Poker Lesson 20

Playing after the flop in Texas hold'em
Once the flop lands on the table, your first and most important question should be: "Who at this table was helped by it?"

It is worth keeping in mind that the game of hold'em actually was designed to be played mainly AFTER the flop. Playing after the flop is a complex issue, and all of a sudden you have a lot more information to work with. It is then that the real contest begins: the one that in the long run will reward the better player, as opposed to merely the player who had the best luck in picking up good cards during the initial deal.

If you play at the lower limits on any poker site on the Internet, you can however see for yourself that this is definitely not always the case. Many beginners and amateurs will play no-limit hold'em according to the "catch an Ace, take a race" principle: they happily shove in their entire stack of chips before the flop, with just an Ace high or a mediocre pair in hand. For both that player, and for another player calling, it is then no longer a poker GAME as such, where the object is to constantly analyze and evaluate your opponents and use that to outwit them. Instead the situation has turned into a lottery, where the winning odds are defined by how the respective hole cards match up against each other.

If you are on average a better player than your opponents at the table, it is in your interest to keep the luck factor down. Try avoiding situations where the hand degenerates into a lottery, and instead aim to out-play the others after the flop, or after the turn and/or the river. Your analytical skills here will pay off in the long run! Leave it to the others to make mistakes at the table – including making over-use of the all-in weapon before the flop. The all-in weapon will work every time except one, as the ironical saying goes in poker.

And before moving on to the aspects of evaluating the flop more closely, here is a tip for your next live game: the moment the flop lands on the table, do NOT look at those cards: look instead carefully at the other players who are active in the pot, and have not folded. What are their facial reactions? Does their body language reveal anything about whether the flop was good or bad for their hand? Paying close attention here can pay off handsomely!

In an Internet game, the closest thing to watching the physical reactions of another player is to note how much time he or she takes before acting. Betting out immediately after the flop can denote hitting the flop hard, with top pair or even two pairs or trips – or can, of course, be a complete bluff. Hesitating until the last second before checking or betting usually on the other hand denotes that that player is unsure of how good his or her hand actually is... or could mean that he or she just hit a monster hand, but could not decide whether to check or how much to bet. Your job, as always, is to pay attention to the other players and interpret their actions, both before and after the flop!