So you’ve made it to the flop, eh? Did it help you? If not this is the time to fold. You have already seen 5 out of the 7 cards that will make your hand. That’s over 70% of all the cards used to make your hand. Sure you might wind up lucky and go runner runner to catch your miracle cards but that doesn’t happen very often. Don’t believe us? An open ended (8 out) runner runner will only happen about 3% of the time (we round the number up) and a gut shot runner runner will only happen 1.5% (we round that up as well). As for making a backdoor flush you only have about a 4% shot (real number is 4.17%). Those are terrible odds to play if you want to be a winning poker player. Only 1 out of every 25 hands will your backdoor flush hit.
What cards should you hold onto if you don’t catch on the flop? High cards if the flop comes low (unless you are playing against an extremely loose opponent who may have already made two pair on the flop) or any hand that has 4 outs or better. It’s usually best to drop your gut shot straight draws though (4 outs) unless you are getting great Pot Odds or Investment Odds. Keep in mind that Investment Odds are Implied Odds so those chances should only be taken when you have enough chips to take chances and are sure you know what your opponent has.
Occasionally Investment Odds won’t pay off, for example, you are trying to catch three of a kind when you flopped middle pair. In some cases the opponent betting at you may also be betting with middle pair and is trying to catch the exact same three of a kind only they hold a better kicker than you. Hands like this can be costly, especially if you do not reraise them out of the pot on the flop. Betting and raising should typically be your strategy, never calling. The only times you want to call an opponent’s bet rather than raise it are A) You know reraising will put your opponent all in and you want to see the next cards B) You are setting your opponent up, i.e. slow playing your hand or C) You are unsure whether or not your hand is the best so you call (this does not apply to the flop.)
Let’s start with A. A typically happens against opponents who hold high cards like AK and refuse to lay them down no matter what. This is a scenario where reraising with a straight or flush draw is going to test all of your chips, thus taking away your Pot Odds and ruining your Investment Odds. Your chances by the river may be 30% by the river but as each card comes your chances divide in half. A 17% shot (about 1 in 5) is not a great risk to be taking on the chance that you may bust out your opponent if the right card(s) come. Your opponent can win with ace high after all and you’ve just taken a huge loss to your chip stack. The type of opponent we are talking about will typically bet small on the flop, turn, and river anyway giving you cheap calls the entire way through making it a worth while Pot Odds investment. Or (this is the second type of opponent, there’s only 3 types) your opponent will bet large on the flop to try and scare out all its potential opposition even though they did not hit their hand. This type of player will usually check the turn in fear of being beaten by a smaller or larger pocket pair giving you a free look at the river (or an opportunity to bluff them out of the pot.) They are great for playing with Investment Odds because you know they are tied to their hand yet know enough about cards to possibly fear the opposition. Check, check on the turn will typically cause them to bet large again on the river, even after you have already made your winning hand. The final type of opponent will bet large at you on the flop, turn, and river regardless of if they made their hand or not. This type of player takes away your Pot Odds as well as your Investment Odds. You typically have to be a gambling style player to call on draws against them but, for the most part, only want to call along if you’ve made a pair or better.
As for B, the slow playing technique, you only want to use this if there are no cards on the board that may hurt your hand. Terrible times to slow play include flops that contain 3 cards in order (4 5 6) showing an obvious straight, 3 cards of the same suit when you’ve made 3 of a kind (because a player may have a high card of that suit in hand and is hoping to catch another suit for the nut flush), or 2 cards of the same suit / in order (4 5, 4 6, 3 6, even 2 6) because your opposition may be on a draw and is trying to see a cheap turn card. When there are 3 cards on the flop that may possibly beat you it’s best to represent the Flop as though you’ve made your hand even if you only hold two pair or three of a kind. The reason for this is to eliminate players who are on draws and show you (by their reraise) any opposition that may have already made their hand. In some cases the reraise will signal that they are on a draw. An opponent who bets out at you without even taking a second to decide how much to bet is typically on the draw. An opponent who takes a second or longer to decide whether or not to reraise typically has the hand and you should fold (with 2 pair you have an 8.5% chance of hitting on the turn and basically the same percent chance to hit on the river, as for 3 of a kind you have a maximum of 10 outs on the river to make a full house or four of a kind to beat their straight/flush.).
If there aren’t any scare cards on the board you can continue on with your slow play but in the long run may not wind up with as many chips as you would have had you just bet from the start. Slow playing is incredibly useful when you flop something like the nut full boat or four or a kind and are waiting for an opponent to catch a hand so you can extract chips from them. Or catching the nut flush on the flop (if you don’t hold the ace of that suit, you do not hold the nuts and should not slow play your hand. An opponent with the ace of that suit may be trying to see a cheap turn or river card to win with the nut flush.) Straights on the flop are a hard thing to slow play as well. Typically if you check a straight and someone bets at you they’ve made two pair or three of a kind and simply don’t believe someone flopped a straight because it only happens about 1% of the time.
When playing top pair on the flop you should always lead out with a good strong bet to protect your hand from opponents drawing to a better hand. No minimum raises either. Minimum raises will always get you into trouble when opponents hit something better in the later rounds. You don’t always have to bet the pot but you should still always make large raises into any pots you intend on playing. The reason for this is because you want to make hands costly for opponents to draw against you so they will at least have to second guess their decision on whether or not they want to call for the next card. Do not use this betting strategy against calling stations and fishermen as it can backfire on you if they do catch their miracle cards. The best way to deal with calling stations and fishermen is to take their chips from them 1 card at a time. If you are in a pot ONLY with a calling station/fisherman bet strong but not as strong as you would against a real opponent. As you see more cards and determine their chances of winning the pot start increasing your bets until you finally bankrupt them on the river. Fishermen will be harder to bankrupt on the river, however, seeing that they will only call bets up to the river then fold. For fishermen make a larger bet on the turn than you would against the Calling Station to make up for this potential loss of profit.