Definition of Play the Board
What does "play the board" mean in poker? What is the definition of "play the board" in the game of poker?
Playing the board means using the five community (face up) cards to make your best hand instead of a combination of the community cards and hole (face down) cards. The "board" in "playing the board" refers to the community cards.
In Texas Hold 'Em, players have seven cards to choose from: two face down in their hand and five face up on the table. A player has to use five of these cards to form their best hand. If a player's best possible hand is contained in the five cards face up on the table and they finish the hand without folding, they play the board. Each player's best hand is automatically counted if their cards are played, so even if a player didn't realize their best hand was in the community cards they would still play the board.
The most famous example of playing the board is the 1998 World Series of Poker's final hand when Kevin McBride, who had a queen and ten, went all-in intending to play a board of three eights and two nines. McBride played the board because he was hoping to split the pot but lost the championship to Scotty Nguyen who had a jack and nine, making a higher full house than was on the board.
It's impossible to win a hand outright by playing the board because your best hand would also be available to your opponent, so hoping to split a pot is the most common reason for doing so. The only reason to play the board against a betting opponent is if you think that opponent will be forced to play the board as well. For example, if you believe your opponent was playing a possible flush draw that would have missed on the river and they bet, you might call to prevent them from stealing the pot, even if you're playing the board. Another example would be if the community cards formed a very good hand, such as four queens and a king. In that case you would play the board if you think your opponent doesn't have an ace kicker, since the worst that could happen would be a split pot.
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