Mistakes amateur players make – board coverage

Dara O Kearney
Dara O’Kearney

If you happen to read my blog you’ll know from a a post earlier this year that in the last year I have been coaching more highly motivated recreational players, whereas in previous years it was almost all professional poker players.

As a result I have been getting a much better perspective on what some of the biggest differences are in how casual players think compared to the professionals. One of the ways in which I think a lot of amateur players are letting themselves get exploited is because they do not understand the concept of board coverage.

When you are constructing a range it’s not just about having strong hands in it, you also have to cover every possible board that can come up. For example, look at the range below, which might be your UTG+1 opening range:

hand range

The problem with this range is that while it is weighted towards strong hands, we are not covered for any of the lower flop textures. If the flop comes 2-2-4 we can never hit a nutted hand. It is even worse when our opponent knows we never open the lower hands, because they can really exploit us. This is a common mistake live players make, their ranges are weighted towards Ax and broadway hands, so on low boards they are basically screwed.

A better range might look like this:

hand range

This range covers every possible board, it is possible for us to have a strong hand on any flop with this range. Some people think playing a hand like K9s is fishy and are happier to open A6o, but this is a mistake, because hands like K9s are less likely to be dominated (there are usually less Kx combos out there anyway) and suitedness increases its playability.

When you have a wide array of suited hands you have more natural bluff candidates and more playability in general. You can bluff with your draws, your gutshots and backdoor draws, when you do bluff with a backdoor draw and turn a flush draw you can bluff the turn. You can also bluff more rivers when you have been betting backdoor draws because you don’t block frontdoor draws.

By opening these suited hands sometimes, but not always (maybe 50% of the time), you achieve board coverage without having too much junk in your range. There are only four combinations of suited hands compared to 12 combinations of the same unsuited hands, so you can have three weak suited hands in your range and it’s equivalent to only having one unsuited hand.

Board coverage is not just about the hands you choose to open, it is also an important factor in the lines you take after the flop. You also need ‘run-out’ coverage, which means that you need to balance your checking, betting and check/raising ranges so that they cover potential scare cards. For example if the flop is Q-8-2 rainbow, your check/raising or betting range should include some Ax hands in it, just in case an Ace comes on the turn or river. Likewise if the flop is 7-8-4 rainbow and the turn is a 5, we already know that the first range we looked at today doesn’t have any sixes in it, so can never have made a straight.

A lot of amateur players hear about balance and think that means a range should be made up of monsters and complete air to be used as a bluff. What balance is really about is protecting you in every possible situation. If there is a flop out there that a shrewd players knows could never have hit you, you are going to get exploited.

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