Poker Lesson 22

Evaluating the flop in hold'em, part 2
In this lesson, we will continue to evaluate the flop; that is, 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.

Remember a rule of thumb which I have mentioned in a previous lesson: that three times out of four, on average, you will be "disappointed" when looking at the flop – but so will your opponents be. Another rule of thumb, though it should be applied more loosely, which I have mentioned before is "fit or fold": you prefer to hit the flop (= one or more cards in it matching the ones you have in hand) in order to play on.

Are there any situations where you could cheerfully play on after the flop, without hitting it? There are of course many, but one in particular is when you have started with a relatively high pair, raised pre-flop, and gotten one or two callers. Let us assume you have J-J against two callers, with a flop of 9-5-2 in different suits. (Such a flop is usually called "uncoordinated", since the cards do not go together to improve any straight or flush chances.) The flop did not hit you or improve your hand. What do you do now, if you are the first to act?

The answer is almost always: bet out. (By the way, when you are the first to bet in a betting round, you are not "raising", you are betting out, since each betting round by itself starts from zero. If a player before you bets out and you increase the size of the bet, then you are however raising against him or her.)

Why bet out? Because this flop is actually good for your hand. The odds are that the flop is unlikely to have hit and improved any of your opponents. Since both of them called you, not raised you, it is extremely unlikely that either of them has a higher pair than yours. Expect them instead to have hands like A-J or K-Q or Q-J (hitting nothing) or K-9 or A-9 (hitting top pair, 9-9, maximum), or a middle pair like 7-7 or 3-3.

Yes, the possibility exists that one of them did call you with 5-5 or 2-2, or even 9-9, and now has flopped trips, or on rare occasions even with 9-5 for a twopair if they are willing to gamble heavily, meaning that you are now the underdog; but the odds are heavily against it. More than two times out of three, with a starting hand like that and a flop like this, your overpair (= a pair higher than can be formed together with any of the cards in the flop) is the best hand after the flop, and you need to protect it.

What does "protect your hand" mean? It means that you bet out in order to put a price on the chance of outdrawing you. If you check, both your opponents may also check, which mean that they now get a free shot at improving their hand enough to beat yours. If one of them for example has A-5, and you check after the flop, he/she also checks, and now an A or another 5 comes on the turn, he/she has improved to two pair or trips – and you have only yourself to blame. The chance of that happening, in this example, is about 13%; but why should you offer them that chance for free?

Bet out instead, in a situation like this, in order to protect your hand and make it costly for the other players to try to outdraw you; betting out around 40-100% of the size of the pot is about right, depending on the circumstances. This does not always prevent them from trying to, but it ensures that they will be making a mathematical mistake if they do, with a hand that is an underdog to yours. Yes, every now and then you actually will be up against an opponent who has flopped trips; but such is the nature of poker. And the alternative, not betting out, can be proven to be even more costly in the long run!

So, even a flop that does not hit you can be good for your starting hand, if the odds are that it did not improve any other player's hand either, but still in all likelihood leaves you in the lead.