Poker Lesson 24

Evaluating the flop in hold'em, part 4
In this series of lessons on how to evaluate the flop in a hand of Texas hold'em, it is time to look at a very important factor: your position after the flop.

I will in later lessons have more to say on the subject of position, but for now let me simply point out that your position at the table – how many other players are to act before you, and how many to act behind you – is a VERY critical feature of each and every hand in hold'em: good players realize this instinctively, while amateur players tend to underestimate it.

Understand that the factor of good position, meaning that the later you act in a betting round, the better for you, must always be taken into consideration when you evaluate a flop. The more opponents who are forced to act – bet out, call, raise, or fold – before it is your turn, the more information you will have when it is time to take your decision. Preferrably acting last, you will often have formed a pretty good idea of whether the others hit the flop better than you did, or indeed at all.

Three others checking to you, when you are holding J-J with a flop of 9-5-2 in different suits, and you know you should almost automatically bet out to try to take command of the pot; but a bet, a raise and a re-raise before you in the same situation after the flop, and you will know you are up either against a higher overpair such as A-A, K-K or Q-Q, or more likely trips since the betting now indicates that at least one of the others is sitting with 9-9, 5-5 or 2-2 in hand, and it is time to fold your humble pair of Jacks.

But even before the flop, in the first betting round, you can lay the foundations for securing a favourable position after the flop. Instead of merely calling from mid-position, it might very well be worth it to re-raise with your 7-7, for example, in order to drive out those players sitting behind you. (This practice in the first betting round is sometimes referred to as "buying the button", since if the players behind you all the way to and including the button fold to your considerable raise or re-raise, you will now effectively be acting last not only after the flop but also in the two betting rounds after the turn and the river respectively. Also, your raise or re-raise will on occasion win the pot right then and there, those times when all the others decide to respect your action and fold.)

Knowing you will be acting last, or at least second-to-last, after the flop will often be a deciding factor when you consider whether to call (or on occasion raise or even re-raise, for the sake of varying your play) in the first betting round with a marginal hand such as K-Q, K-J or Q-J suited.

Note the difference compared to sitting instead in either the big or small blind: yes, in the first betting round you will often act last or second-to-last, but once the flop lands on the table, you will often be forced to act first, with only a guess or (at best) an approximate estimate as to whether the flop hit your opponts or not. The blinds therefore constitute very weak positions in hold'em.

Always keep in mind the importance of your position after the flop, both when deciding whether to enter the pot in the first betting round, and when evaluating the flop once it has hit the table!