Lesson 4: The Flop
IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE BEST HAND, PLAY IT LIKE THE BEST HAND!
The message of this lesson is simple; when you catch a big flop, and you think you have the best hand, don’t be afraid to start dumping money in the middle. There are times when you’d rather hold of on raising until the turn, in hopes that the double sized bets will dissuade your opponents from continuing to the river, but getting as much money as possible in the middle on the flop when you have a big hand can never be that much of a mistake. (We’ll talk about the exception to this in the next lesson).
One mistake average players make is to ‘slowplay’ (pretend they don’t have a good hand by not betting) big hands on the flop in hopes of extracting more bets on the turn and river when the bets double. In some cases, such as those hands where the pot is being contested by only a few players, this might be the best strategy. But most low limit games often find five or more players looking at the flop, and at least a couple of these players will often have to draw to a hand that can beat you. With few exceptions, if someone has a relatively legitimate draw to a big hand (a flush draw, for example, or an open ended straight draw, or even an inside straight draw), you’d prefer that these players folded on the flop. If you can’t get them to fold (and in the smaller games this can be difficult indeed), your second-best scenario is to at least charge them as much as possible to continue on with their hand. If you have a hand like AJ, and the flop comes AJ8, or AQJ, you’ll want to charge the straight and flush draws as much a possible. You’re holding a big hand, and likely have over a 50% chance of finishing with the best hand, but you’re still vulnerable. If by raising and reraising you can get a hand that would have ‘sucked out’ on you (caught an improbable but winning hand) to fold, you have obviously gained tremendously.
The larger point we’re trying to make here is to play your big hands strongly, since you’ll usually be able to accomplish one of two desirable objectives; either you’ll convince the other players to fold, or you’ll increase your net profit on the hand those times that they miss their draw and you win. Players who bet the flop with a hand like top pair with a big kicker (example: holding KQ, and catching a flop like Qc 8c 4d), then meekly call when raised, just don’t stand a chance of beating the game long-term. Remember; you won’t catch many flops that fit your hand, so when you do it’s imperative that you collect as much money as possible. With a hand like top pair, top kicker (i.e., you have AJ and the flop comes jack high, or you have AK and the flop brings either an ace of a king), don’t be afraid to reraise. If you’ve flopped an even stronger hand, like three of a kind, don’t hesitate to raise someone else’s reraise. Yes, sometimes you’ll get outdrawn, and lose more than you would have if you’d simply called. But you’ll end up dragging a nice sized pot often enough to more than compensate for the money you lost on the ‘suck outs’.