“Postf lop” in No Limit Hold’em refers to all decision-making that happens after the flop has been dealt. This definition helps to differentiate it from “preflop” play, which describes all action that takes place before any community cards are dealt.
As we might imagine, post flop play in No Limit Hold’em is a massive part of the game. It’s when most of the action happens, and where the most information is available to the players. To become an expert post flop player requires focused study and experience.
Although post flop mastery will take some time, it’s possible to jumpstart our post flop knowledge by considering some basic but essential strategy advice.
Here we will be considering our top 10 tips for playing post flop in No Limit Hold’em.
1. Estimate the ideal pot-size.
2. Utilize position effectively.
3. Consider effective stacks.
4. Understand basic drawing strategy.
5. Recognize villain weakness.
6. Recognize villain strength.
7. Value bet effectively.
8. Plan hands from the flop.
9. Incorporate stats/reads.
10. Cultivate a strong mindset.
TIP 1: ESTIMATE THE IDEAL POT-SIZE
This simple yet effective concept has been making poker players money for years.
Big Hands = Big pots
If it’s likely that we’ll have an ultra-strong hand by the river, we want to play for stacks. If it’s more probable that we will make a small or mid-strength made hand by the river, it’s preferable to keep the pot small or mid-sized.
Failure to follow this advice will result in the following -
1. Difficulty in extracting maximum value with premium holdings.
2. Losing too many chips with mid-strength holdings.
Next time we are on the flop, we should pause for a moment and think about which are the most likely hands we will make by the river. Checks and calls are effective at keeping the pot small, while bets and raises are effective at increasing the size of the pot.
Note that we don’t necessarily need a strong made hand to start building a pot, simply the potential to make one by the river. This scenario includes holdings such as nut flush-draws and even backdoor nut flush-draws. If hit, we’ll be thankful for the big pot.
It’s not a problem that our draws will often miss, we can consider using such hands as river bluffs. It’s actually easier to be in a big pot with air than with a mid-strength made hand.
TIP 2: UTILISE POSITION EFFECTIVELY
It should be no big secret that position is critical in poker. The player with position has more information at his disposal and can also more easily control the size of the pot (useful for tip 1). There is an adage in poker which goes as follows –
Out of Position = Out of the Action
Due to the overly general nature of such an adage, there is the high possibility of misinterpretation. For example, it has resulted in players attempting to follow ludicrously tight preflop defending strategies out of the blinds. The goal here is not to avoid playing out of position, but to have a realistic understanding or how it affects our strategic outlook when navigating post flop scenarios.
As a rough guide, we’ll be playing tighter when OOP (out of position) and folding more often. This is not to say we’ll be playing passively. We’ll be maintaining decent aggression levels when relevant but being more selective about the hands we choose to continue with.
Any holding which only just makes the cut while IP (in position) should often be discarded when OOP. As a general rule, it’s better to make a slightly tight fold OOP on the flop than attempt to “hang in there” and get destroyed on the turn and river.
TIP 3: CONSIDER EFFECTIVE STACKS
We usually want to decide early on in the hand whether we are “committed”. “Committed” in this context means to determine whether our hand is strong enough to warrant getting all of our chips in.
Commitment decisions need to be weighed up carefully against the effective stacks. This is precisely why it is impossible to answer very general post flop questions such as “Should I fold top-pair-top-kicker post flop?”. With shallower stack depths we should commit, while with deeper stacks we might be presented with folding opportunities.
Commitment decisions naturally depend on other variables also, but good players will get a feel for which hands can get all-in at which effective stack depths. For example -
Don’t fold top pair at 25bb effective stacks and below.
Don’t fold an overpair at 40bb effective stacks and below.
Don’t fold a set at 100bb effective stacks and below.
These are, of course, very rough guidelines, and absolutely don’t hold true in every scenario. We need to consider our opponent, his range, and the board texture. SPRs (stack-to-pot ratios) may also prove a more useful consideration than the effective stacks depending on the exact scenario.
Either way, it’s clear that a consideration of the effective stacks is paramount in finding the best post flop line.
TIP 4: UNEDERSTAND BASIC DRAWING STRATEGY
Playing draws well post flop is vital for our winrate. Despite this, the average player is often confused by draw strategy. It’s common to see the advice “always play draws aggressively”. But since the information is often not qualified accurately, it can lead to mistakes in scenarios where the advice clearly does not apply.
As a general guide, aggression with drawing hands is warranted. They make excellent semi-bluffs since even if our opponent doesn’t fold, we can still make our hand and benefit from a big payout. The fact that we’ve played our draws aggressively also means that there will be a larger pot to win (as mentioned in tip 1).
To complete a basic understanding of this, however, we need to understand when the advice of aggressively playing draws does not apply. Keep in mind, that a draw by definition is not usually the best hand. For example, if we hold an unpaired straight draw, then we will be an underdog against any pair that our opponent holds.
Why would we want to inflate the size of the pot given that we are almost definitely behind in terms of equity? Because of the possibility that our opponent folds. The promise of occasionally picking up the pot uncontested is the primary reason we elect to play our draws aggressively.
It’s logical to assume then that if our opponent was never (or extremely rarely) folding, it wouldn’t make sense for us to play our draws aggressively. We’d simply be investing chips into the pot while behind in this case.
Which kind of scenarios would we potentially not expect to generate any folds?
1. Our opponent is calling station.
2. Our opponent has a powerful range based on his actions.
The best strategy, in this case, is to play draws passively in accordance with our pot-odds and implied-odds. Only after we hit should we begin trying to inflate the pot as fast as possible.
TIP 5: RECOGNISE VILLAIN WEAKNESS
Tips 5 and 6 are both centred around putting our opponent on a range of holdings and responding appropriately. To help us explore the importance of this more fully, we have broken down the ranging process into two relevant categories.
Recognising villain strength and recognising villain weakness.
Even in very soft games, bluffing is more important than the average player might imagine. Of course, it’s extremely easy to bluff in the wrong spots and lose money, but careful identification of good bluffing opportunities can provide an excellent boost to our winrate.
The key lies in identifying scenarios where our opponent genuinely has a weak range. So, is there any easy shortcut? Absolutely, watch out for the following.
1. Any time our opponent checks twice.
2. Any time our opponent misses a continuation bet as the aggressor.
3. Any time our opponent just calls on a draw-y board texture.
Any time our opponent takes one of the above lines, we’ll usually find ourselves faced with an above-average bluffing opportunity. Many of these bluffing spots are so profitable that we don’t even need to have pot-equity, we can bluff with zero-equity garbage.
Regarding point 2, our opponent skipping his continuation bet could occur on any street, both IP and OOP. As a general rule, players who flop big tend towards firing a continuation bet. When called, they will typically proceed by firing the turn, and then the river.
Any deviation from this line is an indication that our opponent is not as strong as he’d like to be. Of course, sometimes players might take tricky lines as a slowplay, but the vast majority of the time a skipped cbet indicates weakness.
TIP 6: RECOGNISE VILLIAN STRENGTH
In some senses, recognising opponent strength is even more important than identifying opponent weakness in soft games. Seeing as the average poker player doesn’t bluff anywhere near enough, we can get away with making some extremely tight laydowns with made hands.
Against a strong opponent (who bluffs at a good frequency) we will need to occasionally bluff-catch when he is representing strength, but against weak opposition (who rarely bluff) we can get away with folding relentlessly.
There are specific lines which are bluffed even less frequently than others. If our opponent takes one of these lines, it’s a strong indication that he has a premium made hand and that we should be folding unless we also hold a premium.
Here is a list of the most common lines that represent strength -
- Any triple barrel, i.e. a bet on flop, turn, and river (not including min-bets etc.)
- Any river raise (2bet)
- Any turn raise (2bet)
- Any flop re-raise (3bet)
All of these lines represent significant strength and should be treated with extreme caution.
As a general guide, we can do the following -
1. Decide what villain’s weakest value hand might be when he takes such a line (hint: it will be a strong hand).
2. Fold anything that doesn’t at least beat the weakest holding in our opponent’s value-range.
The exception, of course, is good draws which, although behind, might get the right pot-odds/implied-odds to make the call. Re-raising with a draw when facing one of the above lines is not a great idea since it’s so unlikely that our opponent is folding.
Re-raising against lines that represent extreme strength is a common leak caused by misapplication of the “always play draws aggressively” advice.
There are other lines which should be treated with a decent measure of caution, but don’t always represent the same extreme level of strength.
- Preflop limp-raises - Very commonly Aces of Kings, but not limited to these hands according to analysis.
- Large 4bets - Preflop 4bets which are 3x (or more) the size of a 3bet are hardly ever a bluff. Having said that, recreational players can sometimes overplay their value-range.
- Flop raises (2bets) - This one really depends on the opponent. Sometimes they represent extreme strength, but more and more players are developing semi-bluff raising ranges on the flop in the modern era. Therefore, we can’t go around folding everything against a flop raise unless our opponent hardly ever raises flops.
TIP 7: VALUE BET EFFECTIVELY
It’s generally considered that the number one most important key to beating soft poker games is to make hands and be able to value-bet effectively.
Value-betting effectively involves the following -
1. Understanding how much value various holdings are worth.
2. Adjusting to specific opponents.
3. Adjusting to board runouts.
4. Avoiding slowplay (unless incentivised).
Let’s talk briefly about each of those points:
- Understanding how much value various holdings are worth. The colloquially used unit here is “streets of value”. Hands are typically either worth 1, 2 or 3 “streets of value”.
Here is the rough guide -
Top-Pair-Top-Kicker (TPTK) and better = 3 streets of value.
Top-Pair-Weak-Kicker (TPWK) and excellent 2nd pairs = 2 streets of value.
Weaker second pairs + some worse pairs = 1 street of value.
This guide is, naturally, extremely generic and must be carefully adjusted based on points 2 and 3.
- Adjusting to specific opponents.
A “street of value” usually refers to a regular sized bet, perhaps 60% pot. Excellent value-betting involves understanding when to bet larger or smaller than this, however. If we want our winrate to really skyrocket, we must be comfortable using both underbet (<40% pot) and overbet (>100% pot) sizings.
For example, when facing a calling station, we can clearly bet more than 60% of the pot on each street. Many players feel psychologically uncomfortable with betting larger than 100% pot, but a skilled value-better will choose any bet-size amount if he thinks that his opponent will still call.
- Adjusting to board runouts.
One issue with the guidelines in point 1 is that it makes use of absolute rather than relative hand strength. A holding such as TPTK might be extremely strong on some board runouts, but extremely weak on others. (Imagine holding TPTK on a board texture where there are already four cards to a flush and four cards to a straight). If we were to always try and fire three streets with TPTK, we’d almost certainly be overvaluing our hand in many situations. We’ll definitely need to fire fewer streets or use smaller bet-sizings if the situation calls for it.
Effective value-betting is not purely about value-betting aggressively; it’s also about making sure we don’t make bad value-bets which are too thin. As a rough guide, we should expect to be good over 50% of the time when betting the river and getting called. If we lose the majority of the time when getting called, this is often an indication that our value-bet is too thin.
- Avoiding slowplay (unless incentivised),
Novice players love to slowplay. Sometimes slowplaying can even result in us getting a huge payout. Despite this, slowplaying is usually not the best idea in the long run. In most soft games, the way we extract the most value with our big hands is to come out betting and raising, looking to build the pot as fast as possible.
Of course, sometimes slowplaying may actually be incentivised. Perhaps our opponent has a history of making huge bluffs on the turn and river if we check back the flop. Such situations are usually few and far between, however. As a rough guide, if we are not 100% certain that a situation calls for slowplay, it’s safer to assume that it doesn’t.
TIP 8: PLAN HANDS FROM THE FLOP
While not immediately apparent to the undiscerning eye, poker shares strong links with other strategy games such as chess. The best chess players always think many moves ahead, analysing how their actions on the current turn will influence the state of play in the future.
This fact is something that all skilled poker players take to heart, the need for planning ahead. Despite poker being a game of rich and intense strategy, the average poker player attempts to make all of his decisions on a street-by-street basis, never considering what influence his actions might have on future play.
Although effective planning takes significant practice, a good starting point is usually looking for backdoor equity on the flop.
Imagine the following -
To the untrained eye, it might appear that we’ve completely missed the flop. The truth is far from it, however. We actually hold a very decent collection of backdoor draws.
Think about the following question -
We fire a continuation bet on the flop. What should our plan be for firing the turn?
We should ask this type of question before betting any post flop street. If I bet this street, what is my plan for the next? Creating such plans require us to consider the different types of cards that might fall on the next street and how this will influence our gameplan.
Regarding the above example, we would likely make the decision to barrel the turn on any Queen, King, Eight, Seven, Diamond, Ten or Jack. Of course, whether we barrel all of these cards will depend on the exact situation, but the emphasis here is on proceeding to the next street only after generating a concrete plan.
Excellent players even know what their likely river lines will be (two streets ahead) before firing the flop.
TIP 9: INCORPORATE STATS/READS
Until we develop some playing history with our opponents, we won’t have any specific stats or reads. Once that history is in place, however, stats and reads quickly become the number one most important factor in any game of poker. We should be 100% ready to discard all of our default lines and strategies in favour of acting upon a definite read.
As an example, perhaps we never cbet garbage holdings on the flop, but we run into a player who folds 70% of the time to flop continuation bets. Our default strategy is no longer relevant to us, we’ll happily abandon that and fire all of our air holdings on the flop.
TIP 10: CULTIVATE A STRONG MINDSET
In reality, this is not entirely a post flop concept. Cultivating a healthy mindset is crucial to being a winning poker player, and the post flop streets naturally represent a huge part of poker.
There are many players out there who have a reasonable technical understanding of the game but are unlikely to succeed due to issues with their mental game. In the same way that athletes train their bodies for the rigours of physical competition, poker players must prepare their minds for competing at the tables.
We are mental athletes.
The importance of this is not to be diminished. One instance of severe “tilt” (playing while heavily affected by negative emotion) could be enough to destroy a player’s bankroll and leave them out of the game permanently.
Even minor incidents of tilt can be enough to prevent an otherwise decent player from making any money if these incidents are occurring on a semi-regular basis.
Even if our post flop game is lacking in some technical aspect, a strong mindset can often be enough to carry us into profit. There are some “good” players breaking-even right now due to mindset problems, while some “average” players are turning a small profit due to their excellent mental disposition.
POST FLOP SUMMARY
An exhaustive guide to post flop play would fill many books with thousands of pages or more. The road to mastery is a long one. Having said that, it is not necessary to be a master of post flop play to make significant money playing poker.
We merely need to understand post flop play better than our opponents. If we stick to the 10 pieces of advice listed above, we should be well along the way to doing this.