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Play the Board

Playing the Board Cards

by Jesse Knight
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Play the Board
Play the Board - In a Hold’em game, using all five community cards to make your best hand.


In a Hold’em game, players receive two hole cards and five community cards. Players must use five of the seven cards, in any combination, in order to make their best five card poker hand. The two hole cards are delivered face down at the start of the hand, and are not seen by the other players at the table. The five community cards are delivered face up, in the center of the table. First there is a three card flop, followed by a turn card, and finally a river card. This is called “the board.” The board consists of the “community cards,” so named because these cards are shared by all players in the game, so that only the hole cards differentiate the player’s hands.

Usually, when a player considers his best five cards, he will use one or both of his hole cards to complete his hand. Occasionally, a player will not be able to use either one of his hole cards when forming his best five card hand. When this occurs, that player must instead use only the five community cards from the board, and therefore must “play the board.” Playing the board is usually a bad thing, because it means that you were unable to improve upon the five card poker hand that all players automatically share as community cards. This means that if you play the board, you can do no better than tie the other players in the game, and even that can be unlikely. To achieve this tie, every other player must not be able to play either of their hole cards, and must play the board as well. Any player who is able to improve upon the hand represented by the board, by playing either or both of their hole cards, will make a better five card poker hand than anyone who is forced to play the board. On rare occasions, playing the board can be a good thing, and give you a piece of the pot when otherwise you would have lost. This happens when your opponent loses his lead over you on the river and must also play the board.

Sometimes, when a player plays the board, it is because their hole cards are trash. This happens frequently if your hole cards are of small denomination, and do not form a pair, straight, or flush when combined with the cards from the board. Of course, in order to play the board, a player must make it to showdown, and this type of hand is often mucked before that occurs. When you do make it to showdown with trash, and are required to play the board, it is often because you did not face a bet during the course of the hand.

Other times, playing the board will not be a result of you holding trash, but will result from the board consisting of a strong five card hand. This happens frequently when a straight, flush, or full house appears on the board. It can also happen when two pair with a high kicker appears on the board, and the existing players are unpaired or have pocket pairs smaller than those on the board. This situation, where the board is strong, is much more likely to result in a tie among existing players than when you play the board because you hold trash. In extreme cases, it is even possible for the board to be the nuts, in which case all players with live hands must chop the pot. There are only three situations where the board can contain the nut hand. One is when there is a royal flush displayed on the board. The second is when the board contains four of a kind with an ace kicker, or in the case of four aces, a king kicker. The third is when an ace high straight (or “Broadway”), without the possibility of a flush, appears on the board.

Most of the time, when you play the board, you will lose the hand. Even when the board contains a flush or a straight, another player will often be able to play one of his hole cards to make a bigger flush or bigger straight. When playing the board, some players will muck their hands prior to showing down, because they have missed their draw and assume that they have lost. This can be a bad assumption to make. If it turns out that the other players are playing the board also, you will not be eligible for your share of the pot if you do not show your hand. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you will win a piece of the pot by playing the board. Even if you have missed a flush draw or straight draw, and you hold trash, your opponent may have also missed a similar non playing draw. When you are not facing a bet, it is always better to hold onto your hand until you see the hand that beats you, rather than to muck your hand out of frustration when you miss.

Usage: Played The Board, Board Plays

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