This is the fourth part in our series "Become a winner", we advice you to read Chapter 3: The first two cards first.
Become a winner - Chapter 4: Flop play
In the previous chapter, I was able to describe into detail what you should do in most situations, because there are only so many different situations you can run into before the flop. Once the flop is dealt.. it's a different story. There's such a huge amount of different situations that I can't possibly do much more than give some basic guidelines to get you going in the right direction. The flop is the most important part of the game in no-limit hold'em, and I hope I can give you some helpful tips.
One mistake I see a lot of beginners make is to chase their draws every time they get one. They know that when they have two clubs in their hand and there's two more clubs on the board, it will only take one more club on the next card and they'll have a flush! A great hand that will win showdowns almost every time. I only want you to check out the next card if it is cheap to call compared to the size of the pot. Let's say someone bets $0.02, the minimum, into a $0.16 pot. A lot of bad players like to make small bets to "lure" you into calling. When you have a flush draw, that's exactly what you want them to do, and you should definetly call the $0.02 looking for another card of your suit on the turn. This is because if you have a club flush draw (or any other one) there are 9 cards of your suit (9 clubs) left in the deck. The next card off will be a club 20% of the time. Since he bets $0.02 into a $0.16 pot.. he's betting less than 20% of the pot. That's why you're happy to call.
So how did I know it was 20%? First, you count your outs (cards that you think will make you win the pot). In this case, you think only the 9 clubs left in the deck will give you the winning hand. Now we multiply 9 by 2, getting 18. We now add this number to 2 getting 20.. that's the percentage: 20%. So it's simple really: number of outs times two plus two.
Another situation when you have a draw is when someone else bets enough to put you all-in. Let's say you were high on drugs and misclicked and called a $4 raise before the flop with a suited . (Like I said in the last chapter, I don't event want you to call a $0.06 raise with this hand) The flop comes rainbow (rainbow means three cards of a different suit) making you an open ended straight draw. Any of the four aces or nines in the deck will give you a straight. That's 8 outs. Now, the original raiser bets his last $1 (he had $5 to begin with like you) and you have to decide to call all-in or fold. Since calling will ensure you to see both the turn and the river card, you now have two chances to make your draw for the price of one. The chance you'll make your straight is about 32%. How did I know that? Again, it's pretty simple.. multiply your outs by 4.. that's the percentage. So, since you have about 32% chance to win the hand and it costs you $1 for a chance to win an $10 pot.. it's a definite call.
However, if your opponent, as I recommend, makes big bets - bets of about the size of the pot - when he bets, you shouldn't call with your flush draw. If it costs you $0.10 for a 20% chance of winning a $0.20 pot, I want you to fold your hand. This is called "pot odds", and it's the system I want you to use when you have a flush draw. If you spend some time here at liquid poker in the hands section you'll notice that almost no one is that strict with their flush draws.. almost everyone will readily call without the proper pot odds. But it takes experience to recognise when you'll get paid off if you make your draw, and when you'll just win what's in the pot already... and experience is exactly what you lack. So don't follow the example of the other, more experienced players here.
I personally think you can be a lot less strict with straight draws if the bettor has a lot of money left. Since straight draws aren't nearly as obvious as flush draws, that raiser might not be scared of you when you make your straight. You might win another big bet from him if you do make your straight. This is called "implied odds", and it's what I want you to be considering when you have an open ended straight draw. Don't take this concept too far however.. calling too often with draws might be one of the most costly errors beginners make. So when you've got a straight draw, you actually want your opponent to have a really strong hand, so that he'll call your future bets if you make your straight on the next card.
Another little tip about draws is that I don't advise you to call with a flush draw when there's a pair on the board (because somebody might have a full house already) and I definetly don't want you to call with a straight draw when there's three cards of the same suit on the board. Somebody might have the flush already.. and even if they don't, one of them surely has a big card of the same suit in the hole, giving him a flush draw and killing some of your outs.
When there's just three cards of the same suit on the board and you have the flush, you can go ahead and assume that you have the best hand and get as much of your money in as possible. When there's four cards of the same suit on the board and you have a flush, you really need to have the nut flush - with the biggest card in that suit - to accept big bets.
But enough talk about draws.. if you play the hands before the flop I recommend, you might make a big hand sometimes. You might call with in the pocket and hit another nine on the flop. In fact, if the board would be , you'd have the absolute best hand possible! You might call with the suited when there's a lot of action and flop a traight right away! Whenever you make a big hand and feel very confident that you have the best hand. I want you to come out and bet right away. Don't check trying to fool your opponents into thinking you have nothing.. not even if you saw the movie "rounders" where everyone plays like that all the time. The simple fact is, they're not going to call unless they have something or they think you're bluffing. And you can't win a big pot by making small bets.. you've just got to come out heavy. In this situation, and in any other situation where you decide to bet. I want you to bet the entire size of the pot. So if there was a raise before the flop, you called with and got the nut set, and the pot was $0.27. I want you to come out right away and bet $0.27. The original guy who raised it might have a big pair.. He might play back and raise you. And when he does, I want you to go ahead and make an unreasonable re-raise because that novice player is going to call anyway, and you'll have him almost drawing dead. If you follow my advice, you'll notice that quite a few of your big hands won't get paid off and you'll feel like I've given you bad advice. Deep down inside you have a slow-play reflex and you will feel like making smaller bets or checking when you have a big hand, just like every other micro stakes player. So i'll say it again, because this is the most important advice in this entire article. If you only learn one thing from this text, let it be this: bet, raise and reraise your strong hands strongly, don't slow-play.
So what kind of hand should you feel comfortable with on the flop? When you have the top pair on the board and the best or second best kicker.. you've got a pretty good hand. As long as nobody in there does anything to scare you, you're best off assuming you've got the best hand, and you should bet it. That's why is such a nice hand.. once in three times you'll catch another ace or king on the flop, and you'll have the top pair with the top kicker when you do. When you have the top pair with a smaller kicker, you could check and hope nobody else bets. If someone bets, you should fold. Let's say you've called with your [ Js]suited and you make the top pair of jacks (that means there's no queen, king or ace on the board) you really haven't got a very good hand. But when everyone checks and the turn comes a meaningless card, you can probably assume you have the best hand. When you've come into the pot with a wired pair - let's say a - and the board has no card higher than queens, you should be confident even though you didn't make your set, and you can go ahead and bet. If somebody gets scary and raises you're really in a tough spot, because if they have you beat (let's say someone has three of a kind) there's only two cards left in the deck (two queens) that can help you improve to the best hand. However, if someone really had your big pair beaten, they would have almost certainly called on the flop, setting a trap. It's definetly less scary when you get raised on the flop, than when you get called on the flop and raised on the turn. The ultimate scary situation is when you bet on the flop, get called, bet again on the turn, and the opponent makes the minimum raise. If you have a big pair, fold without hesitation. This is how your opponents play their big hands. Don''t become one of them!
Similarly, there is the situation where you have raised before the flop and only one person calls. The flop comes and instead of checking, he comes right out and bets. Whenever someone does this, I assume that this player does not have a set. If he had a set, wouldn't he have checked it, setting a trap? The answer is almost always yes. If I do meet someone who takes the lead with a set, I immediately give him a note, saying that he did. You must consider the possibility that this player is a fellow shark.
Another mistake a lot of beginners make is to start out bluffing right away. When you're starting poker, you're usually going to play micro or small stakes. Since people call so often on the small stakes, it's really pretty foolish to go off and try to bluff them. Remember: great players can't make bad players fold hands.. the bad player is free to do whatever he wants to do. Good players just bluff when they think the other player is pretty likely to fold. If your opponent isn't likely to fold.. you shouldn't bluff him. For this reason, it's perfectly possible to beat the micro stakes without ever bluffing. However, if you have a home game or for some other reason you know one of the other players and you know he's really a pretty good player, you can probably bluff him. Every good player can be bluffed. A common spot to bluff against such a player is probably when he checks it to you twice and you can act behind him. Since you have position, all you have to do is bet and he'll probably fold. Remember: whenever you're going to bet, I want you to make a big bet of about the size of the pot. Since you do the exact same thing when you have a big hand, it's tougher for anyone to put you on a bluff. Another common spot where almost everyone bluffs is when you raise before the flop and completely miss the flop when it comes. Now, a lot of players will make another stab at the pot on the flop by betting because the opposition might be affraid of or (aces or kings) and give up the pot. Oddly enough, this is one of the only bluffs that has a fair chance of success even against a sucker.. If you ignore my advice and decide to bluff for some reason (hopefully because you run into a good player who can be bluffed) you should never bluff at a person twice in the same pot. If you bluff at a person on the flop because you thought he was weak and he calls, well, he just proved you wrong. He wasn't weak.. he's got something he likes. And unless you improve your hand greatly, you shouldn't try to bluff him out of the pot again. It's his pot.
Something most beginners don't seem to notice is that the "texture" of the flop can give away a lot of things. Obviously a set of nines is stronger when there's no straight possible. You'd rather have when the flop is than when the flop is , because somebody might have a straight. Another thing is that people are more likely to have a hand when something like a flops. A King-Queen will make a straight draw, a Jack-Queen will make a pair, an Ace-King and an Ace-Queen will make a gutshot straight draw, etc. Whenever a sucker gets a hand like a , he'll play it. For this reason, when it flops it's a lot more likely that one of them has the straight, than when a flops.. because even a sucker will probably fold a . Always remember though how the player got into the hand. If he just checked it in the big blind, he could have anything! If he raised it before the flop, he's a lot more likely to have really big cards.. etc. For this reason, it's so important to pay attention as much as you can and remember what everyone else did so far in the hand.
One more tip I'd like to give is that you should always remember how big the pot was when the flop was dealt. It really takes a big hand to win a huge pot (everything the other guy has) if the pot was small in the first place. That's another reason I like to make big re-raises if I get a chance with my pair of aces or kings before the flop. If someone calls and the pot is already very big when the flop is dealt.. I might be able to win a big pot now, even with just one pair.