Paired Board Strategy in Texas Hold em Home Poker Games

Beware the Paired Board

Because most home games of Texas Hold 'Em poker tends to be so different from the kind of poker professionals play on television, it's important to understand common situations that arise in the home game and learn how to deal with them.

One of the most common situations in Texas Hold 'Em is the paired board and it's a situation that average players tend to deal with improperly. Learning how to deal with the paired board and understanding clearly when the odds don't favor you is critical for success in Texas Hold 'em home poker games.

Poker cards and chips (public domain)
Poker cards and chips (public domain)

What's Your Strategy on a Paired Board When You're Not Holding the Paired Card?

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Develop a Winning Poker Strategy for Common Flops

Folding when "the odds don't favor you" will seem like an absolutely idiotic phrase to anyone who knows poker. It's a laughably obvious sentence. However, the odds have a whole different meaning in the home game. For instance, the standard play with a mid-pair in tournament poker depending on position, is usually to raise the big blind by three times or more in an effort to isolate against one opponent. In early position, the bettor might even fold a mid-pair because there are so many players yet to bet.

In the home game, the mid-pair can be impossible to play unless you hit your set. In fact, this is most often the best strategy with a mid-pair - attempt to see a flop cheap and, if you hit your set, string enough players along to build the pot provided that the risk of straight draws and flush draws isn't too great. When it gets too uncomfortable, bet-size to drive the remaining players out of the pot.

It's critical to understand player types when addressing these situations. For instance, the good players at your table will likely play their mid and low pairs in a fairly standard fashion, as will a player with good poker knowledge. They are apt to raise the pot up from any position in an effort to thin out the players who want to see the flop.

Usually a bet of 5x the big blind or more is required to drive anybody out depending on your blind sizes (home games tend to have small blinds that don't prevent people from playing, for instance). Frankly, I'm not sure this is the best strategy. Depending on your table dynamics, even a 10x bet is likely to be called by more than one player (again, assuming small blind sizes), which makes playing the flop difficult, though I will say that an aggressive approach after the flop usually produces the best results. Even when a face card hits the board, so many players play face card - rag that an aggressive bet will make them think that they're beat.

Here's a common type of flop that creates problems at the home game for most players: A-8-8. In other words, a flop where the board pairs. Whether the board pairs on the flop, turn, or river, it's good to know how to approach this hand. If you're an experienced player, seeing this board at a table full of good players isn't that hard, usually because by the time it hits, the number of players in the hand has already been thinned out enough to know that the liklihood of somebody holding an 8 has diminished greatly.

Not so in the home game, yet players continue to call bets not realizing (or not caring) that the odds of somebody holding an 8 and trying to grow the pot and keep players in the hand is huge. I will frequently fold my hand even though there's no bet on the table if I'm not holding an 8 just so I can avoid the temptation of staying in the hand cheaply. What will happen more often than not is that I'll get another card that puts me on a draw of some kind or another high card will come out that hits me. Usually, whatever it is, it's a fool's errand.

Making Trips on a Paired Board

That all being said, what do you do if you're holding an 8 on the A-8-8 flop? Most of the time, you will be the only one with an 8, but depending on how many people stayed in the hand, you should be cautious depending on you're kicker.

If you're holding 8-2, you might want to think twice about increasing the betting too much and try to keep the pot reasonable so you're not forced into a really tough decision, likely against someone with a better kicker. However, most of the time you will be in a good situation. My preferred method of play in this situation is to trap by checking the flop and calling any bet, albeit cautiously to make the initial bettor believe that I'm trying to figure out whether he has an 8 or not.

What amazes me about the play in the home game is how many times the person holding the 8 will make a huge bet or go all-in and drive everyone else out of the hand. He'll get a bunch of "thank you's" but not a lot of chips. If I'm in early position, I check for sure. If I'm in late position and nobody has bet, I will put in a small amount, which most people at the table will assume is a position bet. The obvious question to this line of play is this: don't people figure out that the person with the 8 is trapping? The answer is that the good players do and the bad ones don't think about it much and it's the bad player's chips you're looking to take.

You desperately want them to hit top pair or make two pair. You want to make it costly for them to draw to their straight or flush. And if that flush card hits on the river, you want to be more cautious about how you bet. Overall though, you'll save yourself a ton of anxiety at the home game if you simply get out of this hand if you're not holding an 8. If nobody else has an 8 and you have an ace, you're not going to make that much money anyway whereas you stand to lose a lot if don't have the 8 and continue betting.

For those wanting to use their online play to improve their home game play, I suggest playing Omaha Hi instead of Texas Hold 'Em. A lot of the situations in Omaha approach those of the home game. One general rule of Omaha is that drawing hands need to be drawing to the nuts. For the novice Hold 'em player, Omaha requires what seems to be an abnormal amount of self-control because it's essential that you fold and fold often when you're not drawing to the nuts. Becoming a good Omaha player (or at least understanding what you are doing wrong) will make you a better player at your home game for sure.

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