Poker Lesson 21

Evaluating the flop in hold'em, part 1
In the previous lesson, I pointed out that as soon as the flop lands on the table, your first and most important question should be: "Who at this table was helped by it?"

You can of course immediately decide whether you yourself were helped by it. If you are holding for example Q-Q and the flop comes with Q-7-2 rainbow (= all three cards are in different suits), it is an extremely good flop for you. It does not matter what anybody else has in hand right now, even if it is A-A or 7-7 or 2-2, you are way ahead at the moment with your top trips. If somebody wants to win the pot from you, they will have to outdraw you (= being very lucky with the turn and/or the river). Same thing if you hold A-10 in spades, and the flop is J-8-3 in spades: right now you have the highest hand with your flush, and hold a solid lead.

Or, on the other hand, if you are holding a lowly 3-3 against three other players and the flop comes with A-K-Q, you are practically guaranteed to be beaten at the moment. Your measly pair did not improve, and any Ace, King or Queen in another player's hand will be at a huge advantage against you. If anyone bets now, you will have to fold.

But what if you hold K-Q in hearts and the flop comes with A-Q-5, with both the A and the 5 being in spades... do you have the best hand with your pair of Queens and the King kicker? Now there are several dangerous possible hands your opponents could conceivably hold, such as A-x, K-K, A-Q and 5-5 (giving them a higher pair than yours, or even two pairs or trips), or two high spade cards which gives them a flush draw capable of beating you, or K-J or K-10 or J-10 which gives them a straight draw. What do you do now?

Forming a sound judgement about how good or bad the flop was for your hand, and whether the other player or players now have better or worse hands than yours, is called evaluating the flop. You look at the "texture" of those three cards together (How high in value are they? Any pairs on the table? Do they make for possible straight or flush draws?) and try to draw conclusions.

Evaluating the flop and drawing conclusions is not done in a vacuum, however. One extremely important factor you must keep in mind is how the betting went before the flop, in the first round, and how many opponents you are now up against.

The more fierce the raising and re-raising, the more probable it is that players are holding high pairs or A-K: a flop containing high cards is thus likely to help one or more of these players, whereas a flop containing low cards likely does not.

If instead several players merely call before the flop, but no-one raises, it will inevitably be with a greater variety of starting hands such as Q-10 and 9-8 suited and 2-2, and it is more difficult to estimate which players, if any, were helped by a flop containing medium-high cards. (Again, this is why a raise or two before the flop cuts down on the number of opponents willing to take chances with mediocre hands, usually leaving fewer players in the pot and with higher cards, which in turn makes it easier to evaluate the flop.)

Keep in mind that most players are more likely to stay in with high cards in hand, in particular an Ace. A flop containing an Ace, when you do not have any Ace in hand, thus poses a great danger to you. Most players are also more likely to stay in with suited cards, meaning that a "one-colour" flop (= three spades, or three diamonds, etc) may have helped an opponent's hand greatly – or not at all.

Another type of flop to be wary of is one that may potentially have given a player a straight. A flop with A-K-10 is dangerous for two reasons: the Ace may have given an opponent top pair, and an opponent holding Q-J will now have a made straight. The holding Q-J is however less likely if the betting in the first round was heavy; a mere Q-J cannot withstand several raises and re-raises, and so is likely to have been folded before the flop under those circumstances.

More on evaluating the flop in the next lesson!