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Post-Flop Play

OK, you’ve got your pre-flop starting hand strategy nailed down. You know which hands to play in which positions and you don’t get stuck playing similar hands with familiar betting patterns that your opponents could easily pick up. Now what?

Here is one of the key insights about playing Texas Hold ‘em Poker: the flop is the most crucial juncture of the hand. Even if you only play high quality hands before the flop, the value of hands can change dramatically on the flop.  Your mission when the flop hits is to recognize whether you are now the favorite or the underdog, and play the rest of the hand accordingly.

Are you now the Favorite or the ‘Dog?

Remember, the flop creates a sharp distinction between the favorite and the underdog. To illustrate, let’s say you have A-Q suited pre-flop and your opponent has 8-7 off-suit.  A-Q suited is clearly a much better hand than 8-7. In most situations, you are a big favorite.  But if the 8-7 gets help on the flop and the A-Q suited doesn't, the previously weaker hand is now a substantial favorite.

The key is recognizing how the flop treated you versus how it may have treated your opponents. Many players – no matter what comes – will stay after the flop even when they are huge underdogs. If the flop comes A-8-2 rainbow, some players will call a bet or two with 8-7, hoping to catch another eight or a seven. Try to break that habit of staying committed to hand which looked good pre-flop but totally missed the flop. Let your opponents make that play instead.

This is hard to when your good hands suddenly become bad ones on the flop. For example, you’ve got A♠ -Q♠, with four other players in the pot and the flop comes J♦ -7♥-6♥. Your A♠ -Q♠, which was probably the best hand before the flop, is now practically worthless and should be abandoned if one of your opponents makes a bet. If you call a bet or raise in that spot without even a good draw, you are giving away chips.

Probe for Information on the Flop

Obviously, you won’t know precisely what your opponents are holding. Uncertainty is the name of the game in poker. That’s why the best players seek to elicit as much information as possible from their opponents using all the means at their disposal.

The flop is the ideal to probe for information from your opponents, since you can often place a small bet on the flop which will require feedback from the other players that will empower you to make the correct decision later in the hand when more money is at stake.

Let’s look at a case where you have a pair of pocket jacks and raise before the flop, limiting the pot to you and two other players. Unfortunately for you, the flop has an ace in it. Betting immediately on the flop in this situation is your best way to see where you are at in the hand. If you get called, you can safely presume that you are probably up against at least a pair of aces and can proceed accordingly.

What would have happened if you had just checked? Checking most often indicates weakness to your opponents and they will probably bet at you on the turn. Now you don’t know where you are at and you are being asked to risk a greater amount of chips in what is essentially a guessing situation. A bet on the flop tells you what you need to know and most likely tamps down your opponents’ aggression a little bit.

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