With the possible exception of pre-flop, the flop is the most crucial point during a hand of no-limit holdem poker. The flop is when you have enough information at your disposal and it is when you typically make the most important decision of the hand. If you decide to continue the hand on the flop you had better have a plan. Are you floating, are you planning to go to a showdown, is your hand so strong that your only concern is how to maximize value?
This is our list of the top five tips for improving your play on the flop. Learning when to let go and when to apply pressure on the flop is essential. These tips apply primarily to no-limit holdem cash games although there will still be useful information for other forms of poker.
Top 5 Flop Tips
1. Continuation Bet Often
This tip should basically be read as ‘continuation bet always.’ If you are the aggressor pre-flop, and you have a single caller going in to the flop, you should fire a continuation bet at the flop at least 90% of the time. If you try to get tricky and start checking back when you hit a monster flop, you will be an open book for anyone paying attention. Continuation betting (also called c-betting) is will make you plenty of money and keep you unreadable in the process.
Two exceptions to the rule, you should c-bet less often (although still frequently) vs. calling stations. And you may want to occasionally check back on very wet flops.
Calling stations are free money. They will happily look you up the majority of the time. Additionally, these players are usually bad enough that you don’t need to disguise your hand strength against them. For these reasons you should almost always play strictly for value when you are in the pot against a calling station.
On very wet flops, that is to say on draw heavy boards with a couple of broadway cards, you can safely decline to c-bet some percentage of the time. You still want to c-bet more often than not. But your opponents are looking to see a flop with a couple of decent cards and very wet boards often hit their range.
2. Rarely Slow Play
We’ve already mentioned that slow playing on the flop may make you predictable. Another good reason to rarely slow play your monster hands is that each time you make a bet; you are more than doubling the size of the eventual pot you will win. In a heads up $100 NLHE pot where you miss a bet on the flop, you can expect to win a pot of about $40 if your opponent calls on the turn and river. If you make a bet on the flop, and your opponent calls the flop, turn and river, the pot size will balloon to $100!
Occasionally, it is correct to slow play the flop however. If you are out of position and your opponent c-bets often, you can put in a check raise on the flop. Your opponent may decide to float your check raise to see if you are check-raise bluffing and you can then win a huge pot. If you think your opponent is unlikely to float you here, instead call and check-raise on the turn.
3. Know When to Let it Go
If you hit top pair queens w/ AQ and some raises you after you lead into a multi-way pot, your hand may not be any good despite its apparent strength. Go through your progression, what is my impression of this player, what is my image, is this player strong enough to make a move on a multi-way pot; and then fold if your opponent isn’t capable of bluffing in this spot or if you know him to be conservative. Most opponents aren’t capable of making a move on a multi-way pot at lower limits.
If you have KK and an ace comes down, don’t try to convince yourself your opponent is holding QQ.
More than anything, it is important to realize the strength of your opposition on the whole. It is no big deal to get away from a few trouble hands post-flop (even if you might be ahead) because in the long run your opponents are going to make it easy for you to take their money. This is true of basically all NLHE cash games up to about $50 to $100 NL.
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4. Position, Position, Position
If you are in position, you can exploit your opponent’s tendencies MUCH more profitably. You can look to float, bluff-raise on the spot, or extract value much easier when you have position on the flop.
The float play is a more advanced holdem play, although I expect many readers of this site are probably familiar with floating. For tips on what a float is, who to float against, and how to float; check out this excellent video from poker pro Isaac Haxton.
One of the best ways to improve your play on the flop is to experiment in position. Take a chance on an experimental line a couple times each session and see how things work out.
5. Develop a Plan for the Hand
The flop is the perfect time and place for you to figure out what your best course of action is for the rest of the hand. You should know before you bet on the flop how you will react if your opponent raises. If you are in position, what is your plan for the turn if your opponent calls the flop and then checks the turn. Will you barrel again? Perhaps you will choose to fire a second barrel if an overcard comes down.
Be flexible, it is perfectly acceptable to adjust your plan as needed. However, it is good practice to think through several possible scenarios on the flop and what each might mean for your opponent’s hand strength and mindset.