On the whole, the flop is the most critical part of a Hold’em hand. You go from having two hole cards to — boom! — having a full Poker hand. Love it or hate it, at least one of the cards you’re staring at on the table will now be a part of your Poker hand.
The flop is also the place where you make your last “cheap” bet, because betting rounds on the turn and river will cost you double what they do here.
Fitting or Folding
When the flop hits the table, you have definition of your hand. Five-sevenths (or about 70 percent) of all the cards possible for the hand are now known.
A flop relative to your hand is a lot like the weather. When you wake up and look out the window, you don’t have a guarantee of what the rest of the day is going to be like, but the general patterns give you a pretty good idea of what’s up for the day.
The thing you need to be most concerned about is whether the flop fits your hand. In other words, does your hand improve with the flop you see? Likewise, you want to think about how that very same flop may or may not improve the other people’s hands around the table.
The flop fits your hand very well if any of the following are true (in descending order of greatness):
You’ve flopped a straight flush. It’s always thrilling when it happens — and, if you’re overtly emotional, it may give you a chance to see what your skeleton looks like when it jumps out of your body.
You’ve flopped a full house. Fun. Especially when it’s something bizarre, like you hold 3-8 on the big blind (no one has raised, so you’re playing for free) and the flop is 3-8-3.
You’ve flopped the nut flush. You’ve flopped the nut straight. You’ve flopped quads.
You’ve flopped trips.
You’ve flopped two pair, with one of the pair being top of the board.
For example, you’re holding A-3 and the board is A-10-3.
The flop is definitely good for you in any of the following situations:
You’ve flopped a flush or straight that is not the best possible for a given board. You probably have a winner here, but you have to be just a tad leery of people holding cards over yours — this is particularly true for those players who are now holding a four-flush with a singleton that is above your best hole card.
You’ve flopped two pair that do not include the bottom pair.
You’ve flopped top pair with the best kicker. For example, you’re holding A-K and the flop is A-8-4, or you’re holding A-9 and the flop is 9-2-7.
You hold a pocket pair that’s higher than the board. Say, you’re holding 10-10 with a low-ball flop of 2-3-7. You still have a mild vulnerability here to trips and two pair (particularly from the blinds).
Very borderline flops
Then there are flops that make your hand better but leave you possibly exposed:
You flop a pair that isn’t the best possible. Say you hold Q-J and the flop is K-Q-9, or you hold J-10 and the flop is A-Q-10.
You flop a four-flush or a four-straight. Odds are you won’t make this hand on the next two cards, but you may be forced to play it for pot odds reasons.
You flop top pair but have kicker trouble. This situation is particularly a problem with aces, because the whole table likes to hold onto them. If you’re playing a suited A-2 from late position with five people still in the hand and the flop is A-7-5 rainbow, we guarantee you that you have a loser. (Right this second — all it takes is an opponent who has an Ace and any card bigger than a 5.)
From a bankroll perspective, you should think of the hands listed here as being some of the most dangerous hands at a Poker table. The problem is that they tease you along to play more (sometimes even jacking with your mind in such a way that you become more convinced that your opponents are bluffing), but they’re rife with holes.
Downright dangerous flops
Then there are those little places in Horrorville that occasionally crop up:
You’ve hit the bottom end of a straight, but the flop is also flushing.
For example, you have 8♦ 9♦ and the flop is 10♠ J♠ Q♠.
You hold a great pocket pair and bigger cards hit the board (especially when they’re in quantity). For example, you have Q-Q and the flop is A-A-K. If there is more than just a player or two in the pot, guess what? That’s right, your great starter of pocket queens is now a loser.
You have a flop that misses your hand, but still gives you over cards.
For example, you hold A-K in middle position and you see a Q-5-4 flop, with immediate action from the small or large blinds.
Just plain bad flops
Any flop that doesn’t fit your hand at all (and you don’t have a pocket pair) is bad — more so if you don’t even hold an ace. The answer in this situation is almost always exactly what you’d guess: Fold.
In Hold’em, especially until you get a better feel for the game and your opponents, you want to start off with the fundamental concept that if the flop doesn’t fit your hand, you should fold. Yes, you will occasionally be bluffed out, but caution and folding will save you money as you learn. Watching other people see if that guy who’s betting is bluffing is less costly for you and will give you more objective feel for the other players at the table (because your money isn’t at stake).
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
You may get flops that play into your hand in multiple ways. For example, if you have A♣ 5♣ with a flop of J♣ 5♦ 3♣, you’re now holding second pair (with best kicker) and the nut flush draw.
There are three obvious ways this hand can improve on the turn or river:
If you draw a club, you have the nut flush.
If you draw another 5, you have trips.
If you draw an ace, you have a strong two pair.
(There’s also the freak runner-runner of drawing a 4 and a 2 on the turn and river for making the wheel. But this possibility shouldn’t be part of your decision making — it’s not likely enough to happen, but it is part of the hand.)
Any time your hand works in multiple directions, it’s far better than having only one path to victory, and you should be more eager to play it. This rule is especially true in No-Limit. You may have an instance where you know you have an identical hand with an opponent. Say you’re holding A♦ K♦ and the board has Q♦ J♦ 10♠. From the play at the table, you’re certain
your opponent also has A-K. You should move as much money on the table as possible — not because you’re trying to make your royal flush — but because any diamond turned will give you a flush and beat your opponent’s Broadway straight.
In Poker slang, this situation, where you can draw cards at the mercy of your opponent with a currently identical hand, is called a freeroll. (Yes, it’s the same term used to describe a tournament with no entry fee.)