Limit Hold'em: The Flop old

The flop is a decisive moment in Texas Hold'em. It is very important for us to be able to determine the strength of our own hand before we continue playing on the flop. Mistakes made on the flop often lead to further, expensive mistakes on the turn and river.

Generally, on the flop we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Are there any reasons for folding the hand and if so, what are they
  • What reasons are there for checking/calling?
  • What reasons are there for raising?

Here is a list of aspects we should take into consideration on the flop:

  • The strength of our own hand
  • How strong is our hand? Can we allow ourselves to slow play our hand (playing a very strong hand passively)? If we have a draw, how strong is it?
  • The structure of the flop (this is explained later on).
  • The number of opponents
  • The size of the pot
  • The opponents' possible hands

In this article we will deal with the various made hands, i.e. hands that do not require improvement, and their respective strengths.

Made Hands

  1. Straight and flush

    These are obviously monster hands, thus extremely strong card combinations. It is often better not to slow play (i.e. to check) these hands but rather to play them aggressively on the flop straight away. This maximises our profit on the hand. But we can even get into trouble with such hands. If we e.g. have a small flush and another appears, then any higher than our highest spade beats us.

  2. Three of a Kind

a. Set  

When our hole cards form a pocket pair and one card of the same rank appears on the flop we have a set. We hit our set only one out eight times, when we're holding a pocket pair and see a flop. This is usually a monster. Our opponents normally don't think that we have a set, since sets are very rare and the board doesn't need to have special characteristics in order for a set to be possible. However if we flop a flush there are three cards of the same suit on the board and our opponents are warned.

b. Trips

Three of a kind formed by one of our hole cards and a pair on the flop. Trips are a very strong hand, even though they are not as strong as a set. There are two reasons. On the one hand the opponents see that the board is paired and know immediately that each player who has a card of the same rank can form three of a kind. On the other hand it is definitely possible that another player also has trips but with a better kicker. This is only a problem if we have a weak kicker, of course.

      3. Two Pair  

Two pair is a very strong hand. Thus, on the flop we will usually have the best hand.

We distinguish between:

a) Top two pair

The highest two cards form a pair with our hole cards on the flop. We are holding e.g. on a flop and are therefore able to form two high pairs .

b) Top and bottom Pair

The highest and lowest flop card forms a pair with our hole cards e.g. and the board shows so that we are able to form a small () as well as a big pair ().

c) Bottom two pair

The lowest two flop cards form a pair with our hole cards, for example, on a flop.

All three types of two-pair hands are strong. However, top two pair is a little bit stronger than top and bottom two pair, which in turn is a little stronger than bottom two pair.


"Overpair" is the term used for a pocket pair that is higher than the highest card on the board. In case we are up against only few opponents we mostly have the best hand. If we play against several opponents the risk of being behind increases, but we still have a good chance of winning the hand. Nevertheless, we should always play an overpair aggressively, since in this way we build the pot and often force several opponents to fold. 

Top pair

One of our hole cards forms a pair with the highest card on the board. The other one is known as the kicker. Similar to an overpair, top pair with top kicker is a strong hand and should be played aggressively. Top pair with middle or low kicker is considerably weaker and must be played much more carefully.

Middle pair

If one of our hole cards forms a pair with the second-highest flop card then we are holding middle pair. The probability of holding the best hand is obviously much lower than with an overpair or top pair. Middle pair therefore is a mediocre hand.

Bottom pair/underpair

When one of our hole cards form a pair with the smallest flop card, then we have bottom pair. An underpair is a pocket pair that is lower than any of the cards on the board. These are weak hands and in general you shouldn't continue playing.

Drawing Hands or Draws


Now let's look at those hands which require additional cards to become made hands.

  1. Flush draw

    Flush draw is the term for four cards of the same suit (usually two hole cards and two cards of the board), e.g. . If we have a flush draw on the flop, our draw will arrive up to the river in 35% of cases.

    A flush draw is very well suited for a semi-bluff. In this case, we play our flush draw aggressively in the hope that we'll win the pot even if we don't make our flush.

  2. Straight draw

    We distinguish between the open-ended straight draw (OESD) and the inside straight draw, also known as Gutshot.

    With an OESD we have eight outs in order to complete our straight, with a Gutshot only four.                                                                                              
  •   Example of a Gutshot: We are holding and the flop is
  •   Example of an OESD: We have and the board shows                

An OESD is very well suited for a semi-bluff. A Gutshot is a pretty weak hand, which should be folded in most cases. An exception would be when we have additional outs due to e.g. a flush draw or a pair.


Flop structures 

  1. Three of a Kind

    Pocket pairs are very, very strong hands when three cards of the same rank appear on the flop. The weaker the pair, the more aggressively we should play it, because we probably have the best hand. However, it is very vulnerable in case overcards (explained below) appear on the board and should therefore be protected.

  2. High pair 

    On a flop such as we shouldn't play a two-pair hand (a pocket pair, for example) too aggressively. An overpair, in this case , is a good hand. However, if a lot of opponents are still in the hand we can often assume that someone is holding a third king and thus already has trips. Drawing hands lose value on flops like this, because we'll often find ourselves playing against two pair or trips that can improve to a full house, which means that we'll lose even if we hit our straight or flush.

  3. Low pair

    If the flop contains a low pair, e.g. , we can play overpairs and top pair more aggressively than on a flop with a high pair. The probability of someone else holding trips is considerably lower. The reason for this is that most people play high rather than low cards.

  4. Two of a suit

    In general we should always pay attention whether the flop has two cards of the same suit. If we don't have a flush draw and are playing against several opponents on the flop, we should assume that one of them is waiting for the third card of that suit. If another card of this suit appears we should be very careful.


  5. Three of a suit

    If the flop contains three cards of a suit, e.g. , then we can (almost) always draw profitably to the highest and second-highest flush, i.e. when we're holding either or but no second diamond. We should fold smaller flush draws (e.g. with ) if there's too much action because we will only rarely have a chance to win the hand. Moreover, we can lose a lot of money if we improve to a flush and an opponent is holding a higher card of this suit and thus has a (higher) flush.

    If we already have flopped a flush, then we should play very aggressively because we can be pretty sure that we're holding the best hand. However, other players will probably improve to a better hand if a card of this suit appears on the turn or river.

    Under certain circumstances we can slow play a nut flush (i.e. the highest possible flush, with the ace of the corresponding suit). But if the board pairs on the turn or river, you have to be careful: an opponent now may have a full house.

  6. Two connected cards

    An OESD on an unpaired flop with three different suits is very strong, especially if we've also got overcards.

    • Example: on a flop.
    If we don't have a straight draw, there is a big risk with a board like this that one of our opponents has an OESD.
  7. Three connected cards

    Three consecutive cards on the flop, e.g. , make this flop almost as dangerous as three cards of the same suit: a player may already have flopped a straight or at least a very good draw.


  8. All high cards

    In order to have a strong hand on a flop such as , we must be holding at least top pair with top kicker, which in this example would be . Bottom pair on a flop like this is an almost unplayable hand, because we'll often be dominated and will lose even if we improve to two pair or trips.   

  9. One high and two low cards of different suits

    Flops such as generally hit very few hands. A flop like this is very good for bluffing because it's difficult to continue playing without holding at least top pair (in this case a queen)

  10. Low cards of different suits

    This flop (e.g. ) misses most players, which means that they are not able to form a strong hand with their hole cards and the community cards. For this reason it's a good flop to bluff.


Betting strategies ...

 ... when we have a (very) strong hand

Another player was the pre-flop aggressor:

If we have to act before a player who raised pre-flop, we should try to check-raise. Meaning you check with the intention of raising in case an opponent bets. This ensures that the pot gets bigger, which is exactly what we want when we have a strong hand. At the same time we protect our hand, because all the players between us and the pre-flop aggressor will have to call two bets.
If we act after the pre-flop aggressor and he has bet on the flop, we should raise straight away. We therefore get the maximum amount of information and can determine whether we really do have the best hand. At the same time we protect our hand, because the other players already have to call two bets to stay in the hand, without knowing whether there will be yet another raise. So it becomes less profitable for our opponents to call with weak hands and draws.

In general, it's very important in limit to bet and, if possible, to raise when we have the best hand.

... when we raised before the flop

If we are the pre-flop aggressor, then we should almost always make a continuation bet, in case we are up against a maximum of two opponents.

A continuation bet is when the pre-flop aggressor bets on the flop irrespective of whether he has hit the flop or not. We should (almost) always do this. The exceptions are flops that we completely missed and flops where we are up against more than two opponents.

  • Example
All the players fold to "Hero" in middle position. "Hero" has .
"Hero" raises, the button (BU) calls, the big blind (BB) calls as well.
The big blind checks, "Hero" bets.
We definitely have to bet here because it is very difficult for the button and the big blind to continue playing if they don't have a . In the abobe example there are 6.5 SBs in the pot, two  small bets from Hero, two from the button, two from the big blind and half a small bet from the small blind, Hero therefore only has to risk one small bet in order to win the whole pot. Thus, our opponents have to fold only rarely to make the continuation bet profitable in the long run.

... when we have a mediocre hand

By this we mean mainly hands such as middle or bottom pair. Here we also need a good grasp of odds and outs. If the pot is big enough (there was at least one raise before the flop), it's often the right thing to play check-call in case somebody bets. If our hand doesn't improve on the turn, we have to fold in most cases. When the pot is small on the flop (there was no raise before the flop), we should usually fold immediately. 

... when we have a (very) weak hand

Weak hands, thus hands where both hole cards are lower than the lowest card on the flop should be folded unconditionally if we're playing against several opponents.
With a small pocket pair we have only two more outs if we miss the flop and we're playing against a high pair. When both hole cards are lower than the flop cards and we don't have a draw, we should fold as well, because here we have to hit both the turn and the river in order to win the hand.

In general, we should fold:
-    if the odds are unfavourable.
-    if the odds are unfavourable to bluff or semi-bluff, or
-    if the implied odds are unfavourable

  • Examples:

1) "Hero" is BB and has .
Early Positon (EP) calls, Middle Position 1 raises, Cut-off (CO) calls, the button (BU) calls, "Hero" calls, EP calls.

"Hero" checks, …, "Hero" folds.

2) "Hero" is in the Small Blind (SB) and is holding .
MP1 calls, CO calls, "Hero" completes, BB checks.

"Hero" checks, … , "Hero" folds.

... when we have overcards

Overcards are hole cards that are higher than any of the flop cards.
In general, overcards are not easy to play. It is very important to understand the concept of odds and outs and to discount the odds correctly. So we have to be very sure whether our hole cards really do form the best hand in case we make a pair.

  • Example:

"Hero" is the button and is holding .
MP1 calls, MP2 calls, Hero calls, SB completes, BB checks.

SB checks, BB checks, MP1 bets, MP2 calls, "Hero" folds, SB folds, BB folds.

It's pretty close. We are getting pot odds of 7:1 (five SBs go into the pot before the flop, two SBs go in on the flop, we have to call one bet). In the best case we have six outs, but in this situation we have to discount some of them. Since it is quite possible that our opponents are holding cards such as KT, QT or even TT. In this case a K and/or Q wouldn't help us to win the hand. So we probably have only three or four outs and the pot odds of 7:1 are not sufficient to hope for one of the four outs.

  • Here's another example:

"Hero" is the button and is holding .
MP1 calls, MP2 calls, "Hero" calls, SB calls, BB checks.

The betting sequence now changes: SB checks, BB checks, MP1 bets, MP2 raises, "Hero" calls.

A very similar situation, but the flop is a little bit better because we also have a gutshot straight draw with the and three cards to a -flush. If the jack appears we'll have the currently best possible hand, the nut straight, so we don't have to discount these four outs. We therefore have six or seven outs and can call profitably, even though MP1 will possibly raise again. Moreover, it is quite possible that the SB or BB will call and the pot will thus become even more profitable.

Overcards are much stronger, if we also have additional draws. Even if they are weak draws. Overcards and a gutshot straight draw are mostly playable and even three cards to a straight or a flush will increase the strength of the hand considerably.

  • Here's another example:

"Hero" is under the gun (UTG) holding .
"Hero" raises, UTG+1 calls, UTG+2 calls, CO calls, BB calls.

BB checks, Hero checks, UTG+1 bets, UTG+2 calls, CO raises, BB folds, "Hero" folds.

We shouldn't make a continuation bet on this flop because we're playing against several opponents and we missed the flop completely. Even though the pot odds are approximately 7:1 they are not sufficient. Because we often have to play against two pair, one pair with straight or flush draw, we have to discount our outs heavily.

As mentioned in the beginning of this article the flop is a decisive moment in poker, because you often have to decide whether to fold or continue playing the hand. Besides determining the strenght of your own hand it is extremely important to find out if our opponents are strong or weak and depending on that play aggressively or carefully.