The flop is a huge factor in any Texas Hold’em poker game. It can make your week pocket cards into a killing hand, and on the other hand, it can make you fear the outcome of the hand even if you are holding pocket aces. Being able to read other players on the flop, analyze the whole situation, and make the right decision on the flop is often the difference between winning and losing. We will analyze some of the most typical on-the-flop hands.
What you do depends on your hand after flop
Three of a Kind
Getting three of a kind on the flop can be broken into two different situations. The first one is when you are holding a pair, and the third card comes on the flop. That is called “flopping a set”. In case the two cards appear on the flop, and you are holding a third one, we are talking about “flopping trips”. There is quite a difference between these two, and the best way to demonstrate that is an example.
Let’s say you have a strong pocket pair, like KK for instance. The flop comes A-K-5. You have a very strong hand, but the other players are most likely unaware of that fact. In a situation like this, players who have a pocket ace will probably raise, not realizing you are having much stronger hand than they are. That is usually a great situation for you, and with a smart slow play, and a bit of luck, you can make a solid win. As for the flopping trips, we will take similar example.
Let us say you have AK suited, and on the flop, K-K-J come out. Once again, you have a three of a kind, but your situation is not as good as the one in the previous example. Now there is a risk that any of the other players might be holding a full house (the player with JJ). That makes your strategy here very tricky. Aggressive raising is out of option, since with cards such as two Kings on the flop, that would probably cause all other players to fold, unless they are holding a full house for instance, which would be very bad for you. Slow play is a proper strategy here as well, but you should be more careful, never forgetting the possibility of someone already holding a full house.
Although slow play is usually the appropriate strategy when holding a three of a kind, there are certain situations that call for jamming the pot. Flopping a small set is a good example. Let us say you have a pair of 2s. You call the big blind, and the flop comes out K-8-2. At this point, you are probably holding the strongest hand. That is why you need to keep it that way – if you keep checking and wait for the turn and the river, there is a risk of someone else making a stronger hand. That is why you should raise, or you can check raise in case you expect that someone else is going to bet. The ideal scenario for you in a situation like this is if some player has AK. That player will think that the top pair he or she is holding is going to bring them a win, so you can get plenty from them into the pot, while they have very little chance of beating you.
Another scenario that calls for jamming the pot is a flop that holds the possibility of someone drawing a straight or flush. For instance, flop such as Q-Q-9 will give anyone having J10 a nice chance of hitting a straight; on the other hand, if flop comes out with two cards of the same suit, there is a possibility that someone is holding pocket cards of the same suit, having decent chances of hitting a flush.
Both situation calls for jamming the pot, forcing other players to bet if they want to see the turn and the river.
If you were having some of the high pairs pre-flop, you would probably jam the pot straight away. After the flop, in case you are holding a top pair, you should definitely continue jamming the pot. For instance, if you had pocket Kings, and on the flop, 9-3-7 come out, you probably still have the strongest hand, unless some other player was doing a slow play with pocket Aces, or someone just managed to flop a set of 9s.
In case you had AK, with the flop coming out K-9-3, once more you should play aggressive, and jam the pot. With a top pair and the top kicker, you want to materialize your advantage – you do not want to let some other player completing their straight or flush, beating your top pair. In any case, with top pair, slow play is almost never a good choice – top pair on the flop is a strong hand, but if you slow play it, and wait for the turn and the river, that hand won’t be that strong anymore. Thus, if you have a top pair, jamming the pot is usually much better option.
Let us say you held A9 of spades. On the flop, Q-9-4 come out, but only the 4 is spades, so you do not hit the flush. However, you have a pair of 9s. If someone has a King, their pair beats yours. However, if all players just check, betting is not a bad option here. After you place the bet, you will see how strong or weak your 9s actually are. If any of the players has a King, you can almost certainly expect them to raise.
If you see calls instead, it is fair to assume that you have a high hand. If you encounter a raise in a situation like this, it is very important to consider the player’s personality. If the player who raised were tough or weak, your option would be to fold or call. On the other hand, if it was a mediocre player, you should definitely call, or even re-raise. Deciding to fold a hand like this one might be quite difficult since you have many possible outs. Another 9 would give you a great hand, an Ace would also be nice, and after all, you can always hope for the flush.
So in general, when holding small pairs, you should bet, and then observe the personalities and the behavior of your opponents, making further decision accordingly.
Flopping a monster hand means getting a four of a kind, royal flush, full house, straight, flush, or straight flush. Since there is very little chance you will lose a hand like that, usually the best option is slow play. Your goal is to keep others in the game, betting as much as possible, since you are probably going to be the winner at the end. That is a general strategy for playing a monster hand.
However, you need to be careful in case you are holding a flush or a straight. Other players might also get flush, but they may have higher card than you do. There is a same risk with a straight, since someone else may be on the higher end of the straight, beating you in that hand.
In case you are holding low end straight or a flush that is let’s say only a 9 high, slow play is not a good option. You should be as aggressive as possible, preventing other players from reaching the turn or the river, or at least making them bet their money is they wish to see those cards.
Straight or Flash Draw on the Flop
When having an open-end straight or 4 to a flush on the flop, you must understand that your odds are not that great. In these two examples, the odds would be about 2-1. Still, if everyone checks to you, you should bet and hope that one of two things will happen. One is that all other players will decide to fold, leaving you win a small hand.
The other option is for you to actually hit the flush or straight you were waiting for. In that case, you can win a huge pot. If instead of checks, you see bets and/or raises, you will need to do some calculation, in order to determine the pot odds and see if calling or even raising is a good choice for you in a situation like that.
Two pair is a strong hand, but usually not strong enough to make the slow play a good option. On most occasions you will want to play your two pair aggressively and jam the pot. Let us say you have J9, suited. On the flop, J-9-3 come out. Now you have the top two pair, which is a rather strong hand. However, it isn’t hand that is unbeatable, especially if the flop is connected or suited. In any case, a hand like this rarely calls for a slow play.
You need to jam the pot and elbow out other players, before they wait for the turn or the river and make a hand stronger than yours. However, some two pair hands are very strong hands, and might be suitable for a slow play strategy. For instance, if you are holding AK, with AK3 rainbow on the flop, your hand is very strong and allows you to slow play and try to get others in, winning huge pot at the end.
Never forget to consider if the flop is suited and/or connected or not. When you are holding a strong hand, any suited or connected flop is something that disqualifies slow play strategy. You need to be aggressive and prevent others from making hands stronger than yours. On the other hand, flops that are mostly useless to other players are often good for slow play, because they can help them improve their hands enough to call on you, but not enough to beat you. Also, some players might decide to try to bluff later on in the hand. In both cases, you have a good chance of winning a very nice pot.
If you get a poor hand, and the flop doesn’t help you improve it, checking or folding should be your choice in a situation like this. If you decide to keep betting with a hand like this, you will lose huge amounts of money very quickly.
The turn is the first point in Hold’em game where the size of the bets is doubled. That is the key point for you, when you need to decide whether your hand is worth going further, or you should fold and cut your losses. This is not always easy decision to make, especially if you are lacking experience in Texas Hold’em, so you need to be very careful on the turn. After the flop and the turn, you should usually have more than enough information to determine whether you are ahead or behind of other players. When the turn card comes out, if you feel like having the strongest hand – that is the time to bet or raise. Otherwise, you should fold, since the amount of money you can lose from this point on is increased significantly.
We may take a JJ hand as an example. If you are dealt two Jacks, you will jam the pot both pre-flop and after the flop. After the turn, the board holds A-Q-7-3. Out of those four cards, three are diamonds. However, you have clubs and spades. If anyone raise, you must fold. The reason is very simple. Just look how many different cards (held by any of your opponents) would beat you. A, Q, or two diamonds will beat you straight away, and even one diamond could beat you in case another one appears on the river. In addition to that, if there is a K, J, or 10 on the river, straight is a possibility as well. That is about the cards that could beat you. But what about the cards that can help you win – your outs? You actually have only two outs – two remaining Jacks. That is a really grim situation. And even if you get your Jack and make your three of a kind, you can still be beaten quite easily by a diamond flush, or maybe even straight. So that is too many cards going against you, and very few going in your favor – now you see why this seemingly strong hand absolutely calls for a fold.
As said above, after the flop and the turn, you will have enough information to make the good decision on the turn. You need to be able to determine if you have the strongest hand or not. If you do, you should go for it and try to win big. Otherwise, you simply must fold and avoid cut the losses, the losses that may turn huge if you keep betting with a weak hand, or even an originally strong hand weakened by the cards on the board. Never play against the odds, praying for miracle cards to save the day. Finally, besides your ability to judge the situation rationally, you should also trust your instinct on some occasions. Sometimes that is necessary in order to make the right choice.