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
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
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
Key Point: In order to play at the top levels of Texas holdem
you need to learn how to put your opponent’s on a range of hand
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
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
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
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
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
This gives you a range of possible hands that include the
Pair of aces
Ace king suited
Ace king off-suit
Pair of kings
Pair of queens
Pair of jacks
Ace queen suited
Pair of tens
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
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
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
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.
Think through each hand as it’s happening this same
way and keep looking for ways to improve your hand reading
skills. Only practice and study of your opponents will make you
better at this important skill.
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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