it. It’s not whether you win or lose that counts; it’s whether I win or lose.


Dr. Hope, J.A.P.D
(Just A Pretend Doctor)

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