Playing on Flop and Further Stages (Draw and Complete Hands)
This is where poker starts to get really complicated. There have been hundreds of books and thousands of articles written on how to play poker for profit post-flop. It's perhaps the most difficult aspect of poker for beginners to grasp, but if you want to become a profitable player, you need to grasp it. Don't be afraid to ask questions in the forum – if there is some aspect of post-flop play you don't understand there's probably someone around who'll answer it for you. If you're really serious on becoming the best poker player you can be, you're going to have to put the effort in.
Learning to play poker does not mean you have to throw a lot of money into pots. You can win good money whilst you are learning – even if you make mistakes. Just follow the basic recommendations then develop your play from there.
Now onto recommended post-flop play.
There are three kinds of hands after the flop has been dealt:
First, let us nominally divide all the hands we got on flop into three categories:
- Complete hands: TPTK, Overpair, Top two pairs, Sets.
- Draw hands: Hands where a card is needed to make a straight or flush.
- Drag hands: All other hands
Let's begin with complete hands. The weakest complete hand is TPTK – this means top pair, top kicker. Your hand consists of the highest possible pair on the board and the highest kicker (unmatched card). For example, if your pocket cards are AK and the flop is A82, you have AA as the top pair, and K as the top kicker.
With this hand you need to aim to draw as much money as possible from the other players remaining in the deal, especially those making the common mistake of calling when they shouldn't. You should bet between half to three-quarters of the current pot size. If you get called, then everything is fine, keep on betting. If you are raised however, it's probably best to fold unless the person making the raise is a frequent bluffer. If someone bets before you, it's not a good idea to raise as they're probably calling a good hand, so simply calling will do just fine.
An Overpair is where you have a pocket card pair that's higher than any card on the flop. For example you bet pre-flop with JJ and the flop came out nicely, 942. This is a nice position to be in, because an overpair beats TPTK. A player with TPTK when faced with an overpair will only infrequently see their hand improved on the turn and river. When it comes to betting with an overpair, simply bet until the first raise is made. If someone has bet ahead of you, it's a good idea to raise, as you can then find out how you stand. If you are re-raised, then it's time to fold, unless you are playing with frequent bluffers. If you get called, you have no choice but to bet on the next street but carefully – around half the pot – and fold to any raise.
Top two pairs means you have caught the top two pairs on the flop - for example you had KQ as your pocket cards and KQ3 came up on the flop, making a very strong combination. If your pocket cards had been Q3 your outlook would not be as sunny. Once you've flopped the top two pair you need to work out how valuable they are. A good top two pair should consist of a high card on the flop, and the flop should neither be all one suit, or a run (such as JT9 – if you had a JT with such a flop you are vulnerable to KQ or a straight being completed on the turn or river). If your two pairs are completed by the lowest two cards on the flop you need to tread carefully using the same betting tactics as you would with an overpair. If you match the top two cards on the flop to complete two pairs you need to start drawing money out of our opponents by betting and raising.
A set is the most profitable common combination post-flop. You should bet strongly with a set no matter if it is of high or low value or the flop has three cards of the same suit. You need to bet and raise, and keep on betting on the turn and the river. The only dangers with a set are when the turn completes four cards the same suit or a four-card straight. You should then bet the minimum and instantly fold to any raise. On all other occasions it pays to be aggressive – even if your opponent has completed a straight or flush as there's always the chance of hitting a full house.
If you are lucky enough to flop any hand even better than a straight then you should bet to the same principles as drawing a set. Such hands are rare and you need to obtain the maximum value for them. You should, however, remain attentive to the board and not assume you have “the nuts” (unless you are sure you do!). Dangerous boards include two pairs (such as 89393) and sets (89799) or boards with four cards the same suit. If such a thing happens to you don't limply keep going just for the sake of things – fold your cards before you lose your bankroll.
Now let's move onto draw-hands.
Draw hands are hands that are not currently complete poker hands, but they still have a good chance of becoming good, complete hands. You could be one card short of a straight (JT with a 982 flop) or have a flush draw (K♦Q♦ with A♦7♦2♣ flop) ), or even better, a combination of both (K♦Q♦ with A♦T♦2♣ flop).
All such hands are played to the following principles:
Firstly, do not bet if the flop contains a pair. With a pair in the flop there's always the chance of an opponent completing a full house, so it's best to fold.
Secondly, if you have a straight draw and you're facing three suited cards on the flop, then fold. Even if you complete your straight there's always the chance you'll lose to a flush, so save your chips!
If you are not in late position, then play draw hands passively. If you're playing face-to-face with a single opponent on the flop and he bets more than half of the pot, then fold, as he has the advantage. If three or more players remain in the hand then making a call is a good idea, even if you are out of position. If you have read somewhere that you should always raise on a draw hand in order to hide it, then you have been misinformed. Call, and if you don't get what you're searching for, then fold. If you complete your draw, bet the maximum.
In late position you can call a draw hand more often as if you do complete the draw you are in a strong position to lever more chips out of our opponents' stacks. If no one has bet, then you can make a bet yourself. This is a kind of half-bluff – you're betting even though you don't have a complete hand in the hope that you do manage to complete the draw.
After the turn, you need to re-inspect your chances of having the best hand, taking the following into consideration:
- Your draw hand becomes weaker, because if you complete it, you will only have the river in order to maximise the profit from the hand.
- The board situation may worsen, especially if a third card of the same suit comes up, or a pair.
This is why in general you should only play a draw hand on the turn, and only for a small bet if the board does not lessen our chances of winning, and we are in position.
The final category of post-flops hands is drag hands and these are the easiest to play, post-flop. If you can check, then do so, else fold.