Texas Holdem Post Flop Play
Many Texas holdem poker books do a good job of explaining how to play profitably before the flop, but it's hard to find a good resource that teaches you how to play well after the flop.
We believe the reason for this is because playing strong poker post flop is hard.
While many players never learn how to play well pre flop, it can be learned by just about anyone. You have to focus on strong starting hand selection, table selection, position, odds, and your opponents.
But when the flop comes you enter a new area of potential profit and loss. Your goals are still the same after the flop as before, but it can be more difficult to determine the best course of action.
You want to make every decision based on how profitable it is in the long run. Is it more profitable to bet or check? Is it more profitable to play aggressively or slow down your play?
After the flop you have more information than beforehand. Not only do you know the identity of three of the board cards you also know how each of your opponents played before the flop and the odds your hand will improve and / or make a best hand.
This information increases with the turn and the river. You still end up working with incomplete information, but the more you learn the better your chances are to make profitable decisions.
With each extra bit of information you come closer to the best play, so don't miss anything during the hand.
Reading Your Opponent's Hands
The way to do this is to see how they play each hand before and after the flop and combine this with what you now about the player from past experience.
This can be somewhat easier with better players, but it's always easier to make money off poor players. Poor players make strange plays and play hands from positions that you never see a good player play.
We see poor players enter the pot from early position with middle suited connectors and suited aces with small kickers. Good Texas holdem poker players understand that these hands aren't profitable in the long run from early position.
In the interest of full disclosure, a few of the top poker players can play these hands from early position in some games for a long term profit, but if you're that good you're not reading this page. The main reason is because they know when to get away from a second or third best hand and how to maximize the few times they hit a big hand with these types of secondary starting hands.
If you enter the pot with an ace and a small kicker are you able to lay it down when you flop two pair and face an all in raise?
We're not saying the correct play is to always fold, but you have to be able to consider folding based on your opponent and her playing tendencies.
Poor players are harder to put on a specific hand, but they usually play their hands so badly that you can still show a long term profit against them by just playing solid straightforward poker.
As soon as an opponent enters the pot you need to start considering the range of possible starting hands they hold.
If they raise from early position they usually have a strong hand. The same is usually true from a raise in middle position, but they could also be trying to steal the button with a medium strength hand.
A limp from middle or late position is often a trap hand that needs to improve to win the hand. The same is often true from late position. A raise from late position could show strength or simply be trying to steal the blinds.
The hardest positions to read are the blinds in un-raised pots. They could have almost anything in a hand that they see for free or half a bet. Don't make the mistake of thinking they're weak just because they started the hand in the blinds.
As you gather more information you need to narrow the possible hands down as much as possible. The way your opponents act before the flop is combined with how they act on the flop, turn, and river to narrow their hand possibilities to the smallest range you can.
Here's an extended example of how you narrow a list of possible hands as the hand plays out.
An early position player raises and you call from late position. Everyone else at the table decides to fold. You know the player is fairly good and plays a tight game from early position.
This gives you a range of possible hands that include the following:
This is a fairly wide range of hands for a good player because the last three hands on the above list may or may not be realistic.
The flop comes down as the following.
Your opponent fires a bet into the pot after seeing the flop. At this time the bet doesn't mean much because it's probably a continuation bet. Good players know that if they raise before the flop it's profitable to bet after the flop because most players will miss the flop and a bet can win it without a further fight.
You decide to call, and then the turn is dealt.
This is where you should be able to get a strong feel for what your opponent holds. The ace on the flop was a scare card for any of the hands not including an ace. The kings and queens especially hate seeing an ace on the flop. But they're strong enough that they require more than a scare card to get them to fold. Good payers may still bet on the turn with pocket kings or queens, but the may check.
If they check at this point you can usually rule out any of the hands that include an ace. The only players good enough to check a hand with an ace in this situation are pro or semi pro players and they have to be good enough to realize that you're likely to bet here. Unless you're a pro and are playing at the top levels, if your opponent checks in this situation they don't have an ace.
If you're in this situation and hit a set of aces on the flop and you're playing against an aggressive opponent, check to them and then check raise them or flat call and check to them again on the river. An aggressive player will never check their hand down in this situation unless they completely missed their hand. Even when they miss they still might fire a bluff on the river.
At this point you need to decide what to do. Your opponent's reaction to your bet or check if they check will give you additional clues. If they bet and you call or raise it will force them to make another decision which will help you learn more about their hand.
In this example they check and you make a small bet. They call and the river card is a two.
Your opponent checks, you make a bet, and they call.
What hand or possible hands do you think they could turn over?
The way this hand played out the most likely hand is a pair of kings, but pocket queens are also possible.
If they had a hand with an ace they'd have played it more aggressively, and they probably would have folded a pair of jacks or tens.
Immediately Following the Flop
At this point in the hand you need to plan how the rest of the hand will play out. We always try to teach new players how to plan out every hand and consider every possibility before the hand starts.
As things happen throughout the hand you have fewer possibilities to consider. Don't let down at this point. Look at everything you've learned so far and look for the best ways to play every possibility moving forward.
Continuation bets are when the player who showed aggression before the flop by raising fires another bet on the flop. The important thing to remember about continuation bets is sometimes the player has a strong hand but sometimes the player missed the flop and is hoping to win it without having to play the rest of the hand.
The basic rule of thumb is you have to ignore continuation bets when you're deciding how to play the rest of the hand. They don't provide enough detailed information to make decisions based on them.
Of course you consider them for pot odds evaluations, but they don't help you read your opponent.
Should you make continuation bets when you raise pre flop?
Most of the time you should make a continuation bet, so the answer is yes. If your opponents are good enough to pay attention you need to alter your play from time to time so you can check occasionally on the flop after being aggressive pre flop, but most of the time the best play is to make a continuation bet whether you hit the flop or not.
Flops That Help You
Flops that help you fall into two categories. The first one is the flops that make your hand so strong that the odds of you losing are slim to none.
On these types of flops you need to consider the best way to make the pot as large as possible. If a large bet will be called you need to make a large bet. But against some opponents the best way to build the pot is to let them be the aggressor. You need to know as much about your opponents as possible to learn how to build big pots in these situations.
The other kind of flop that helps you is the one that improves your hand but leaves possibilities that an opponent can draw to a better hand.
On these kinds of flops you need to bet aggressively to force them to pay to draw to a better hand.
Dangerous flops in Texas holdem are those that either don't improve your hand or those that have a high chance of improving your opponents more than they improved your hand.
The way you choose to play dangerous flops depends somewhat on your opponent, but for the most part you need to proceed cautiously.
If you have a draw to a winning hand you need to check and call if the pot odds are correct. You should rarely bet into a dangerous flop. You should every once in a great while to vary your play but for the most part proceed with caution.
On the turn you only have one more card, but at this point you have seen 80% of the board and should know exactly where you are in the hand. When you're ahead you need to continue building the pot and if you're drawing you need to make sure the pot odds are still favorable before committing any more money to the pot.
If you plan to make a bluff on the river you need to consider how best to set it up on the turn. If you check the turn it rarely is believable when you make a bluff on the river unless a scare card lands. A scare card is one that looks like it could complete a flush or straight.
The river usually plays itself. You either have the best hand or you don't. If you have the best hand you determine how much your opponent will likely call and if you don't have the best hand you either check and fold or try a bluff.
The trouble hands are the ones when you have a decent hand but aren't sure what your opponent holds. These are the hands that often separate the winners from the losers. Everyone makes mistakes on these hands sometimes, but the best players get it right more often than not.
If you've done a good job of putting your opponent on a narrow range of hands it helps, but here are a few general guidelines to help you play the river in unknown situations.
- Just like in most aspects of Texas holdem, it's usually beneficial to be aggressive.
- An over bet is usually a bluff, but sometimes it's still too much to call.
- Bluffs are more about the players involved than the cards.
- You should bluff less than you do now. Almost every player bluffs too much.
- NEVER show your cards unless you have to.
- Practice is one of the few things that improve your play on the river.
Winning the Battle but Losing the War
A huge leak in most losing player's Texas holdem game is focusing too much on winning hands instead of winning money.
We realize at first glance it may seem like the two go hand in hand, but the truth is that you can easily win more hands and lose money while doing so. How much does it cost when you lose a big pot in comparison to how much you win in two or three small pots?
When this gets especially costly is when you refuse to stop chasing pots where you're losing. Many players seem to think they can bet their way out of bad situations, even when they should be folding.
Don't latch onto hands and feel like you have to try to win them no matter what. Focus on the hands you can win by maximizing your value in them. At the same time look for ways to save money in other pots so you have more to invest in the pot when you're winning.
The reason we include this information in the post flop page is because by the time you see the flop you should have enough information about your possible hands and your remaining opponents to get a strong idea of where you stand in the hand.
Of course the pot may offer odds that make it profitable to keep playing even if you aren't winning yet, but if you don't have a good chance to win the hand or a profitable draw you need to start looking for ways to get out of the hand.
If no one seems to want to claim the pot you can occasionally fire a bet, but if anyone calls you need to check and fold.
Don't win the battle but lose site of the war. Each hand is a battle but your overall profitability is the war. Sometimes you have to retreat, or fold a losing hand, in order to reserve your resources for the war.
Post flop play in Texas holdem is a challenging thing to master, but if you're willing to practice you can improve over time. Remember the keys discussed above including how to read your opponent's possible hands and how to visualize the rest of the hand and you'll be ahead of most players.