Now that you have some guidelines as to some of the better starting hands and the importance of your position, your strategy before the flop is relatively simple; if you determine that your hand is worth betting on, then bet or call the previous players bet, if you think it’s a great hand then you may want to raise and if you have taken everything into consideration and decided that your hand is weak, then you will more than likely want to fold.
If your playing style for this game is tight (which is recommended while you are learning), then you will probably only bet on your hand if you have something like a high pair or an ace with a high kicker (10, J, Q, K) which would preferably be suited.
If you have decided that you will play a little on the loose side, then you may consider playing a lower hand such as a 7-8 as long as they are suited.
You must base your decision on your position and if playing in early position, you may wish to play a much tighter hand than if you were in mid to late positions.
AFTER THE FLOP
This is where the main decision about what to do with your hand will be made. Either the flop has improved your hand, it hasn’t made a lot of difference or it’s made what would be initially considered a good hand, virtually worthless.
Things can turn around quickly once the first 3 community cards have been dealt and some basic strategy will help you decide what to do next.
Of course there are more involved strategies that can help in making even better decisions and these will come with experience and your interest for the game. At this stage we will only consider basic strategy that will become the building blocks to your future success.
WHEN THE FLOP HASN’T HELPED
If after the flop your hand has not been improved at all, then only one decision can be made, fold your hand. It is both pointless and a waste of money to bet on a hand where the odds of it winning are poor.
Your hole cards may have been fairly strong before the flop, but if this is not improved upon at all then the only option open to you is to muck your hand.
THE FLOP HELPED A LITTLE
If you held a moderate hand before the flop and the flop improved upon that hand, then it may be worth considering betting. This is where position really comes into play and being in late position will allow you to see what other players are doing, before the action gets to you.
Let’s say that your pocket cards were 9♠-10♠. You called to see the flop as you held a medium hand and they were also of the same suit. This meant that you had a chance to make a flush, or even a straight.
The flop produces A♣-J♠-9♦ and gives you a pair of 9’s. The flopped Jack also gives you another card for your flush and it’s in sequence to your hole cards for your anticipated straight. You may want to bet on this hand as you think that the flop has been good to you.
But wait. If one of your opponents already holds an Ace, then the flop will give them A-A-J, the top pair with a highish kicker. If they have A-K or Pocket Rockets (A-A) in the hole, then your hand is already beat.
If other players are betting then it’s highly likely that they hold higher cards and the flop has been kinder to them than it has to you, in which case it may be best to fold. Use your opponents actions to decide how to proceed.
THE FLOP IMPROVED YOUR HAND
If before the flop, you had A-K in the hole and you flopped A-7-Q, then you have increased the strength of your hand. You now hold top pair (A-A) with the highest kicker.
Even if your opponent holds A-Q, you’ve got them beat at this stage and they may think their hand is strongest because they hold the top pair with a higher kicker also. But your King is higher than their Queen. Unless they get another Queen on the turn or the river to give them two pair, you’ve got a good chance at staying on top.
In this situation, you will definitely want to call or raise and see the turn.
The thing that you have to keep in mind with cards in the flop, is that they are community cards and everybody has the same cards. The only difference is what each player has in the hole.
Much of your main decision-making strategy has been done prior to and on the flop. By the time it comes to the river you need to keep an eye open for a card which may increase your opponents chances of getting a winning hand, in particular a flush.
If a matching high-card is dealt that matches one in the flop that your opponent bet or even raised on, then it’s a good indicator that he could hold a Triple or even a Full House.
Keep an eye on how the other players are betting to get an indicator of what they may hold. The other option of course is that they are bluffing and are wanting you to believe that they hold a higher hand than they actually do. By knowing your opponent and watching how they play during the game, you will learn to recognise when someone is playing a bluff.
Much like the turn, by the time the River card is dealt you should have your hand. Obviously, your hand could easily be made stronger if a card that compliments your hand is dealt and so could your opponents.
Say you are holding K-K and your opponent has Q-Q in the pocket. You have been holding the best hand since the flop and after the turn. The river produces another Queen, so now your opponent is holding trips, Q-Q-Q and has won the hand.
Winning using this method is known as winning by the Back-door and many a player has been tormented by their opponents luck as the card that they desperately needed shows up. There’s nothing that can be done about this and you just need to chalk it up to experience. There will always be a time for you when you need a specific card or suited card and as if by magic, it appears on the turn or the river, winning you the pot.