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No Limit Hold'em - On the Flop Added On: 19/12/2008

Flop play is very important in No-Limit Texas Hold'em. The key is to determine the relative strength of your holding. Over time, it is crucial that you develop the ability to release good poker hands when you suspect them to be second best. You must determine your relative strength and release hands that face a serious risk of being second-best. Betting is the natural move if you want to protect a good hand from being outdrawn or when you are presented with the opportunity to make your opponents fold their hands. You should usually "pump it or dump it" on the flop.

It is extremely important that you always evaluate the relative strength of your hand on the flop.

In order to decide the correct action it is very important to keep several factors in mind:

  1. What did you flop and what is your relative strength (straight draws, flush draws, set, paired board, etc)?
     
  2. Who, if anyone, raised before the flop (often expect another bet)? What kind of player is it?
     
  3. What position do you have relative to the raiser's?
     
  4. Number of players (it is hard to bluff facing 3 or more opponents and there is a greater chance of someone hitting a strong hand)?
     
  5. Your and your opponents' stack size.

When facing a bet you should fold unless you have good reason to doubt the strength of your opponent. As they are "setting the odds", it is crucial that you make the appropriate decision. Remember, your opponent can be holding anything from the stone cold nuts down to nothing - if your hand is decent it may very well be an underdog to a lot of likely holdings.

Of course, you will not always fold. In fact, every now and again you should play back with a raise when you have a good chance of taking the lead or if you think your opponent is weak. Consequently, you will be "setting the odds" and forcing your opponent to make a decision (and a possible mistake).

Try to save your calls unless you have very good reason not to (like slow-playing a monster or drawing to the nuts in a multi-way pot). You will rarely get the holdem odds for chasing "outs" by calling in NL, unless your opponents bet too small or give free cards. By calling with mediocre holdings you will set yourself up for a "guessing game", in which it is necessary to read opponents well and "make moves" in order to be successful.

Typical Situations on the Flop

Here are four typical situations on the flop:

Very Strong Hand (top two-pair, set)

  • Often slow-play on an uncoordinated board to lure opponents in, to induce bluffs or let them make second-best hands.
     
  • However, if the board is coordinated and several players are in, you will need to over-bet the pot in order to make them pay for attempting to outdraw you. The bigger the bet they call, the greater their mistake. And that is how you make money in poker: letting other players pay to chase you.
     

Strong Hand (over-pair, top-pair with A kicker, etc.)

  • Generally, bet about the size of the pot in order to protect it (for example, pushing out overcards and making draws pay).
     
  • However, you might have to release this type of hand when facing an over-bet or a raise. In such cases, someone could hold a bigger overpair, a set or connectors that hit the flop for a two-pair. Usually you should not back top-pair with your whole stack!
     
  • If you bet and are called in several spots you have to decide whether your hand is the best or not, as it is unlikely that all of your opponents are drawing.


Medium Hand (top-pair with a weak kicker, middle-pair with A kicker, second pocket- pair, etc.)

  • Most of the time, you should avoid betting this hand when you are in early position, facing several opponents or facing tricky players who slow-play a lot. You want to get a free card to hit one of your pocket cards on the turn or maybe call/raise an opponent who bets from last position.
     
  • However, if you are in late position and it is checked to you then you should bet.
     
  • If you are facing a bet (or get raised) you should fold. You have no initiative and are probably chasing 2-5 outs.


Drawing Hands (nut flush or nut straight)

  • If you have 11 outs or more and are drawing to the nut flush or straight, which requires at least one over-card (higher than any board card), you can mix up you game by betting/check-raising/raising in order to win the pot immediately or draw out on later rounds.
     
  • If you are playing with "calling stations" this strategy has much lower equity as you will not be able to win a lot of pots with semi-bluffs. With this type of hand, one option is to check-raise/raise all-in if you have a short stack and the pot is fairly large. Then you have two ways to win, either by forcing your opponents to fold or by outdrawing them. You have between a 33-53% chance of doing so if the outs are between 8 and 14.
     
  • Sometimes it is correct to call a bet on the flop because of the existing implicit odds. This play is directed by the size of your and your opponent's stacks and also by the size of the bet. If a weak player with a lot of money bets and you too have a large sum of money, a call would be good since you might double-up if you hit on the turn.

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