This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Ready to get better at poker? Let’s level-up. I’m Mike Brady and you already know who I’ve got on the line… It’s poker pro Gary Blackwood!
Gary: What’s up everyone? Today we’re discussing monotone boards; i.e. boards that are all the same suit. How we want to construct our range, how different types of boards change the way that we play.
Mike: Monotone boards was a topic requested by one of our listeners. If you have a topic request for the show, tweet it out with the hashtag #uplevelup and be sure to tag us. I’m @mbradycf and Gary is @gazzyb1233. If you’re watching on YouTube, you can also just comment below the video with your suggestion.
Anyway, we’re going to hone in on how to play the flop when the dealer fans a monotone board. We’ll start by talking about how your c-betting strategy should look in single raised pots, then we’ll switch sides and cover how to play versus a c-bet. We’ll wrap it up by talking a bit about playing monotone boards in 3-bet pots.
General Rules For Monotone Flops
Mike: All monotone flops are not the same – obviously an A-K-9 all-spade flop shouldn’t be played exactly the same as a 7-4-2 all-spade flop – but there are some really solid rules of thumb for playing monotone flops when you’ve raised preflop and the big blind has called. Gary, what are those general rules for monotone flops?
Gary: Okay so firstly you want to virtually always use small bets on monotone boards. There are exceptions to that rule, but they’re so few and far between that you can simplify your strategy; any time the flop is all the same suit you want to use a smaller bet size. It can be 25%, 30%, 33%.
Any time that you are c-betting and the board can change drastically on the next street, you’re usually going to favor smaller bet sizes. Quick example – if you 3-bet BB vs SB, if the board is 7-4-2, you actually like using a half-pot c-bet size. But if the board is 7-4-3 you like using 1/3-pot.
Monotone boards are no exception; the board can change so much on the turn. The board can pair, another spade can roll off, lots of bad turns can happen. So whether you are c-betting or check-raising, you want to favor using your smaller sizes.
Another really important thing to consider is position you are in, and the texture of the board. For example, if you open under the gun, or in the HJ, and the BB calls, and the flop is as we’ve said, you actually don’t have that many flushes, and the big blind has heaps of them, all the , type hands, and we’re gonna break down why that fact is important, and how to adjust your strategy accordingly!
On the flip side if you 3-bet Button vs Cutoff and the flop is , sure you don’t have too many flopped flushes there yourself, but it’s not like the Cutoff has a bunch either, so you still get to bet really wide. Lots of really intricate details like that, and understanding how your range is constructed is super important here.
Mike: To kind of reiterate what Gary is saying here about these high boards in particular. It’s kind of similar to what we were talking about in our last episode, the board kind of blocks a huge portion of the range that would allow you to have a strong hand.
For example when you raise UTG, your suited hands are going to include a lot of Ax suited, Kx suited. You’ll have some suited hands that QTs, JTs, 87s, but there’s not too many of those. So when the flop comes A-K-9, there’s just not that flushes that you can have, because the A and the K are out there.
The big blind, who’s just calling your raise, can have all sorts of suited random stuff, like 85 suited and stuff like that. They have a ton of flushes, and that’s going to matter a lot.
Different Types Of Monotone Boards
Mike: Let’s compare a couple of monotone flops that are on different ends of the spectrum. Take vs . Can you walk our listeners through the difference between your strategy on these flops?
Gary: Okay, so a lot of us listening might think that we bet way more than , and the reason for that thought process would probably be that an AK9 type board is good for us because of the top pairs, top two pairs, sets, etc that we have. But that’s only a small part of the story on monotone boards.
A really important factor to consider is the nut advantage, particularly in spots where ranges are more narrow. So if you open in middle position, and the BB defends, and the flop is all hearts. Sure you have AA, KK and AK, but those hands aren’t the nuts on this board. You don’t open , but the BB defends it, you don’t open , but the big blind defends it.
The nut advantage seriously reduces the c-bet frequency on this board, and a quick fun fact, the BB is actually supposed to donk out here 25% of the time. Even though middle position’s equity is almost 60% here. Just to repeat that, middle position has 60% equity here, but BB should in theory lead out 25% of the time. That fully demonstrates how drastically the nut advantage dictates our strategy. We don’t have anywhere near as many combos of flushes or nut flushes vs the BB, so we cannot c-bet really wide here.
On the flipside, a board like is actually a board we get to bet really wide on, despite our equity dipping to 55%. Still a pretty big equity advantage, and now we hold more of a nut advantage, so we get to bet super wide on this board.
If you think about it, on a board like , we don’t have , , . On the flip side, on , our opponent no longer has , , . So the nut advantage isn’t as vigorous for the big blind.
We get to bet really wide on the board (80% of the time), so we choose hands like , , , because our global frequency is so high that our range can support it. On the flipside, on , our global frequency is much lower, so we can’t bet our airballs as liberally, we’ve got to be much more selective with our bluff combos.
This doesn’t change too much Button vs BB, however we can’t bet as relentlessly on a board. The reason for this is that when ranges get wider, we don’t have as much of an equity advantage, and therefore we can’t bet 80% of the time here, it actually drops to 55%.
This is because our equity drops to 52%. A lot of info straight out the bat today, but remember two things:
- When ranges get wider (i.e. Button vs BB) we tend to c-bet less, and
- If we think about the nut advantage and how it changes based on positions, we get a nice insight into how our strategy is shaped.
Playing Montone Boards From The Big Blind
Mike: Great stuff. I think it’s time to switch sides and talk about playing as the big blind against a c-bet. How are you building your check-raising and check-calling ranges on monotone flops? And let’s assume we’re not playing a robust leading strategy, because I think most people don’t.
Gary: So we’ll focus on BB vs Button here because even though I could talk about this topic for hours our listeners probably don’t want to hear it!
Our check-raising range is really quite tight, on 7-3-2 rainbow for example we have lots of nice 86s with a bunch of backdoor draws. On 7-3-2 monotone, not so much. So our bluffs will be hands like A5 with the ace of hearts, AT with the ace of hearts, really low-frequency and really easy to work out.
Our value will actually play a little more passively than you might think. The reason for this is that if you have , there are a lot of bad turns, and also the Button has way more like A8 with the ace of heart type hands. So we have to play quite reserved overall on these monotone boards from the big blind.
It just sucks to be out of position on a board that can change so much, so we kinda wait until the board is safer to start piling money in! Our check-calling range is also very easy to work out, we have no type floats, just really ABC, flush draw and pair heavy check calls here.
Mike: I almost feel like our listeners are probably playing that way on monotone boards intuitively. You really just build around the nuts and the nut draws/nut blockers. On 7-3-2 mono, you’re raising for value with some A-high, K-high flushes, and you’re raising as a bluff with the ace of hearts and the king of hearts. We’re playing a game built around flushes.
3-Bet Strategy IP On Monotone Flops
Mike: So we’ve been hyper-focused on single-raised pots so far, but I want to give our listeners a taste of 3-bet pot strategy too. Suppose you 3-bet in position Button vs Cutoff, your opponent calls, and you see three cards of the same suit fall on the flop. When the cutoff checks, how are you approaching your c-bet strategy as the button 3-bettor?
Gary: So let’s talk about size first of all, we’re so rarely using a big bet, we want to be using lots of small bets here, either 25% or 33%, whatever your small size is. A nice golden rule is that when c-betting you generally don’t want to use bigger sizes when the board can change so much, and monotone boards can change SO much.
This is why we mainly see small sizes on monotone boards. In terms of the boards that we bet less on, the lower boards like and get bet less frequently, but we still bet really REALLY wide on J-high, Q-high, K-high and most A-high boards. These boards are really good for us, we have a lot of equity, we also have the nut advantage here, and therefore we get to bet super wide. This trend is actually really similar to rainbow and flush draw boards in this spot!
There’s one more thing I want to talk about – something we call a willingness to get it in. On in a single-raised pot, the point is 4BB and you have pocket deuces, you don’t want to get in for your other 98BB.
Whereas in a 3-bet pot, and you have KJ on , you have 99 on , you should be much more willing to get it in.
You’ll see the solver very clearly jump from how aggressively it plays a set on a monotone board in single-raised pots, to 3-bet and 4-bet pots playing much more aggressively. It’s just so happy to get in a set in a 3-bet or a 4-bet pot. So we really have to factor in the stack-to-pot (SPR) ratio.
Mike: Really think about how many suited hands are in your opponent’s range given the preflop action. And build your strategy largely driven by that.
Strategy On Montone Boards As The 3-Bet Caller OOP
Mike: Against that button c-bet in a 3-bet pot, what should the cutoff’s general response look like?
Gary: Again, really quite ABC. We are only raising here around 13% of the time, and to be honest, after spending two hours in the solver today prepping for this podcast, the solver plays very differently to humans in 3-bet pots on these mono boards.
I would strongly recommend keeping your strategy nice and simple. You want to raise your strong hands and your strong draws. The only thing I will say is that when the stack-to-pot ratio gets lower and the ranges become narrower, you can be more willing to play for stacks than you might have thought.
So in a SRP you don’t want to get it in on the flop with a set, but in a 3-bet pot and very much so in a 4-bet pot, you get to get it in a LITTLE more liberally with hands like a set or maybe top two pair vs the right opponent.
I saw a wonderful example in the solver today, Button 3-bet, Cutoff called. The flop is ; the Cutoff is ready to play for it all with pocket nines. Obviosuly you could never do that in a single-raised pot. And that is a very extreme example.
Versus a human, I wouldn’t be happy getting it in with a set of nines. But it’s a really nice insight into just how much more aggressive the solver wants to be with a medium-strength hand like a set of nines on J-T-9 monotone.
Mike: It sounds like more than likely our listeners are playing too tight vs. a c-bet in that spot, when it comes to raising. I know myself, if I called a 3-bet with KJ, and the flop came , I would probably not check-raise KJ. But it sounds like we should at least be check-raising that hand sometimes.
It makes sense; you’re going to get a lot of value from one-heart hands like AQ and hands like AK and AA, especailly if they have a heart. Poker is about maximizing your EV; sometimes that’s going to lead into getting into some tough spots. That’s what poker’s all about, you can’t be afraid of tough spots.
3-Bet Strategy OOP On Monotone Flops
Mike: How does this advice for 3-bet pots change when you re-raised from out of position – say, small blind vs cutoff?
Gary: It’s actually really similar to the above. So Button vs Cutoff we are still c-betting the same types of boards really wide, and checking the same types of boards really wide, whether they are monotone, flush draw or rainbow.
The same concept applies to when you’re out of position as well. You want to c-bet really infreqeuently on the low boards like , , and you want to bet much more liberally on the , the .
We’ve spoken a lot today about nut advantage and you do lose the nut advantage on for example, but what is regarded as the nuts changes a bit in 3-bet pots compared to single raised pots when ranges are just so much wider in general.
So if we look at all hearts, we have less flushes than our opponent, but given ranges are narrower, we start to take into account sets and two pair as really strong hands, and obviously the small blind has way more of those than the Cutoff, so we get to bet these boards quite wide.
Monotone board are overall really hard to play, and there are a fair few exceptions to the rule, for example you want to bet quite wide but is a range check. There will always be exceptions to the rule, and all you can do is build your strategy as simplified as possible, whilst still being very effective!
Mike: Love it, great way to wrap it up. Now you know how to make more money with your strategy on monotone boards.
If you enjoyed the episode, please consider giving it a rating, subscribing, sharing it with your friends, share it on social media. Whatever you want to do to engage with it, we’d really appreciate it. It’ll help is keep this thing going. We love seeing those listener numbers go up, and it really motivates us to make these episodes more regularly and make them even better.
If you want to follow us on Twitter, I’m @mbradycf and Gary is @gazzyb1233. Gazzy is also on Instagram as gazzyb123. He posts a lot of great poker content on his IG Stories, like quizzes, updates about his sessions, stuff like that. It’s really fun to follow along.
Thanks so much for listening, we’ll see you in the next one.
If you want to check out more episodes of Upswing Poker Level-Up, scroll down on this page to find them.