The key to winning poker games often lies in how you play after the flop, but how do you know which hands are worth playing?
|Playing after the flop is the key to real poker prowess and profit. So a successful player has to be confident in his reads
Everyone knows poker is a game that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. The main reason for this dichotomy is the fact that you start out with only two cards, but then have to estimate their value combined with the flop, turn and river, where the possibilities are myriad and keep altering (see Hand combinations box, right).
That’s why playing after the flop is the key to real poker prowess and profit. So a successful player has to be confident in his reads – and know when he’s putting himself in too much danger. This type of skill doesn’t come easily, so a good place to start is to get a feel for the possibilities that lie in a given hand of poker. After all, you need to be able to see the whole of a map to understand where you’re situated on it. To this end, we’re going to run through the rankings of poker hands, but with some guidance on how strong you can expect each hand to be in certain situations.
This isn’t much of a hand; indeed, it’s no hand at all in a multi-way pot. Remember that it may still be a winning hand at the river in a heads-up pot if there’s little action after the flop – and be prepared to pick off a likely bluff. Nevertheless, don’t take much heat with this one.
Depending on the quality of the pair and kicker, as well as the texture of the board, a top-pair hand is often a winner on the flop but is often behind by the time the river comes. Bet strongly early on to find out where you stand, but be prepared to release if your hand is weak and someone plays you back on a flop with few draws, or if many players are still in and the betting heats up. If you have A-K on a flop, such as A-10-2 off-suit, though, your hand is very strong, so be prepared to go all-in with it if the blinds are high in a tournament.
In a deep-stacked cash game or tournament, beware of experienced players, as this is a classic way of losing all your chips, usually to a set or two pair.
Flopping two pair when you didn’t start with one in the hole makes for a very strong and deceptive holding, but you can still be in danger by the river because of straight, flush and better two-pair possibilities. Also, if the board pairs with a card you don’t have, a low two-pair can be ruined. Try to balance getting the most for the hand with turning the heat up before the board gets too dangerous.
Flopping trips from a pair in the hole is a deceptive, powerhouse hand, and one that’s rarely beaten on the flop. However, as with two pair, you need to get the most for it as quickly as possible, as straight and flush possibilities can still ruin it. Trips over trips is rare, but is a realistic worry in a deep cash game. Making trips from a pair on the board is also a strong hand (although bear in mind your kicker if the action gets big), but, as it’s so obvious, it’s harder to profit from, so you should just try to milk whatever you can.
A well-disguised straight can be a goldmine (for example, you have 9-7 and the board comes 8, J, 6, 5), but it suffers from being vulnerable to flushes and full houses. The best plan is to make the most of it before the board pairs or flushes, or be prepared to play it more modestly and lose a little value. Obvious straights – let’s say you have A-10 and the board comes 6, 7, 8, 9 – are of little value unless you’re an aggressive bluffing player who can make it look like you’re just trying to buy the pot.
A strong hand, but one that lacks disguise unless the flush comes backdoor. Let’s say you have A♠-7♠ and the board comes 10♠, 8♣, 4♥, J♠, 2♠, and again benefits aggressive players who may just be bluffing. Four flushes on the board are likely to have hit someone, and so are similar to four straights, but the rank of the suited card will determine who wins. If you don’t have the Ace, play it passively and be prepared to check and call on the river in situations where you have a good chance of being ahead.
A virtually impregnable hand, and ideal for slow play, as higher hands are unlikely, and you need to let more cards come for your opponents to make a good second-best hand. The only time you need to be cautious is when the stacks are very deep and bigger houses are possible: judge it wrong and you could have an early night.
Virtually unbeatable. Tales of quads losing to bigger quads or a straight flush are as likely as an A-lister doing a reality TV show. Sadly, it’s often also difficult to get paid with quads, as you have the board strangled. So give your opponents as many opportunities as possible to make a hand and try to squeeze them for whatever you can get.
Unless you’ve somehow managed to walk into a scene from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank with a straight flush. The only problem will be finding a mug to call you down!