Paired boards are an interesting board texture that all poker players need to understand. First, these textures are more common than you might think. Secondly, players tend to craft their strategies in very predictable ways on these boards. And third, knowing how to choose the best lines when the board pairs will help you become a well-rounded player.
Every board texture brings something unique to the table (do you see what I did there?), so let’s break down this particular texture…
How Often Is The Flop Paired?
The flop will be paired ~17% of the time.
Once you remove your two hole cards, there are 19,600 possible flops. The 17% number is split between flops where the top card is paired (KK4) and the bottom card is paired (933).
If your hole cards are higher, like Ace King, the split is 8.1% paired top card flops and 8.8% paired bottom card flops. If you instead held 43s, the split is 8.7% paired top card flops and 8.2% paired bottom card flops. And if you hold something in the middle, like 98s, the split is roughly 8.4% for both.
How Often Will The Turn Card Pair The Board?
The turn will pair the board ~19% of the time.
If the flop is unpaired and you haven’t paired the board, there are 9 possible cards that can pair the turn. 9 possible pairing cards divided by all 47 possible turn cards comes out to 19%.
How Often Will the River Pair The Board?
The river will pair the board ~26% of the time.
If the flop and turn are unpaired and you haven’t paired the board either, there are 12 possible cards that can pair the river. 12 possible pairing cards divided by all 46 possible river cards is 26%.
Paired Textures Are Common
Most players assume that paired flops, or board pairs on turns & rivers, are rare – but those numbers don’t lie. That means you can expect to see:
- A paired flop every 1/6 times a flop is dealt
- A paired turn card every 1/5 times you see a turn (if the flop was unpaired)
- A paired river card every 1/4 times you see a river (if the flop+turn was unpaired)
The more often something happens in poker, the more important it is that you have a strategic plan of attack for it. And given the likelihood of board pairs, there is massive value in prioritizing these textures when studying.
How Do Players Play These Textures?
While every player is different and the exact way a board pairs can differ – I see essentially two different reactions to board pairs:
Given that most people are risk-averse on and off the felt, I see more people that approach these paired textures cautiously. They get nervous that their opponent could have a monster hand, they will rarely hold a monster themselves, and thus they play carefully and try to keep the pot size controlled. This isn’t to say that a cautious player won’t fire a continuation bet or peel with a pair – but don’t expect them to throw in many triple barrel bluffs or attempt many double check-raises on these boards. If they try to build a huge pot, they are value betting more often than not.
Chaotic players look at these spots the opposite way. They see a texture that is difficult to hit and think “well, you likely don’t have trips…” And truthfully, they aren’t wrong. It’s difficult to hit trips on these boards, if nothing else from a combos and blockers point of view. Plus, if the turn or river pairs the board on a lower card, it may be very unlikely that the preflop aggressor improves to trips.
The chaotic player will look to apply relentless pressure on these textures, especially if their opponent looks uncomfortable. This isn’t to say the chaotic player is a bluffing maniac that will never fold – but don’t expect them to roll over 100% of the time and don’t be surprised if their raising range contains more bluffs than “normal”.
Common Ranges vs. Paired Flops
It can be exhaustive, and relatively useless, to explore every possibility. With millions of different starting ranges, thousands of flop options, and different hole cards that can impact both of those things – it doesn’t make much sense to manually explore each possibility.
So instead, let’s set up some simple parameters to get a big-picture view of these flops. We are going to say that you hold T♥9♥, that the flop is paired, it’s a single raised pot, and take an average of hits across six possible starting ranges:
Across both range types, we see that monster hands (trips+) are rare and totally missing the board is common. What’s also interesting is that both range types hit two pair hands roughly 1/3 of the time. Now, those two pair hands are made up in a variety of ways – everything from 77 on JJ9 to A5 on 995 – but that is a heap of tough-to-play pairs that both players have to contend with.
Continuing On Paired Flops
All players rarely hit monster hands on these flops. And it’s important to keep that in mind when comparing that to their continuance %.
Take a cautious player who raises preflop, gets called, and gets to a paired flop in a heads up pot. If they are likely to cbet rarely, then chances are two things are true:
- The density of their cbetting range is strong
- Their continuance frequency is low
Players who have low continuance on these textures are more likely to check/fold as the aggressor, check-behind with intentions of folding unimproved on the next card, and fold cbets if they are facing aggression. These players are incredibly easy to beat. They hit these textures rarely, they continue too infrequently, and they allow you to aggressively fight for pots. For the record, folding too often in poker is a horrible habit – so if you find yourself doing that often, please rethink it ASAP!
But if your opponent folds less and continues more often, fear not. There are a fixed number of strong combos that exist, and it’s impossible to manufacture more nutty combos. Instead, every combo that gets added into your opponent’s continuance range gets weaker and weaker. Now, there is a huge difference between a nut flush draw and 5-high with no drawing potential – but still, there are many hands that can either fold now (to a bet or raise) or on future streets.
Of course, this is all before we even discuss other key variables like position, stack depth, future play, etc. Assuming stacks aren’t too shallow (<40bb) and assuming there are no glaring leaks in my opponent’s strategy, I make the following flop assumption with regards to position:
- When you are cbetting OOP, expect more continuance from your opponent
- When you are cbetting IP, expect less continuance from your opponent
This means when you cbet IP, expect them to continue less often than they would if they were IP instead. And thus when they do continue, expect that range to inherently be stronger than it would if they were IP. Think about how you play. Are you really defending more often OOP than IP on paired boards? If you are IP and face a cbet, are you floating more often waiting to see how your opponent reacts to the turn? Most players do too!
Going a step further, you need to create a profitable plan for your hand. It’s easy when your opponent has low continuance on these boards and folds too often. Just bluff a ton. But as they continue more often, the value of having a +EV plan increases exponentially. Remember though that continuing more often on the flop doesn’t inherently mean they will play turns or rivers well.
As your opponent continues more often, it leaves you plenty of options for future streets. You don’t just have to double barrel or triple barrel. You don’t just have to float the flop and stab the turn when checked to. And you don’t have to do any of those things for “normal sizes” either.
You could cbet the flop OOP and check-raise the turn. You could double barrel the flop & turn and check-raise the river. You could bet small-small-huge on all three streets. You could check-raise the flop and barrel the turn. Don’t limit yourself to just two lines. Consider where your opponent is likely to make a mistake, which line offers the highest expected value (EV), and what you represent when taking that line if your opponent thinks at that level.
Just because your opponent approaches paired boards in a less cautious way, doesn’t mean they won’t get overly-cautious against big bets, massive raises, or a-typical aggression. There is no one-size-fits-all way to handle paired flops against players who don’t over-fold the flop – so don’t try to mash your strategy into a two-option model.
Paired flops, and even paired boards to an extent, can become a massive game of chicken where the last player to aggress wins big. Since it’s so tough for either player to have a monster expect to see some fireworks from time to time.
What About Multi-Way Pots?
Everything we’ve already discussed applies to multi-way flops as well. So if you raise preflop and get two callers, neither player is going to flop a monster all that often.
But, because there are more players to contend with, it can massively reduce the likelihood of picking up the pot uncontested. However, before you resolve to never bluffing paired flops in multi-way pots, it’s helpful to know how to estimate how often both players will fold.
Against just one player, just estimate their fold-% and you are done.
Against multiple players, multiply each of their estimated fold-%s together to estimate* how often you can expect your bluff to work right this moment.
*DISCLAIMER: This method isn’t exact since each player’s continuance is dependent upon the others. E.g. the first player might fold more often because they don’t close action, or the last player might raise extra bluffs if everyone folds to them. Still, it’s a useful estimation even though it’s not precise.
So if you think one player folds 80% of the time and the other would fold 60% of the time against your bluff, multiply 80%*60% to see that they BOTH fold 48% of the time. And you can compare that to the breakeven percentage of your bluff to see if it’s outright profitable. (Hint, if you bet smaller than full-pot, you are in the clear here!)
If you want to practice this, or just want to have a quick tool for your own off-table study, you can download my pack of poker spreadsheets and use the one titled “Multiple Folders”. It’s a name-your-own-price download, and you can get them for free if you wish.
While most players avoid bluffing multi-way pots, there are plenty of times where the bluff would still work often enough. Especially if your opponents are more likely to give you credit for having a real hand because they assume you’d never bluff into multiple players, you can find spots where they over-fold and allow you to bluff with impunity.
But with a strong hand you should look to maximize value and capitalize on the fact that your opponents don’t want to fold second-best hands. Though some textures are far better than others. For an example on a less-than-ideal texture, watch this hand breakdown with KK in a 3-way pot:
When The Turn Or River Pairs The Board
Instead of trying to think about turn or river cards that pair a previously unpaired board in a narrow sense – let’s take a big-picture view of this. Like we saw earlier, an unpaired flop gets paired on the turn roughly 1/5 times and an unpaired board gets paired on the river roughly 1/4 of the time.
I like to simplify these possible pairings in one of two ways:
- Pairing the top card
- Pairing any other card
When the top card pairs (say Q74-Q or 982-9), it’s common for your opponent not to believe your bets. Given the combos and now extra blocker to top pair hands, it’s more difficult for you to show up with a nutted hand. And like we discussed earlier, there are only so many monster combos possible. After that, every extra combo gets weaker and weaker.
Now when lower cards get paired (say A86-6 or QT4-J-J), your opponent still isn’t very likely to believe that you have a nutted hand. Especially if you were the preflop aggressor and are less likely to have marginal cards in your starting range, it’s tough to believe you improved to trips on T93-3.
So as a general rule, I tend to assume that it’s going to be challenging to get my opponent to fold a pair (marginal or otherwise) if I bet when the turn or river pairs. That doesn’t mean that an overbet might not get a bluff through, but a normal bet/raise size likely won’t solicit the immediate folds your bluff would prefer. Heck, some players won’t even fold Ace-high if you bet again on these cards.
Overall, I anticipate increased inelasticity when barreling on paired turns or rivers. So unless my opponent floated a large number of combos on the previous street that would then fold to the barrel, a single bluff likely won’t do the trick. Which means that I can value betting rigorously and maybe take more creative bluffing lines (check-raising, overbetting, multi-street betting, etc.)
It’s also good to have a starting point for handling raises on these board pairs. As a default, I tend to give less respect to raises when the top card pairs – unless they are universally passive. And I give raises on non-top pairing cards more respect since these cards improve realistic peeling hands. Now, that doesn’t mean that I automatically call all turn raises when the top card pairs nor bet/fold every time I face a raise when the turn pairs the middle care. It just means that without other information I want to avoid paying off against player pool tendencies when these situations occur.
My Big-Picture Playbook
We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to playing paired boards, but I want to leave you with my general ideas so that you have a default starting point when crafting specific lines with different hand strengths. These are not the holy grail and you should always prioritize exact board texture, dynamics, reads on your opponent, etc. But if you have nothing else to work with, these will give you a good starting point:
With Strong Hands
- Look for check-raises and use the results from that to gauge if you can bluff check-raise these boards later. If you keep check-raising monsters and they keep folding – why wouldn’t they also fold in similar spots if you held a bluff?
- As a default, fire. With so much floating and peeling happening, especially on earlier streets, it behooves you to start building the pot ASAP.
- Be careful when you face raises if the board pairs later. Especially when that board pair isn’t the top card, you could be in real trouble with AA on K95-9…
With Marginal Hands
- Typically bet and get them to relinquish their equity while also getting some second-best continuance.
- Don’t always check/call and turn your range totally face-up. Many players do this and while it can work against unsophisticated players, it can get you crushed against players that hand read well.
- Be cautious in multi-way pots.
- Be flexible if things unravel unfavorably. For an example of this, watch this video where things get odd with AA on Q55:
With Bluffs & Air
- In HU pots, look to fire often. Players usually fold often enough either now OR later. Even players who float and peel flops liberally tend not to defend those marginal hands often enough against double and triple barrels.
- In MW pots, be very selective. There are times to bluff in these pots, and while your overall bluffing frequency should decrease as the number of players in the pot increases, know your numbers to find extra profits.
- Sizing is everything. Would full-pot get way more folds than a half-pot bet? Would an over-sized check-raise solicit many more folds than a traditionally sized raise?
The Next Step
Want to go even further with board textures?
I have an on-demand coaching session available where I walk you through another common texture: Ace-high flops. Ace-high flops can occur even more often than paired boards, almost 20% of the time if you don’t hold an Ace yourself, so having a gameplan for these textures is crucial.
In this session, I walk you through general rules for playing these boards, show you how GTO solvers suggest playing, and when you can profitably use aggressively counter-strategies to optimize effectively. There is a new session running within the next 15-minutes, so sign up today and enjoy!