Playing the Flop | Texas Holdem


The flop is an essential stage of texas holdem. With three out of five community cards bein unveiled, you suddenly get to see a big part of the final picture!

After the flop, the power of your hand may have evolved drastically. It may have turned into a monster hand, downgraded to trash or, most likely, something in between. Whether you hit or missed the flop, now is the time to re-evaluate where you stand.

Playing the flop successfully depends on additional factors, other than your hand’s strength; how many players remain, what is the flop texture, to name a few. To play the flop correctly, you need to understand how these factors affect the post-flop strategy.

So, now is the time to look at how you have connected with the flop. Do you have a made hand, a draw, or nothing at all? You must look at the different scenarios, understand where you stand, and, most importantly, decide what to do with your hand!

Keep in mind that when deciding whether to bet in poker, you are trying to accomplish one of three things. Make a worse hand call, force a better hand to fold, or make a drawing hand draw at unfavorable odds.

Having a made hand

Having a made hand means having a pair or better. So, either you started with a pocket pair, or the flop has improved your hand. When you have a made hand, you need to estimate if you are ahead and, if so, how vulnerable your hand is to draws.

monster hand can be considered two pair or better. Even though few poker hands are rock solid, monster hands most often do not need to improve to win! Expect to be ahead when you have a monster hand unless someone shows unusual strength. In that case, you can re-evaluate the situation. If the flop is dry, monster hands are less vulnerable. So, your main goal is to extract value from your hand. Betting achieves extracting value from worse hands that call and also builds the pot for an even bigger bet on the turn or river. Keep in mind the poker principle “small hand small pot, big hand big pot” Well, you have a monster hand, so start building the pot!

Betting is the optimal choice, but if you think that your opponents are too weak, slowplaying against one or two opponents may be an option. Slowplaying may accomplish extracting a bluff, allowing someone to improve enough so that they can call on a later street, and showing weakness to obtain a call from weaker hands on the turn or river that would not call on the flop.

On draw heavy boards, things may be different. Now your value bets also serve to protect your hand by denying drawing hands the proper pot odds to call. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

In the first case, you raised preflop with K♣Q♠ from late position and got called from both blinds. The flop came K♥Q♥3♣, so you made two pair! This is a great flop for you, and you need to bet for two reasons. The first is that in your opponents’ ranges, many worse hands will call you. The second is that in a draw heavy board like this, you don’t want to give them a free card!

In the second case, you raised preflop with J♣J♦ from middle position and got called from the button. The flop came J♥3♥3♣, so you made a full house! This is obviously a huge flop for you. However, it is very difficult that your opponent has made a hand. In this situation, you may consider checking, about half of the time, for example, to allow him to bluff or to improve on the turn.

strong hand can be considered an overpair to the board or top pair with a decent kicker. Strong hands are very often ahead when you are facing one or two opponents, even though you are less confident than when holding a monster hand. You still need to play them aggressively and bet for value and protection against someone outdrawing you. But be cautious if the action gets too aggressive. You do not want to play a huge pot with only a pair! Let’s take a look at an example.

You raised preflop with K♣J♠ from late position and got called from the big blind. The flop came J♠9♥5♣, so you made top pair with a good kicker. This is a very good flop for you. You should bet for value and also for protection. Your opponent can have overcards, an ace or queen, and he can also be on a straight draw, so don’t give him a free card!

The remaining hands, like middle or bottom pair, are mediocre hands. Be careful as they can often get you in trouble. How you play them depends largely on the situation, like how many players are left and the actual strength of your hand. With some of them, a value bet will be justified. With others, you will try to control the pot and go to showdown cheaply, or, if it is not possible, fold. A common error is to make a bet that will only get a call from better hands and will only force worse hands to fold! Let’s take a look at an example.

You raised preflop with Q♥10♥ from middle position and got called from the small blind. The flop came A♥Q♠3♣, so you flopped middle pair, a mediocre hand. In this case, it is hard to know where you stand. So, what should you do?

You estimate that your opponent called out of position your preflop raise with a tight range. His range includes mostly pocket pairs 77+ and high cards like A10 or better, KJ or better, and QJ. The problem with betting into this range is that most of his worse hands, like pairs lower than queens, will fold whereas better hands will call. Furthermore, you are not concerned too much about him outdrawing you. If he has a worse hand than yours, he has at best four outs for an inside straight draw. You are ok with giving away little equity to avoid a situation where you will be called or, even worse, raised when he has a better hand.

Having a drawing hand

Having a drawing hand means that it is not yet strong but has the potential of improving and possibly becoming a winning hand.  You can try to play a draw passively, trying to make your hand as cheaply as possible, or aggressively, and make a semi-bluff. To play your draw optimally you must consider the quality of your draw, and other factors, like how many players remain and how likely it is that they will fold to a bet.

Two factors determine the quality of your drawing hand. First, the number of outs, how many cards make your hand, is fundamental. This is because your outs allow you to estimate the likelihood that your hand will improve after one or two cards.

For example, if you have 10♥9♥ on a flop like A♥8♥7♣, you have a flush and an open-ended straight draw for a total of 15 outs! this is a powerful drawing hand that is a favorite to win at showdown, even against a hand like top pair top kicker.

On the other hand, if you have J♥10♥ on a flop like A♠8♣7♦, you have an inside straight draw, so only four outs, a much weaker drawing hand. This draw is considerably weaker as you only have about 8.5% of making it on the turn or approximately 16.5% of making it on the turn or river.

The second factor that determines the quality of your drawing hand is the strength of the hand you try to make. For example, if you have A♥8♥ on a flop like J♥4♥3♣, you are drawing for the nut flush. On the other hand, if you have 9♥8♥ on a flop like K♥Q♥Q♣, you are concerned that someone is drawing for a higher flush, but also that someone has a set, meaning that you are drawing dead!

The same applies to straight draws as not all straights are nut straights. For example, if you have 8♦7♥ on a flop like 10♥9♠2♣, you have an open-ended straight draw. However, only half of the outs, the four sixes, will give you a nut straight. If a jack comes, you make a jack-high straight but could be loosing to QJ1098, a queen-high straight, or KQJ109, a king-high straight.

Having trash

Having trash means that you started with two unpaired cards and did not connect with the flop. When you completely miss the flop, unless the conditions favor a bluff, like making a continuation bet against one opponent, your hand is pretty much useless. Do not make the mistake of falling in love with your ace-high hand and throwing good money after a bad hand. If someone bets, unless you have some read on him that you can exploit, you should fold.

In a nutshell

The flop reveals five of the community cards and gives you a big part of the final picture. Before considering any action, you need to take into consideration different factors affecting post-flop strategy, like how many players remain or the texture of the flop. The next step is, of course, to evaluate how your hand has evolved and to act accordingly! Very often, if you played your hand aggressively, you will find yourself in a situation where you raised preflop and got called by one or two opponents. Be sure to also check the tutorial on continuation betting to see more advice on how to play in these situations.

Be sure to post any questions or suggestions that you may have. I will do my best to answer them.

This tutorial is part of the Basic Poker Strategy Course. You can continue to the next tutorial on Poker Betting Strategy!

Once you feel ready, you can test your skills with our Basic Poker Strategy Quiz ?

Author: Alyssa Howard