It’s something most of us do hundreds, even thousands of times a day: decide how we want to continue with a hand. The information in a given hand is massively clarified from where it stood pre-flop. It’s a huge turning point and one of the most important decision points in tournament poker. Do we c-bet or not? If so, what size? What’s the board like and what can the turn and river hold for us?
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive guide on things to consider, but it will list a lot of the factors in play. Most of you already know these things, but I think it helps to clarify, even if just to refresh it in our mind.
We need to start thinking about how the flop came to be! Pre-flop is the baseline for how we are going to proceed. We need to note our and our opponent’s action pre-flop and their associated sizing.
One of the most overlooked pieces of information on later streets is what position our opponent raised from pre-flop. I used to always screw that up, putting my opponent on enough straight draws only to realize later that they just don’t have 6-5 suited after raising from under the gun (most don’t.)
Once we get to the flop, we gather the information we need. We automatically think about our actual hand in relation to all of the other hands in its absolute value. How can our hand improve? How can the board get worse for our hand? What is the pot and what position are we in at the table? How many chips do we have? What was the action pre-flop? Level 1 gathering of our hand info.
Next, we have to think about our opponent’s information. This is Level 2 and where poker begins to be fun. What is their stack and what is their range of hands considering their play before the flop? What is their position and what are they like as a player?
After we have the necessary information about our decision, we have to compute that information into a decision. This is where the “feel” player’s expertise ends. Let’s say we are deciding whether to continuation bet. If we decide to bet, is our opponent likely to raise?
With what parts of their range of hands are they going to call and fold with? How does this benefit us as a player? Does sizing it differently affect our opponent’s potential decisions? If we check, how often do they bluff later on in the hand? Do we have a hand strong enough to slow play? Are they likely to improve on a lot of turn cards or is the board such that they won’t?
It’s important to note that these ways of thinking about flop decisions are all based around an exploitative strategy. That is, a strategy that tries to maximize our profit against our opponent’s leaks.
If we are facing someone really good, we may want to take a non-exploitative style. Continuation bet 45% with all of our hands all of the time (given a certain board texture). Check 20% of hands randomly and bet 80% of hands two-thirds of the pot size. This would be so that our opponent can’t catch on to what we are doing, but this style should only be saved for strong-thinking opponents. Even a lot of pros won’t adjust to your exploitative style on the fly.
If necessary, we can go deeper and think about what they think about us, maybe even what they think we think about them and how that affects their game plan. We can consider range versus range instead of hand versus range (a whole different article I’m not qualified to write). It’s a never-ending rabbit hole and it goes as deep as your opponent wants it to go.
Hopefully you don’t come away from this article more confused about flop decisions. Most of the time, it really is just Level 1 and Level 2 thinking: “They probably don’t hit this flop very often, so I’m going to put out a small c-bet and over the long-run profit at a good rate here.”
This should be common thinking. That said, maybe I opened some doors to intricacies you can use next time a spot is close or tricky. Thanks for reading and if you don’t mind, comment below with some of the things you think about on the flop that I missed.