Analyzing The Flop

Perhaps the most difficult decision you must make while playing Texas Hold’em is whether or not to bet or call a bet in front of you on the flop. When you miss the flop completely the decision to muck is easy. There are times, however, when the decision is borderline and you must analyze the strength of your hand relative to the board texture and to the likely range of hands your opponents are likely to hold. If you only play your cards you are likely to miss something that leads to your making a mistake. If you only consider your opponents’ likely hand you are likely to undervalue your hand which leads to a mistake. If you only consider the texture of the board you are likely to underestimate both the strength of your hand as well as the relative strength of your opponents’ hand making your decision nearly impossible and you will play too timidly. Remember, in poker everything depends on everything so play accordingly.
Open-Ended Straight Draws
So you decide to speculate pre-flop with an 8h-9h. There are a number of things to consider if you then flop an open-ended straight draw.

  • Two Suited Cards: If the flop comes 7c-Td-4d you must consider the flush possibilities in this textured board. If you hit your flush and another diamond shows up then your otherwise good hand may be second best. Not so hot. With a flush possibility your straight draw suddenly becomes unprofitable. If no one bets and you are in late position you might want to fire a bet for information but if someone bets in front of you it is probably time to muck your hand and wait for a better opportunity.
  • The Board Pairs: With your open-ended straight draw a paired board spells disaster. The flop came Tc-Js-Jd. Your draw has 8 outs making your draw a 2.2:1 underdog with two cards to come. You can be beaten by a full house or quads. In either case you are drawing against a strong made hand. If your opponent has a pair in his hand, say 8-8, he now has two-pair and has the same number of outs to make his full house, 8 so you are even money against him. If, however, that pair gave him quads you are drawing dead. If his pair, say T-T, turned into a set with the non paired card on the flop he has a full house and you are drawing dead. If his pair, say J-J, made quads you are drawing dead. This is an impossible board for a straight draw. Muck your hand.
  • You hold an Overcard: Say your hand was Kh-9d and the flop was 7d-8c-6s the overcard becomes important because it provides you with three additional outs. On this board there are no flush possibilities and you have the high end of the straight draw. Against a hand like 9h-Th you have a potential chop but you will loose to the made straight if any five shows up on the turn. If a king comes on the turn you now have a pair but are drawing dead against the made straight. This board is dangerous but your action will depend on how your opponent plays. If he is a known trapper then any slow play on his part is suspect. If he is overly aggressive than a big bet on the flop should also set off alarm bells. If, however, he is a solid player and checks you should bet your draw and if he bets you should call.

Flush Draws
You entered the hand with As-Js and the flop came 3s-Tc-7s. Wow! You have a nut flush draw with two overcards to the board, 12 outs, making you a 1.2:1 underdog (virtually even money) to complete your draw. There are no obvious straight draws, although you do have a backdoor Broadway draw which adds some outs to your draw but I tend to discount those outs to zero in this case. The board is not paired so at this point quads or a full house are not in the picture. Your problem is how to extract the greatest value from this flop, one that is not likely to provide much action unless your opponent holds A-A, K-K, Q-Q or some sort of flush draw himself.
If the table folds to you put out a probe bet, something like one-third to one-half the pot. The probe bet will only seem suspect to a seasoned professional player but someone with a pair or a flush draw will be tempted to at least call your bet if not raise in this situation. You may take the pot then and there with the probe bet but more frequently you will get some added action so that when you hit your hand you’ll win a larger pot. I believe that the probe bet play is good to use around 20% of the time you have a big flush draw with at least one overcard to the board. The other 80% of the time I tend to play in a more standard manner by betting and raising or betting and calling, Either way you will either get action or win the pot immediately with your semi-bluff.
Three Suited Cards
If the flop comes with three suited cards you should exercise extreme caution unless you hold made hands like two pair or a set on the flop. If you are in late position and there has been a bet in front of you, muck your hand. If you are in late position and the table has checked to you and you have a made hand a bet of about half the pot is in order. If your probe bet is called or raised go no further; check if called and muck if raised. If you happen to see a turn and you make quads or a full house then you have made the nuts and your opponent with the flush will want to push the action…Let him! If you hit a blank then muck to any bet. If your opponent gives you a free river card take it and reevaluate at that point.
Caution Prevails
In the examples above the flops were highly textured toward straights or flushes or big hands like full houses or quads. If you are facing highly textured flops then caution should prevail. Think about what your opponents’ likely range of hands might be and compare that range to your hand strength and the texture of the board. What can beat you is the question to ask, and is what can beat you falling within your opponents’ range of hand selection. If it is then you should err on the side of caution and choose a better spot to pick a fight.
On the other hand, if the board is uncoordinated with no obvious straight or flush possibilities then your drawing hands obtain greater value and should be played accordingly.

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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