No-Limit Hold'em: BSS - The Flop (1)
This article deals with flop play when using the big stack strategy. As you already know, the flop consists of the first three community cards, meaning that we already know five (hole cards and flop) of seven cards – which makes 71.4%!
The flop determines the strategy that we have to use. Many different information play a important role when it comes to choosing a strategy. While only three factors had to be considered pre-flop, now six are relevant:
- The pre-flop actions
- Our position (relative to the other players)
- The category of our own hand
- The structure of the flop
- The size of the pot
- The number and type of opponents
This article aims to highlight these factors and, in the second part, to explain them by means of practical examples.
1. The pre-flop actions
Before the flop we should observe precisely how our opponents react. Who was the raiser and who was the caller? How many raises were there? These are all questions that influence our flop strategy.
If, for example, a player bets on the flop having already raised pre-flop, then this player is simply continuing his aggression. A player who has only called pre-flop but now shows strength on the flop should be treated differently. Knowing the previous course of a hand is essential when it comes to making decisions later and should therefore always be observed.
2. Our position at the table
Our own position at the table is of vital importance in every type of poker. If we are in position (IP), we have the advantage of being able to see our opponents' actions and react accordingly. If we are not in position, i.e. out-of-position (OOP), we lack this information and are not able to incorporate it into our strategy.
The more information we have about our opponent, the better we can adapt our strategy, which can be aided by playing in position.
3. The hand categories
What hand do I have?
Basically there are no differences to the short stack strategy in terms of categorising hands on the flop. We can divide hands into three categories.
- Made hands
These hands are called "made hands", because we already have a hand on the flop that has a good chance of winning a showdown.
Made hands can be a pair, but also a full house – so they differ of course in terms of their quality. Small or medium pairs are a made hand, for example, but are dominated by a lot of other hands and are therefore considered as being weak. In contrast, top two pair, a straight, a full house etc. are good made hands and will often win a showdown. Having a hand such as top pair good kicker or even two pair on a very dangerous flop often isn't as good as it looks. They will often beat a lot of hands, but are all too often beaten themselves. This type of made hands should be played with caution as it is easy to make mistakes, which means that made hands should not be seen as uniform category.
Depending on the strength of the respective made hand, various strategic considerations are required, which in turn means that they should be treated differently. Here are three examples:
- Example 1 – strong made hand
In this example we have hit a set on the flop. Since only two hands or beat us, we are very likely to have the best made hand.
- Example 2 – weak made hand
We hit top pair with on the flop. However, the flop makes a lot made hands or draws possible, which would then beat our top pair. So top pair hands are considered to be weak made hands.
- Example 3 – critical made hand
We raise pre-flop with and hit the king. However, with the there is an overcard on the flop. Our hand will often be beaten here and should therefore be considered "critical".
- Drawing hands
A hand that has little chance to win a showdown unimproved but has the potential to become stronger is called a draw. Typical examples are four cards to a straight or four cards to a flush. We distinguish between strong draws that have eight outs or more and weak draws with fewer outs.
- Example 4 – strong draw
We have raised on the button with . Now we hit a nut flush draw on a flop of , in addition we also have an overcard with the . If our opponent has hit a pair, we still have 12 outs. This draw should be considered as strong.
- Example 5 – weak draw
With we have no more than two overcards on a flop of . There are still 3 aces and 3 kings left in the deck. Thus, we have a total of 6 outs at best, and therefore a very weak draw.
- Trash hands
Trash hands are all combinations that are neither a made hand nor a drawing hand, meaning that they rarely have a chance to win a showdown. These hands should generally be folded or checked as this is what distinguishes a winning player from his opponents – he folds in unprofitable situations and dominates the game in profitable situations.
The ability to determine the real strength of a hand is the art of playing no-limit games with a big stack. Unfortunately, an article is not able to cover this skill in its entirety. Experience plays a much bigger role in this ability than pure theory.
4. The flop structure
a flop can be considered to be good for two reasons:
- We have made a strong hand as a result of the flop
- the flop probably hasn't improved our opponents' hands.
The tactics to be deployed here are clear: If we have a strong hand, we want to get paid off as well as possible. If the opponent probably hasn't hit anything, we will try to force him to fold. But when do we have a strong and, above all, safe hand, and on which flops is it very unlikely that an opponent has hit? In order to answer these questions, we need to take a closer look at the structure of the flop.
Dry flops are harmless combinations, i.e. they are barely coordinated, if at all. An example of a dry flop would be , as no strong draws are possible on this flop. These kinds of flops hit very few hands, meaning that opponents can often be forced out of the hand.
We speak of a draw-heavy flop, if it is very coordinated, i.e. it hits a lot of starting hands and makes a lot of draws possible. An example would be since this flop will hit a lot of starting hands such as , etc. and will also give every hand with a a flush draw and hands such as or a straight draw. Often enough opponents flop a made hand on such boards.
5. The size of the pot
We should always keep an eye on the size of the pot as it determines the minimum amount we should bet or whether we can profitably draw or not.
One basic rule should always be adhered to in this case: Big pots and big bets are for big hands. A lot of players make the mistake of trying to detect the opponents' big bluffs and end up paying big bets with small hands. It is also common that players make only small bets with big hands, thus only allowing a relatively small pot to be built up. This strategy is definitely one not to be followed. We want to get a big payout with our big hands!
6. The number of players in the hand
Not only the size of the pot, but also the number of players in the hand plays an important role. The following applies in general: The more players involved in a hand up to the showdown, the better the average hand that will win the pot in the end. The probability that somebody has hit increases along with the number of players in the hand, meaning that we need a stronger hand to stand a chance of winning. Correspondingly, heads-up requirements are lower than when we are up against a lot of opponents.
Here are two situations designed to provide an overview of flop play:
- We only called pre-flop (playing as pre-flop caller).
- We raised pre-flop (playing as pre-flop raiser).
Various concepts are used in both cases. First of all we shall look at the "unraised pots" situation, where players merely called pre-flop.
I. Playing as a pre-flop caller
If we and our opponents only called pre-flop instead of raising, we will see a cheap flop. If we have stuck to the pre-flop strategy, this will mean that we are holding a hand such as a pair of jacks or worse, or a speculative hand such as , , or similar. So with relatively weak hands we are trying to flop a monster in order to receive a big payout. In general we should stick to the following rule:
If we fail to hit any strong made hands or drawing hands in an unraised pot, we should never play for the entire stack.
The pot is generally too small and there are too many opponents. Both of these are factors that make this rule obligatory. It is not worth having the pot increase rapidly with a marginal made hand when the probability of one of the other opponents having a stronger hand is big in comparison.
Play in unraised pots is almost entirely based on the strength of our own hand.
- Made hands
If we have e.g. a small pair and hit a set on the flop, it will always be played or raised aggressively. Depending on the flop structure, the betting amounts should be within the region of half to the size of the pot or three times the amount bet by one of our opponents. If the flop is very coordinated and therefore makes a lot of draws possible, we should select a higher amount (especially against a number of opponents). But if the flop is very dry, betting half the pot should be sufficient to get money into the middle and to get paid by opponents with worse hands.
We can also often bet with weak made hands, such as top pair. This is generally done as a probe bet, and above all to be able to define the strength of our hand.
If we get raised by one of our opponents, we always have to decide how likely it is that a player has an even better hand. This decision should of course be based on the flop structure and potential reads, but above all on the pot odds. The worse the pot odds, the more we should tend to folding our hand, especially if it's not the nuts.
- Example 6 – Made hand in an unraised pot
According to our starting hand chart, we will limp in middle position with . The flop now brings us a set and it is checked to us. We therefore bet our strong made hand straight away.
In this situation we should always avoid slow play because otherwise the pot will remain small and we will be wasting money unnecessarily. Slow play can be a profitable tool, but not in this case. We want to win as much money from our opponents as possible and protect our hand from potential draws.
In certain exceptional cases we can also limit our losses should we have a worse hand than our opponent. This point is based on the block bet concept. Of course we should only invest money, if we are in a profitable situation.
- Drawing hands
If we have a draw on the flop, we should play it passively in most cases according to the rules of odds and outs. If we have the option of checking, then we should do so. If someone bets in front of us, we should merely call if we get the right odds.
- Example 7 – Drawing hand in an unraised pot
All of the players folded pre-flop. Only the small blind called, meaning that we can see a flop with . The flop is , thus gives us a gutshot. The small blind checks now and we do the same.
With strong draws, such as a nut flush draw, we can also play in a more aggressive manner. But this option obviously only makes sense if our opponents are able to fold hands and if we are in position. We therefore play a semi-bluff with a strong draw and now have a chance of winning the hand straight away, when all of the opponents fold or we hit our made hand in a later betting round.
The stronger the draw and the tighter the opponents, the more profitable is a semi-bluff.
- Trash hands
As a rule, all trash hands should be folded. Bluffing in unraised pots is usually not profitable.
Part II will look at the NLHE concepts that should be applied in "raised pot".