Post-flop Play: Decisions, Decisions

You decided that your hand pre-flop was playable and you entered the hand in late position. Pre-flop decisions are based on hand strength, position relative to the button, your own range of hands, what you know about your opponents’ hand selection and stack size, both yours and your opponents. Pre-flop decisions are more or less mechanical in the sense that you have very little information from which to proceed. All that you know absolutely is the relative strength of your hand playing from your position. The flop is the place where decisions to continue on or let your hand go are made and these decisions are substantially more difficult for two reasons.

  1. Pre-flop betting provides some valuable information about the hands your opponents are playing based on position and bet size.
  2. You now have either hit a hand or you have not. If you have, your decision rests on the probability of winning with that hand as well as the probability for your hand improving or both.

For these reasons, your decision making process post-flop are far less mechanical, turning toward a more mathematical process. You need to know several pieces of information in order to proceed in an intelligent manner.

  1. The current size of the pot including current wagers made in front of you relative to the bet you must call or the raise you are contemplating.
  2. The potential size of the pot after the round of betting is over.
  3. The price the pot is offering or pot odds.
  4. The probability that your hand will win or will improve enough to win.
  5. The relative strength of your hand when analyzed from both the pure probability of success and the hands your opponents may hold that will beat you at this moment, whether or not your hand improves.

Over the next few posts I will discuss these points in detail. Today I discuss the relative strength of possible hands relative to current strength and the possibility for improvement.

Probability for Success

To my mind the most important decision you can make post-flop turns on whether or not your hand provides enough strength relative to the hands your opponents are likely to hold so that the probability of winning provides you with a positive expectation. There are several factors to consider when analyzing your relative hand strength. The top four are:

  1. The probability that your hand will prevail at showdown if it comes to that.
  2. Your position relative to your opponent’s position.
  3. The texture of the board relative to your hand and the likely hands your opponent may hold based on what you know about his style of play.
  4. Your opponent’s tendencies to defend his hand or to let his hand go when challenged.

A First Look at Situational Probability

There are a number of common situations that occur with enough frequency at the poker table so that one really needs to know some basic probabilities in order to correctly analyze the probability of success. Here are a few of those situations along with the corresponding probabilities both in the form of percentages and positive odds.

Pair v Underpair: An example of the pair v underpair is AA v 44. The aces are favored to win this hand with a success rate of 82% or a 4.6:1 favorite.
Pair v Under Suited Connectors: The example of KK v 78s is a classic example of this match-up. The overpair is favored to win this match-up 77% of the time making the kings a 3.3:1 favorite.
Under pair v Connected Overcards: This is the classic race situation. 77 v AKo is an example of this situation. The pair is a slight favorite winning about 55% of the time, about a 1.2:1 favorite.
Dominated Cards: The example of AJ v A7 demonstrates domination. The dominant ace is a 70% favorite to win at showdown or it is a 2.3:1 favorite.

The Situational Odds Chart provides additional examples of the odds that obtain to specific situations that you are likely to face at the poker table on an ongoing basis. Knowing situational odds goes a long way in making your decisions about continuing or walking away easier. Committing these odds to memory provides you with ammunition with which to proceed in an analytical manner.

The chart takes into consideration only your hole cards playing against your opponent’s hole cards. This information is valuable only when you can safely put your opponent on a range of hands that play in these situations. In order to place you opponent on a range of hands you must observe what hands your opponent shows, how he bets in certain situations and the texture of the board.

Probability that Your Opponent holds a Bigger Pair

Premium pairs play quite well when against one or two opponents but in a multi-way pot with three or more opponents they quickly lose value. Let’s say you have JJ, the probability that a single opponent will have an overpair to your jacks is 67:1, against two players your odds drop to 33:1 against either opponent holding a bigger pair but with four players seeing the flop the odds that an opponent holds a bigger pair drop to 13:1.

If you hold Jh-Js and the flop comes Jc-Ks-Qd your set could be counterfeited by an opponent holding KK or QQ. You would be drawing dead to the case jack. Flops like this are also vulnerable to someone holding A-T but your outs improve if the board pairs, now the case jack, any of the three remaining kings or queens would give you either quads or jacks full…7 outs.

Being aware of the probabilities of facing a larger pair when you are holding a pair in the hole is another piece of information that helps the decision making process along. This information is most valuable when analyzing the texture of the board as a primary consideration along with the range of hands your opponent is likely to play and what he is representing through his betting. Armed with this information, along with your best analysis of your opponent’s strength, you are better able to make the difficult decisions that are required if you choose to stay involved.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come and visit.

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