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How to Play Five-to-a-Straight Boards Like a Pro

Boards with five cards to the straight can be quite confusing to play. But fear not!

In this article, I am going to break down what makes these boards special and how you should play them.

I’ll be leveraging Upswing Poker’s upcoming tool (the Lucid GTO Trainer) to demonstrate how a GTO player would approach these situations.

By the end, you’ll be equipped to win more money on five-to-a-straight boards.

Let’s begin!

Note: This article is marked as advanced. If you would prefer introductory/intermediate content, you can check out more articles here.

What Makes Five-to-a-Straight Boards Special?

These boards are special because they elevate the bottom tier of possible made hands to a straight. This means the players’ ranges become almost identical, creating strong range symmetry.

Let me run through a quick example so that you can visualize this better.

Say we are on the turn on , action irrelevant. One player’s range has 50% unpaired hands, 20% middling pairs, 20% top pairs, 5% two pairs and sets, and 5% straights

The other player’s range has 15% unpaired hands, 30% middling pairs, 25% top pairs, 15% two pairs and sets, and 15% straights.

The second player has a huge advantage overall, with far fewer unpaired hands, far more two pairs and sets, and far more straights.

The river comes a with no possible flushes. What happens now is that all hand classes below the straights become a straight, for both players. So now we go from one player having 5% straights vs the other’s 15%, to both players having a straight 100% of the time. Even playing field, almost!

While most of the differences will be ironed out, two more classes of hands appear: 

  • The new straight, in this case, the Jack-high straight
  • The nut straight, in this case, the Queen-high straight (with Queen-Jack)

These new classes, however, don’t create a huge asymmetry between the players’ ranges.

How to Play Five-to-a-Straight Boards

There are many different boards and many different lines that lead to a 5-straight runout. You can arrive in that spot as the aggressor or as the defender. You can arrive there by bet-bet, bet-check, check-bet, check-check, check-call-check-call, check-call, check-check, check-check-call, etc.

It is impossible to cover all of these minute differences. So instead, I am going to synthesize the strategic approach.

In my attempt to optimize the length of this article with the richness of the strategic advice, I will use a board that I have found to be a good case study to showcase the strategic approach from both sides of the equation.

That board is .

I will use the Lucid GTO Trainer, coming soon to Upswing Poker, to show how the solver approaches each of these situations.

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Example 1: Action Checks to River

Take a look at the  I made where the action was checked down to the river. The preflop action was Button open-raise, Big Blind call.

Example 1a: Playing as the Big Blind

This is the solver’s strategy as the Big Blind on :

big blind strategy on t-9-6-7-8 checked down

Note that I’ve set Lucid GTO to show all hands at full weight (i.e. each hand takes up its full square) so you can more easily see how each hand is played. Click here to see the sim with true weight.

What you are looking at here is a very passive strategy involving checking almost 90% of the time.

In this case, the reason for that is that the Button will have more and straights (let’s call them “good straights”) than the Big Blind. That’s because the Big Blind will have bet most of those hands on the turn.

As a result, the solver elects to mix between betting and checking out of position with those good straights to not allow the Button to create a shoving range against the Big Blind’s checking range.

(It’d be a massive overbet shove, but if the Big Blind never checked with a good straight, the Button could put an enormous amount of the Big Blind’s bluff-catchers in a 0 expected value (EV) situation.)

When it comes to bluffing, while it might seem like the solver prefers some hands such as the as merge bets, the EV difference between betting a or a is a mere 0.4bb/100. In other words, the specific hands with which you bluff don’t matter too much in this situation, as long as you bluff close to the proper frequency.

Since hand classes become indifferent at this point, the blocker effects are often greatly minimized when it comes to both bluffing and bluff-catching.

Also, the idea of “bluffs” sort of disappears. Every “bluff” will now have equity when called since every “bluff” is at least a Ten-high straight and the defender should often call with that same straight at a high frequency.

Example 1b: How the Button Plays vs Bet

When you look at how the solver plays as the Button versus a bet, you will quickly realize that it doesn’t look anything like how a human would play this spot:

button vs bet on the five straight board

Again, I’ve made every hand full weight so you can more easily see how each hand is played. Click here to see the true weight.

The strategy involves raising 35% of the time to a fairly small size — and the raising range includes a little bit of everything. There are some good straights, of course, but also some “bluffs” with hands like 96s, K8o, 75s, and even AA.

You might have also noticed that the solver bluff-catches with almost every hand at some frequency (hoping for a chop).

Remember when I said that blockers become almost irrelevant? This is a clear example of that.

It makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter much if you have Pocket Fives or Ten-Nine suited. They are both the same hand at this point.

Example 1c: Button Facing Check

Let’s pivot now to the Button’s strategy should she face a check by the Big Blind.

After checking for a third time, the Big Blind has shown that there is a very high chance he doesn’t have a straight.

On the other hand, the Button will have made a lot of them because she should be checking back flop and turn with hands such as Jack-Ten, Jack-Nine, Jack-Seven suited, and Jack-Six suited at some frequency.

That means the Button has a large nut advantage. Therefore, it becomes optimal to overbet. That’s exactly what we see the solver doing:

btn-vs-check-t9678-full-weight

Full weight shown above. Click here for true weight.

We see a mixture of overbets (150% pot) and 66% pot-sized bets. Let’s dive into how each betting range is built.

The smaller size of 66% pot is used to accommodate the Ace-Jack and (to a lesser extent) King-Jack combos. These hands have a large blocker effect on the check-folding range because most of the Big Blind’s folding range against the overbet is hands.

When it comes to the bluffing range morphology, we see that the hands are the least preferred due to the reason I mentioned above, while pairs are good to go as they unblock most of those hands.

The overbetting range is unsurprisingly built around the nuts ( ). You’ll notice a lot of the overbet bluffing hands contain a because you really want to block your opponent from having when you overbet.

Example 2: Button Double Barrels

Let’s look at what happens after the Big Blind calls a c-bet on the flop and then a double barrel on the turn. This is a starkly different scenario to Example 1. 

In this spot, neither player has a big nut advantage and the ranges are extremely close in equity. When these factors are present simultaneously, a block bet donking strategy becomes optimal at equilibrium.

Example 2a: Donk Betting as the Big Blind

Donking as the Big Blind is a mandatory strategy, here, because it prevents the Button from picking her own best strategy.

If the Big Blind always checked to the aggressor on this run out, he wouldn’t get enough value when he had a good straight. Meanwhile, the Button would, of course, always bet with the good straights. You should not be okay with that one-sided proposition as the Big Blind!

Check out how the solver approaches the situation on the same board as before :

bb-donk-after-call-twice-on-t9678-full-weight

Full weight shown above. Click here to see the true weight.

We see here that the solver elects to donk bet for around 33% pot fairly often (51% of the time). You may also notice that almost every single hand in the range fires that donk bet at some frequency.

This fascinating strategy would be very difficult to implement perfectly in game. If you want to simplify it, you can just bluff 50% of the time with every non Jx hand. If you did that, you’d be bluffing at the approximate optimal frequency without sacrificing significant EV. And it’d certainly save you time memorizing that complex strategy.

Example 2b: Button’s Response To Donk Bet

Against the small donk bet, the Button is supposed to continue with his entire get-to-river range, mostly by calling but with a good amount of raising too. Check it out:

btn-vs-bb-donk-t9678-full-weight

Full weight above. Click here for true weight.

This time you’ll notice a more polarized range when it comes to raising. In this case, the blocker effects matter a bit more than in the previous spot because the out-of-position player has a more defined range. It’s clearer to see which hands will donk-fold, so the solver constructs a range that unblocks that folding range.

To be more specific, we see that low-suited Kings/Queens, 54-suited, low pocket pairs, and pocket Kings/Queens are the preferred bluffing hands. Why is this?

Because after the range filtering that occurred on the flop and turn for the OOP player (having to call two bets), his range is condensed to a lot of two pairs and some top pairs.

These hands are , , , , and . Since the same hands also make up the donk-folding range, and there are no good blockers for the value range (the ), it makes sense that the best bluff candidates are hands that do not contain those cards.

Hence, we see the following cards heavily featured in the bluffing range: , , , , , .

Example 2: Big Blind Checks

Let’s look at the other side of the coin, what should the Button do once the Big Blind opts to check?

If the Big Blind protected his checking range by trapping with enough Queen-Jack, then the Button is handcuffed. She can’t bet big very often into that protected rang, so a more middling size is preferred.

Indeed, that is what you can see happening:

btn-triple-barrel-on-t9678-full-weight

Full weight above. Click here for true weights.

As far as bluffing range morphology goes, we see the same trend as with raising against the donk bet. We avoid blocking the folding range which is made out of those , , , , cards.

Final Thoughts

Although a rather rare spot, it is nonetheless interesting to learn about the strategical patterns that occur at equilibrium.

Equipped with this knowledge, you can start making profitable adjustments based on what you think your opponents are going to be doing differently than the solver.

For example, if you think your opponent won’t trap often enough on the river with the good straights, you can do a lot more big betting (with good straights and “bluffs”) than the solver.

And if you think they’ll only call big bets when they can beat the board, you can go hyper-exploitative and bet big when you’re bluffing and medium when you’re value betting. Just be careful when making massive exploitative adjustments like that — because you leave yourself open to being exploited by doing so.

That’s all for this article! I hope you enjoyed learning from it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

As usual, if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to reply!

If you enjoy advanced articles like this, you should know myself and other players have written dozens of them for Upswing Poker. You can find more by scrolling down to “Related Posts” below.

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Want to be one of the first players to leverage the Lucid GTO Trainer to gain an edge on opponents? Join the waitlist here and keep an eye on your inbox for news about the launch very soon!

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