No Limit Holdem Postflop Play: Taking Stock After The Flop

No Limit Texas Holdem, Strategy

November 12, 2007

The flop is the defining moment in holdem. Play before the flop focuses on setting yourself up to flop something good. Play after the flop is about figuring out what your opponent flopped and drawing at or defending against draws made on the flop. Before the flop you’re dealing with hypotheticals unless you hold a big pair. After the flop you’re dealing with a much better defined situation.

Because the flop serves as a dividing line for the hand, it’s the perfect place to take stock of your situation. Misunderstanding the implications of the flop is the primary cause of costly stack-sized mistakes. So here are some things you should figure out before proceeding:

What Possible Hands Are On The Board and What Do You Have?

The first step in evaluating where you stand is reading the board to determine what hands and draws are possible, and where your hand fits in with all that. You should do this on every street in a community card game, but it’s especially important on the flop. The process I use to read the board is described here.

How Strong Is Your Made Hand?

If you’ve got a made hand after the flop, it’s worth determining how strong it is in terms of how many notches it is from the nuts and how likely it is your opponents played the hands that beat you. This procedure is described in detail here.

How Strong Is Your Draw?

If you have any draws, and you almost alway do in holdem, then you need to figure out how strong they are. The strength of a draw is determined by three things:

  1. How many outstanding cards improve you
  2. How many hands those cards improve you past
  3. What other hands still beat you, or improve more than you do with the same card

Point 3. is particularly important. One of the most common mistakes in holdem is to improve to a non-nut hand, and then go broke treating it as stronger than it is. The classic example is when a top pair hand improves to two pair, but the new card also creates a 3 on board or even 4 on board A-high straight possibility. In such cases, your hand has not really improved and can’t stand much action.

How Many Bets Are Left Before Players Are All-In?

Consider the following fact: anytime someone makes a pot-sized bet or raise and one opponent calls, the size of the pot triples. Based on this, it should be easy to get a rough estimate of how many bets/raises can go in before you (or the player with the smallest stack) will be all in. This tells you several things: how much room you have to maneuver to figure out if a marginal made hand is best, how many streets you have to bluff on, etc. For example, suppose you’re playing 5-10 and have a $2000 stack (shortest at the table) and the pot is $90 after a $40 preflop raise on the button and one caller in the small blind. The first bet would be roughly $90, the second $270, the third $810, and the fourth partial bet would put you all in for $790 more. Of course, if people are betting some size other than the size of the pot the growth rate will be different, but this is a good estimate. In the example above, it tells you that you’re still very much in deepstack territory and are unlikely to get all in unless both players decide they really like their hands.  Knowing this, you wouldn’t want to play a big pot without the nuts or very close to it.  If there was only one more bet to go, you’d be much more willing to get your money in with weaker hands.

Where Is The Likely Bet?

Often times the preflop aggressor on a hand will make a”continuation” bet on the flop.  It’s important to determine where a likely c-bet will come from and not give it the credit you would a normal bet.

Does The Board Invite A Steal Attempt?

Boards that didn’t hit many hands, namely those that are paired, low, and/or uncoordinated often invite bluffs because fewer hands will connect with them.  You should make note of such boards, and devalue subsaequent bets from savvy and/or agressive players accordingly.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
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