1) Evaluating the flop
Once the flop is dealt, players must reassess their hand. Players need to consider the three community cards in addition to their two hole cards. This allows players to gauge the strength of their hand and the likelihood that they have the best hand at this stage.
There are two main types of hands on the flop: Made hands and drawing hands. A made hand is anything that includes a pair or higher.
A player holding KsQc, on a flop of Kh 10s 2s has ‘made' a pair of Kings. But how does a player know how strong their hand is? Below is a general guideline for assessing the strength of a made hand.
- Very strong hands: Two pair or better
- Strong hands: Overpair or Top pair with top kicker
- Mediocre hands: Any other pair
- Weak hands: Two cards that haven't made a pair or better
A drawing hand is a hand that has not made a pair or higher but which could improve on the turn or river. For example, a player with Jh 10c on the flop Qh 2d 9c, has a straight draw (so any King or eight dealt on the turn or river will improve their hand to a straight). This gives the player eight cards (known as ‘outs') that will complete their hand.
There are also times when a player can have both a made hand and one that also has outs to hit a draw. If a player has Ah Jh in the hole and the flop is Ac 2h 7h, the made hand is a pair of Aces, with a flush draw. This means that any heart card will improve the hand to a flush. This gives the player an additional 10 outs that will improve their hand.
Board Texture: Dry and Wet boards
Once a player has assessed their own hand it is important to consider how the flop may have helped their opponent/s. Assessing the ‘texture of the board' (community cards) will enable a player to identify possible hand combinations that will have hit a draw on the flop and is an important consideration when deciding the best way to play a hand.
The board texture can hugely affect the strength of a hand. Consider the two scenarios below, where a player is holding the same cards in both hands (8s 8d) but on two very different flops.
In both cases, the player has made a set of 8s (three of a kind). However, one scenario is much stronger than the other. Flop 1 is what is known as a dry board. A dry board is one that doesn't have many draws available. The cards are rainbow (all different suits) so a player cannot hit a flush on the turn and there are very few straight draws possible. The set of 8s is very secure in this scenario. There are very few cards that can fall on the turn and/or river that may give an opponent a stronger hand.
Flop 2 is what is known as a wet board, as it is draw-heavy. There are several combinations of possible straight draws (J10, 107 and 76 will all have a straight draw here), and any opponent holding two hearts will have a flush draw. The set of 8s is more vulnerable in this scenario. There are many cards that can fall on the turn and/or river that may give an opponent a stronger hand.
2) Evaluating other players:
Poker is a game of partial information and players should use all information available to try and discover what an opponent is holding. Observation of opponents is essential and a lot of information can be derived from their play which is very useful when considering how to play a hand.
When a player first sits down at a table they should watch other players and decide what style they appear to be playing.
- Are they Loose or Tight? Are they playing lots of pots or very few?
- Are they aggressive or passive? Once a player enters a pot do they bet and raise a lot (aggressive) or do they check and call more often (passive)?
- Do they play Position correctly? This requires observation over a number of orbits or previous history.
- Do they simply play their cards or are they capable of more advanced plays? Some players will simply play when they have good cards and fold when they don't. These players are exploitable.
- Do they try to steal the blinds when the action folds to them in late position?
- Do they defend their blinds by calling or re-raising or do they prefer to fold?
- Do they like to play post flop? Good players who like to see a lot of flops will almost always try and play in position. If you have such a player to your left you should consider this before entering a hand.
- Is their bet sizing correct? Are they betting the correct size given the blinds and their position? Is their bet size a reaction to the other players at the table? Many players often have betting patterns which can be observed, particularly in post flop play. For example, a player might make a pot size bet when they have a strong made hand and ½ pot when they have a draw. Spotting these patterns is valuable information when trying to determine an opponents' holding.
3) Reasons for Betting:
Whenever a player makes a bet or raise there is always a motive behind it. There are four main reasons a player will make a bet:
- Extracting Value
- Protecting a hand
- Gaining information
This is when a player thinks they have the best hand and makes a bet hoping an opponent will call with a worse hand and build a bigger pot.
Protecting a hand:
This is when a player thinks they have the best hand (and thus is also making a value bet) but the board is draw heavy. They make a bet to protect their hand against potential drawing hands which can be made on the turn or river.
This is where a player makes a bet to try and gain more information on an opponents' holding. The information is drawn from how the opponent reacts to the bet.
For example, you are first to raise preflop holding 99 and an aggressive player calls from the big blind. The flop comes J72 rainbow and the aggressive player leads out for half pot. At this stage you are not sure if your hand is the best, but as the player is aggressive (and you are in position) it is probably optimal to re-raise for more information. If the player folds you take down the pot, if he calls you should proceed with caution as he probably has a Jack or better and if he re-raises again you are almost certainly behind and should fold.
Bluffing is when a player makes a bet with the sole intention of inducing an opponent to fold. The advantages of bluffing are:
- Winning pots you would otherwise lose at showdown.
- To confuse and apply pressure on opponents to encourage them to make mistakes.
- To make opponents less sure of your hand strength allowing you to build bigger pots when you really do have a hand.
The most common bluffs are when a player has played a drawing hand, has missed the turn and river and is therefore left holding a very poor hand (high card 10 etc). This is obviously very unlikely to win at showdown so most of the time the player will make a bluff on the river (if the hand is checked to him) as they have no other way to win the hand.
Some players don't like being bluffed and it can cause them to ‘tilt' (play sub-optimally).
It is important to identify which situations are good bluffing spots and which are not. Bluffing in the wrong situation can be very costly but bluffing correctly can be very profitable.
Good bluffing situations are:
- If an opponent has shown weakness
- If you can represent a hand given the betting a board texture.
For example, you call an early position preflop raise with J10 of spades and the flop comes 9h8s3h. The raiser bets again on the flop and you call (as you have the nut straight draw and a backdoor flush draw). The turn comes the 2s and the opponent bets again. You now have the top straight draw and a flush draw so you call again and the river comes the 5h.
The board is now 9h8s3h2s5h and you have only J high which is almost certainly going to lose at showdown, however this can be a good spot to bluff. The 5h river card would have completed any heart flush draw or 67 straight draw which are two of the most obvious draws on the flop. The initial raiser opened from an early position and has bet the flop and the turn which (given the board) suggests they are likely to be holding an overpair. If they have an overpair and bet again on the river, if you re-raise (bluff) them they are probably going to think you have hit your draw and could fold the best hand.
Bad bluffing situations are:
- Making a bluff that doesn't represent a hand or make sense given the actions of the hand.
- Bluffing when it is very easy for an opponent to have a better hand.
- Bluffing against a poor poker player. You cannot bluff someone who does not understand if they have a good hand or not.
A Continuation bet (CBet) is when the preflop raiser bets again on the flop. A Cbet is made to continue representing a strong holding (as the player has raised preflop) after the flop and in many cases is a bluff.
Even though the raising player might have missed the flop completely a Cbet has the potential to fold out many better hands and is very profitable if used correctly.
For example, you raise with 44 from the button and the big blind calls holding 88. The flop comes AJ5 and the big blind checks. Even though you have a very weak underpair to the board you elect to Cbet ½ pot and represent the Ace. The player in the big blind now cannot really continue in the hand unless he has at least an Ace, folds his 88 and you take the pot.
- Cbet (bluff) more against a tight opponent
- Cbet (bluff) less against loose or tricky opponents
- Cbet (bluff) more on dry boardsDon't Cbet every hand. If you become too predictable other players will use it against you by calling or re-raising you with weaker holdings.