Board Texture and Balancing Your Range For Live SSNL Play
I wrote this article for sosickbro, figured id share it
"Since black Friday my play has specifically consisted of live play, and while I have a decent amount of live experience most of my poker career has consisted of online play, roughly a little over 2 million hands since 2006. Since adjusting to the live cash games I can say without a doubt there are a number of common mistakes and basic fundamentals problems that vast majority of recreational players have.
For example, something I see a lot is a player not understanding board texture. Its almost like people are mimicking what they have seen other players do, but have no rhyme or reason behind what they do. It baffles me how bad people c-bet some flops given the board texture. The games have evolved to the point where even the average bad player knows to c-bet the flop a good majority of the time, even though there are players that don’t, compared to 3 or 4 years ago the majority of players will c-bet flops, but what they don’t consider is the board texture. For a SSNL game it’s honestly profitable to get away with cbetting ~90% of the time for a few reasons. One, a lot of players play fit or fold post flop and you pick up a ton of dead money when they wiff their hand and secondly live players fall to pieces at facing heat against a scare turn or river card assuming you can hand read well enough to double and triple barrel scare cards.
As most of you know an ideal board to cbet your air range would be one broadway or ace card and two small cards, for example on a 3-4-K board you should pretty much be c-betting your entire air range 100% of the time. C-betting a super wet flop like 9T7 two hearts hits a cold calling range pretty hard and we can’t rep as much credit as we could on a 3-4-K board. So it’s most likely in our best interest to take a passive line and check. However no matter how wet the flop is in a heads up pot its very rare ill check back twice meaning if I check behind a wet flop and opt not to c-bet my air and its checked to me again on the turn I will almost always delay c-bet the turn. People don’t check two streets enough with slow played hands or strong enough hands to not make it profitable to bet. It can be player dependent though, some live players are really just weak tight and will check two streets with bottom/mid pair but the majority of the time when its checked twice to me that’s a license to steal all day.
With that same 3-4-K board mentioned above, If you notice I specifically say the air portion of your range, because a SSNL game is not going to be filled with competent thinking players and the times where the flop has us miles ahead of their range we need to let them catch up otherwise we lose value, because as acknowledged earlier most SSNL live players play fit or fold post flop. Now obviously this leaves us vulnerable to having our range polarized because we slow down the action when we either have the deck crushed or have their range crushed and any good player would be able to polarize our range, and in a good thinking game you should be c-betting even a higher percentage of your range for balance. A player who can balance their range well is the difference between a good and great player IMHO. A good example of balancing your range can be demonstrated in PF play. For example, say a decent live player opens in the CO, we can assume their range is a little wide, but nothing too crazy and if I’m only 3betting QQ+ and AK+ well now I am leaving my range super polarized where as if I’m 3betting hands that flop well post flop like 89s, 9Ts, JTs etc I get more action with the top end of my range and balance my post flop range at the same time given my PF 3betting range is so well balanced. So lets say we 3bet the CO on the button with 89s and he tanks and cold calls us, well even though 89s, 9Ts type hands are behind the CO’s range, given that we have position and play better post flop poker than him it doesn’t really matter whether or not we are behind or ahead of his range that point. This is why being able to assess proper board textures and associate them against player’s ranges are so important and hands down one of the most profitable skill sets for SSNL.
Most of the time a good board texture to double or even triple barrel a hand would be if a turn peeled a face card, puts a 4 flush on the board, or 4 straight. Cards that do not change the board texture are horrible cards to double barrel! For example if we c-bet a flop of T-2-3r and a player calls, and the turn peels a 2x the board texture hasn’t changed at all and what ever is looking us up on the flop is most likely looking us up on the turn. Now if a king peeled instead, a double barrel is almost mandatory as most players will likely cuss under their breath and complain about how bad they run etc and muck. Live players can be big stations at times and it wouldn’t surprise me if you are looked up once and a while doubling that King turn which is why I would almost always triple barrel ¾ size bet on the river in that situation assuming I don’t think the players hand has improved. A 3barrel makes it look more likely that we actually have a King in our range and its unlikely a king is in their range as there isn’t a lot of hands that flat the flop with a K in it other than one specific hand KT. But even then we most likely would have faced heat on the turn when we double barreled, which is why I think a triple barrel in that situation would be mandatory. Its a lot harder to be stubborn twice than once.
A couple nights ago was I playing in a $1-3 nl game 9 handed, filled with the average recreational players when a good example of utilizing board texture came into play. It folds to middle position where MP+2 (~$500) opens to $12, I’m on the button (~$600) with JTs and 3bet to $33, folds around to MP+2 who flats. Villain is a younger player, aggressive, a little bit on the station side, but is not going to be stacking off in a horrible way. I don’t have that much information on him as I have only played with him a handful of times, but that’s my general thought on the player going into the hand.
Flop comes 5-2-4r, MP+2 checks, I c-bet $52 which I’m going to be c-betting 100% of my range when I 3bet PF and its checked to me, MP+2 flats, and turn is a Tx and MP+2 leads $60 into me. This is actually a pretty odd line because I don’t really have that much information on the player and his line is pretty unorthodox. I have a good amount of showdown value and I don’t need to turn my top pair into a bluff quite yet so I decided to flat and reevaluate the river. His line is actually pretty strong and is unlikely he is out of position floating me, but a portion of his range could be doing this with 77, 88, 99, or ace high that got stubborn on the flop with two over’s and a gutshot and is now trying to take the hand down. River is a 3 and MP+2 checks to me. After I closed the action with a call on the turn I take Ax out of his range because I don’t think a hand with an 6 or Ace will ever check to me on the river because unless I have a straight I will be checking behind, so I believe he would have led for value. Plus it re insures my original thought that it was highly unlike he was OOP floating me. So now I was in a situation where I had to determine whether or not to turn my hand into bluff with that good scare card peeling off. The question I had to ask myself was would I win the pot more by checking behind because I still have some showdown value or will he be leading the turn enough with two pair/set type hands where if I barrel the scare card I get a better hand to fold. After consideration I concluded turning my hand into a bluff was the most optimal play because after the river check I can take out the assumption that he had a big ace and was OOP floating the flop with two over’s and a gutshot because he would have almost always led the river after I flatted the turn, so now I feel his range consists of two pair, sets and 77-TT type hands which will mostly likely all fold to a 3-4/pot size river bet. I end up betting $200 and MP+2 folded 44 face up. Which is ironic because I would have called my river bet with his 44 since I have no ace or 6 in my range, even if I have aces myself and the vast majority of players would have raised the turn and never just flatted. This is why its so profitable to understand their range in relation to the board texture because you can get away with things like this whereas in a tougher game it could be a lot harder to get a fold there since we honestly never have an ace or 6 in our range.
Lastly I have found it extremely profitable bluff raising dry boards IP. For example say we flat a raise PF and the flop comes K-3-4 rainbow and its c-bet to me, regardless of my hand I’m bluff raising this flop a ton because unless he has specifically AK, 33 or 44 nothing will feel comfortable calling a raise here. Even KQ being raised OOP on this board is an annoying situation to be in. Putting weaker players in uncomfortable situations is the approach needed to crush these live SSNL games."