Poker Lesson 25

Evaluating the flop in hold'em, part 5
In previous lessons, I have pointed out the importance of "protecting your hand"; in this case meaning that you bet out after the flop, in order to put a steep price on the chance of outdrawing you.

As a basic rule, if no other player player before you has bet out after the flop, you should do so when it is your turn to act, if you have reason to believe that you currently have the best hand.

How do you then know if you have the best hand? Only hard-earned experience and sound poker judgement can tell you that, but one rule of thumb is: if you have top pair or an overpair after the flop, then bet out.

If you for example have A-K in hand and the flop comes K-8-10 in three different suits, you have top pair with top kicker. In this case you should almost always bet out, in order to prevent another player who has gambled with J-9 och Q-J from drawing to a straight. Regardless of your position, bet out here, whether you are the first to act or if it has been checked to you by one or more players before you. Yes, there is the risk that you might be up against for example trips, if another player entered the pot with 8-8 or 10-10 in hand. What he or she now fears is that you may have K-K in hand for a higher trips, and a solid, self-confident bet from you MAY on rare occasions cause that opponent to fold and give up the pot to you.

Same thing if you hold an overpair; bet out, more than 9 times out of 10, if no other player before you has done so. If you have Q-Q and the flop is J-8-3, it usually time to put money into the pot in order to prevent others from being given the chance to outdraw you. But should you get a raise against you, it is of course time to stop, think, and re-evaluate the situation.

Another type of hand that merits special consideration after the flop, is when you have a draw to a straight or a flush.

A typical such situation is when you enter the pot (by raising or calling, depending) holding for example A-Q suited – let us say in hearts – and the flop comes 3h-8-h-9c (= the 3 and the 8 in hearts, and the 9 in clubs). You now have a draw to the top flush: if another heart lands on the table, whether on the turn or on the river, you have hit your finished flush and will very likely hold the winning hand. (And I remind you of the fact that if you start with two suited cards, the chance of flopping a flush draw like this is 1 in 9. And if you have that flush draw, the chance of completing it to a flush on either the turn or the river is 35%.)

(But do not forget another rule of thumb in hold'em: that if "the board pairs", meaning that two cards of the same value appear, some other player MAY now have a full house! With the flop above, if an opponent is holding 8-9 and the 9 of hearts falls on the turn or on the river, he or she now has a full house that will beat your finished flush. With a paired board, you must always evaluate how likely an opponent is to hold a full house.)

Another typical draw situation is when you hold J-10 in hand, suited or unsuited, and the flop is Q-10-9 in different suits. You now have middle pair and an open straight draw: if a K or an 8 falls on the turn or on the river, you have hit and completed your straight. But once again, you must be on your guard: if an oponent is holding A-J and a K falls on the table with the flop here, he or she will have hit a higher straight which could cost you your entire stack of chips!

If it has been checked to you after the flop, or even many times when you are the first to act after the flop, it is very often correct of you to bet out with a strong draw – preferrably a draw to the highest possible flush or straight. Betting a strong draw aggressively is usually the right thing to do for two reasons: (1) you may win the pot immediately when the others fold to your bet, and (2) if one or more opponents elect to call you, you have built up a bigger pot and will win more if your draw hits.

If however another player before you bets out after the flop, and you have a strong draw, it is many times correct of you to call for the second reason above. But sometimes you should instead consider raising, since it "masks" those times when you after the flop raise but with trips or two pairs instead. In the long run, this will make the hand you raise with harder to guess for your opponents, and any maneouvre designed to give confusing information to the others is to your advantage.

Time and experience will fine-hone your instincts as to when you should stay in with or fold a strong drawing hand. I will have more to say on that subject in future lessons, but in the meantime, realize that a considerable part of your poker income will come from correctly played drawing hands.