Monotone Boards and Equity

Monotone boards are tricky. On the one hand, our opponents will have a lot of pair+draw hands that will call our value bets. On the other hand, all of those hands have a lot of equity in general, so our value bets are inherently thinner. Before we go any further, though, we need to be clear about that an opponent’s raise on a monotone board usually means an extremely strong hand:

  •   People don’t usually call raises preflop with offsuit cards. On a K♥9♥8♥ board, most decent players aren’t raising their one-heart hands because they simply don’t hold any.
  •   On a monotone board, the preflop raiser is likely to have a lot of equity. With black aces on that same K♥9♥8♥ board, we have decent equity. With A♥Q♣, we have good equity. For this reason, people don’t bluff boards like these—they’re way too likely to have smashed the preflop raiser equity-wise.

Basically, we can expect somebody raising on a monotone board to have an extremely strong hand. I’ll never forget one hand that I played a long time ago against Krantz at $10/$20. I raised the button with 7♣6♣, and Krantz 3-bet from the blinds with red AK. I called (this was probably a mistake, but I didn’t know it at the time). The flop came down A♣K♣4♣. Jackpot, right? Krantz bet the flop, and I raised. As his timer began to run down, Krantz typed into chat “AK no good, huh” and folded. I was shocked (and I felt more than a little bit outclassed at the time). When I tried thinking about the fold from Krantz’s point of view, it started to make sense—I wasn’t calling preflop with that many one-club hands, and even with those I’m calling Krantz’ flop bet the majority of the time instead of raising. I’m never pure bluffing. So, if I’m only value betting, then I can beat AK. (For those interested, calling with my small flush was definitely the correct play on the flop. Krantz would certainly have value-owned himself on the turn, and all I have to do to get his stack is dodge a club, A, or K on the turn).

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, even if I did have a one-club hand, I still have significant equity against Krantz. If I have Q♣J♦ on that flop, I am coinflipping with him.

Misunderstanding the overall scope of equity is an extremely common mistake. Poker players often say, “Well, if he has a draw more often than he has a flush, I should go all in.” That is incorrect thinking. If he has a flush we’re drawing thin, whereas if he has a draw he’s drawing to as many as 12. So, instead of it being “whether or not he has a draw more often”, it’s “whether or not he has a draw way, way, way, way, way more often”. As you guys can tell I’m not a big math guy. I do, though, have the common sense to realize that draws win a lot. If we’re going to compete in a way-behind/slightly-ahead type of spot, we’d better be slightly-ahead an obscenely large percentage of the time. Most of the time when we face a raise with a one-pair hand on a monotone board, we’re not slightly-ahead nearly as often as we need to be. So, monotone boards are good places to make tough folds. They’re not, though, good places to make bluffs, because most players won’t be as good as we are at making those tough folds. Just count on our opponents making the mistake of calling too often and value bet them.

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