Reading The Board At The Hold em Poker Table – Why This Is A Must

Reading the Board

Many low limit and newer players come to the poker table wearing blinders. They look at their two starting cards and the community board cards and if they see something that makes any type of hand they just start betting or calling. They do this without regard to what the other players may have. This is wrong and is a good way to quickly go broke if you play this way.

It is extremely important that you can determine how your hand stacks up against the other possible hands that your opponents may hold. This is known as reading the board. In Texas Hold'em, your ability to read the board is one of the most important skills you can develop.

Because Texas Hold’em players use the same five community cards you can easily determine what the best possible hand will be. The best possible hand is called "The Nuts." This is not to say one of the players will always have the Nuts, but by knowing what the best hand is, you can determine the strength of your own hand compared to it. Once you determine the strength of your hand you will more information to make your decision about how it should be played.

How to Read the Board.

Reading the board is not difficult. You look at the community cards and then determine what possible hands can be made if you add two additional cards. The two additional cards are the hole cards held by the players. You start with the highest possible hand and then work your way down to the lowest hand. Look at the example below. (Note: (x) denotes any other card.


Ace of spades  Jack of hearts Seven of clubs Five of diamonds Two of clubs

The possibilities for this hand in order are:

Three of a kind

Aces if you had A-A

Jacks if you had J-J

Sevens if you had 7-7

Fives if you had 5-5

Deuces if you had 2-2

Two Pairs

Aces and Jacks if you had A-J

Aces and Sevens if you had A-7

Aces and Fives if you had A-5

Aces and Deuces if you had A-2

Jacks and Sevens if you had J-7

Jacks and Fives if you had J-5

Jacks and Sevens if you had J-2

Sevens and Fives if you had 7-5

Sevens and Deuces if you had 7-2


Aces if you had A-x

Jacks if you had J-x

Sevens if you had 7-x

Fives if you had 5-x

Deuces if you had 2-x

That is a pretty innocent and straight forward set of board cards with limited possibilities for a big hand. Other boards you read will have many more possibilities. Knowing some of the red flags makes it easier to quickly evaluate how your hand will stack up against your opponents.

Suited Cards

Any time the board contains suited cards there is the possibility of a flush. Many low limit players will play any two suited cards. (This is a losing strategy that I will discuss another time). When you see a third suited card appear on the board and there is betting and raising, you know that someone made their flush. Without three suited cards no one can make a flush.

Pair on Board

Whenever there is a pair on the board there is a possibility that someone has 4 of a kind. Although this is not common there is a strong possibility that someone has made a full house. This is especially true if the board contains mostly high cards.

Double Paired Board

If there are two pairs on the board it doubles the chance of 4 of a kind and greatly increases the chance of a full house.


In the board above if you held an ace your chance of winning will be slim if there are many players in the hand. Any time there are two pairs on the board the chances of a full house are greatly increased. If there is a lot of raising you have to consider this fact. Tens and nines are common cards for a player to have in their hand.


Straight draws are very deceptive and sometimes difficult to read. Whenever there are three sequenced cards or two cards with a gap of three or less, there is a potential for a straight. In fact, all flops that don't contain a pair can make a straight on the fourth card except for: K-8-3, K-8-2, K-7-2 and Q-7-2

Many players will play starting hands that have connectors suited or unsuited, or two cards with a single gap. If you see three cards in sequence and there is action you should be thinking straight. If you hold connectors at low end of the sequence and make a straight you may be in for a big loss if someone holds the connectors for the higher end.

Determining Your Outs.

Last month I wrote about the unseen cards that can improve of make your hand. These are your outs. The only way to determine your outs is by reading the board. Once you determine your outs you can assess how strong your hand will be if you do improve. Sometimes even if you make a hand it may not be strong enough to win.

Changing Your Evaluation

The best hand after the flop will not necessarily be the best hand at the river. You must reassess the board every time another card is added.


Learning to read the board correctly only takes a little practice. If you are new to the game all you have to do is get a deck of cards and deal some practice hands. Start by turning over three cards to represent the flop and then one for the Turn and river.


If you are playing in a live game you can practice reading the board even when you are not involved in a hand. Since as a tight player you will not be playing many hands, this will keep you occupied. It will also give you some valuable information about your opponents and the types of hands they play when you see their cards at the showdown.

Will they bet out with middle or bottom pair?

Will they raise of semi-bluff with suited cards after the flop?

Do they only bet or raise with a strong hand like top pair?

All of this information can be determined by reading the board and watching the other players.


When I was in school there was a sign hanging on the classroom wall that read:

"Reading is Fundamental."

It was good advice for the classroom and its excellent advice in the cardroom as well.

Until next time, remember:
"Luck comes and goes...Knowledge Stays Forever!"