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StrategyNo Limit

After the Flop: No One Has Initiative

Introduction

In this article we will cover...
  • why you should never play a made hand passively after the flop
  • why you need a strong hand to play for a big pot
  • why you should never bluff on the river

Whenever a player raises before the flop, that player has initiative going into the next round of betting - a strong advantage. It is often the case, however, that no one chooses to raise before the flop is revealed. This article will teach you how to play when no one shows aggression before the flop.

You can expect to find a wide variety of hands on an unraised flop. Players are often looking to see a cheap flop with weak hands, such as suited hole cards.

The Big Blind can have any combination of cards, since he can simply check to see the flop and has no reason to fold.

Usually several players are involved in such hands. Once the first player limps in, others tend to follow the lead for a cheap look at the flop.

You will usually be facing several opponents with a wide range of possible hands, none of whom have initiative. The most important reason why you need a strategy for unraised pots is the size of the pot. Since there was no raise, the pot is significantly smaller.

EXAMPLE 1 - WITH A RAISE
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You raise to $1.50
  • BU, SB and BB fold
  • UTG1 and MP1 call $1.25
Pot Size: $4.85.
EXAMPLE 2 - WITHOUT A RAISE
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • BU and SB fold
  •  BB checks
Pot Size: $1.10.

As you can see, the pot in the first example is more than 4 times as large as the pot in the second example. The size of your stack in relation to the pot is different, as well. Whereas you have app. 5 times the pot size left in your stack in the first example, you have app. 22 times the size of the pot left in your stack in the second.

It should be obvious enough that you need a different strategy in the two example hands. You need a very good reason to increase the size of an unraised pot. You've only invested a minimal amount of your chips, the only reason why you should risk more: you have a good hand.

There's an old rule in poker: Never go broke in an unraised pot. It may only be a rule of thumb, but the point is clear enough: You need a very strong hand before you turn a small investment into a big one.

This article will explain why this is and which hands you can play when no one raises before the flop. This article will often refer to material found in the articles on the mathematics of poker, so it is important to read those articles before continuing to read this one.

Go to this article: Mathematics of Poker - Odds and Outs

Go to this article: Mathematics of Poker - Implied Pot Odds

In the next section we will take a look at the following: how an unraised pot develops, what kind of hand you need to get involved in the pot, and what you are hoping to hit.

DOWNLOADS

The starting hand chart as PDF file

The odds chart as PDF file

What kind of hand are you looking to hit?

There are two ways to see an unraised flop. Either you are the Big Blind and simply check, or you limp in and no one else raises. A lot of players limp in from all possible positions, regardless if another opponent has also limped in or not. Such players have a very wide range of hands and could be holding any two cards.

You, on the other hand, only limp in with the right hand and from the right position:

  • Either you are the Big Blind and check with every hand other than TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA or AK, in which case you raise.
  • Or, you invest from another position and limp in.

You should only limp in with cards that can be played well in an unraised pot, in other words, with speculative hands, such as a small pair, an ace with a low, suited kicker, suited connectors and face cards.

As you can see in the Starting Hands Chart, you never limp in from early position. Whenever you play from early position you raise. You already know the reasons why: Playing without initiative and without position can get hairy and is often a good way to lose money.

You will usually only limp in with small pairs when everyone in front of you folds, since you can still call a small raise behind you with such a hand. If you hit your set you'll probably take down the pot, if not you can easily fold. It's not worth it to limp in with other cards and call a raise behind you. You won't hit often enough to justify your investment.

You can only limp in with the other hands we've mentioned when at least one other opponent has already limped in ahead of you. This increases the probability of getting paid off should you make your hand.

So what are you looking to hit? In general you are hoping to hit a set or to have a straight and/or flush draw after the flop. In order to play for an unraised pot you need a hand good enough to play for a large pot with - three-of-a-kind, straight, flush and, sometimes, two pair.

If you don't hit such a hand you can easily get out of the way as soon as somone bets. Borderline hands, such as top pair, can be played with caution, but we will say more to that later.

EXAMPLE 3 - A SMALL PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP1
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (2): BB, BU - Pot: $0.85
 

In this example you have a small pair. Pairs are the only hand with which you are the first to limp into the pot. We already mentioned why: you can still call a small raise behind you and see if you hit a set. You will know whether or not you want to continue to play as soon as you see the flop.

This isn't the case with other hands, such as suited cards that could turn into a flush draw. First of all, you're less likely to make your hand and secondly, you often end up playing a draw and investing heavily.

EXAMPLE 4 - SUITED CONNECTORS
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3  fold
  • MP1 and you call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): MP1, You, BB, BU - Pot: $1.10
 
EXAMPLE 5- SUITED HIGH CARDS
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 folds
  • UTG3 calls $0.25
  • MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG3, BU - Pot: $1.35
 

As you can see in the examples, you can limp in with speculative hands like suited connectors (56s) or two high suited cards as long as at least one other opponent has entered the hand and you are in middle position or later.

EXAMPLE 6 - ACE WITH A LOW, SUITED KICKER
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
 

You can limp in with an ace and a low, suited kicker from late position. You're speculating more on a flush/flush draw than on a pair of aces. If you do hit an ace on the flop you could get into kicker trouble and easily lose a lot of money with your top pair to a better ace.

How strong is your hand?

The strength of your hand depends on more than just the cards themselves. You can't just say: Since I have a straight, I'm going all-in.

There are many factors that influence the strength of your hand. Here are the most important:

  • The cards themselves.
  • The number of opponents involved in the hand. The more opponents you face, the stronger your hand must be.
  • Your position. How many opponents do you have ahead of/behind you? It's always better to have the least number of opponents behind you as possible.
  • How are your opponents playing? If the rock suddenly gets aggressive on the flop you can fold your pair without hesitation.

The first point deals with the absolute strength of your hand. Your hand will fall into one of the following categories once the flop has been revealed:

  • Worthless hands
  • Weak draws
  • Strong draws
  • Medium made hands
  • Strong made hands
1. Worthless hands

Hands that are not made and do not have any drawing potential fall into this category.

Either you completely missed the flop or you have a weak hand, like middle pair. These are hands you will almost always fold as soon as an opponent shows aggression.

EXAMPLE 7 - A COMPLETELY WORTHLESS HAND
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1 folds
  • UTG calls $0.25
  • UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • MP2 calls $0.25
  • MP3 calls $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (5): You, UTG2, MP2, MP3, BU - Pot: $1.10
 

This is a fairly obvious example of a worthless hand. The hand was and is garbage with grim perspectives. As soon as someone bets, you fold.

EXAMPLE 8 - A VERY WEAK HAND
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
 

In this example you do have a pair, but that's all you have. Every T and every J have you beat. Opponents who don't have you beat yet still have plenty of chances to catch a higher card.

You on the other hand can only get help from the two 4s left in the deck. The chances of one of them showing up in the community are slim. There's no reason to continue to invest in the hand.

EXAMPLE 9 - SLIGHT POTENTIAL
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
 

This hand isn't much better than the last one, but your cards do have some potential. You now have 5 outs (2 fives and 3 sixes) instead of just 2. You might even end up with a flush draw on the turn, though this does not greatly increase your chances.

Overall you have more chances at bettering your hand than in the last example, but this is still a weak hand and you will generally have to fold to any aggression.

2. Weak draws

Weak draws are hands that are not made, but have some potential to get better. There is a thin border between weak draws and worthless hands. A small pair is relatively worthless on the one hand, but also a weak draw on the other, as it can get better. This, however, is very unlikely.

Gutshot draws, bottom and middle pair, and overcards fall into this category. In general, it is not profitable to play these draws. Let's look at a few examples:

EXAMPLE 10 - A BORDERLINE CASE
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
 

You may remember this example from the section on worthless hands. This hand is on the border between worthless hands and weak draws.

What makes this a borderline case? There are 5 cards that can help this hand, two that would make three-of-a-kind, a strong made hand, and three that would make a relatively weak two pair.

This hand does have chances and could even win a showdown, but all in all, the potential isn't high. You would have better chances in the next example.

EXAMPLE 11- GUTSHOT DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the SB
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO and BU fold
  • You call $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.00
 

There are only four cards, the kings, that help you in this example. However, if you do hit you can be certain that you have the best possible hand, the nuts. A draw for the nut straight obviously worth more than a straight draw.

This is why you have to be careful with straight draws. If you aren't drawing for the highest possible straight, your opponent might be. The card that helps you can also be your demise.

You should play these hands cautiously; it's likely that you will either win a small pot or lose a big one.

EXAMPLE 12 - A COMPLETELY WORTHLESS HAND
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, MP1, MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, UTG3 - Pot: $0.85
 

While any 8 would give you a straight, any opponent with a J would have you beat. It is also unlikely that you will get paid off, even if you do have the best hand, as your opponents clearly see that anyone with a 6 or J would have a straight. You could also be facing a flush draw and end up behind at the showdown.

EXAMPLE 13 - SEVERAL WEAK DRAWS
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
 

Here you have six overcard outs for top pair, any spade would give you a flush draw, a 9 or an A a gutshot draw, and a J an OESD. This isn't the strongest draw, but there are several cards that can help. Depending on the situation at hand you can call a small raise with this hand.

3. Strong draws

This is where things start to get interesting. You can stay on the safe side by folding the types of hands we've already covered on the flop. A strong draw, on the other hand, requires more attention.

A strong draw is a hand that can't win a showdown, but has very good chances of turning into a strong hand. Flush draws and OESDs, along with so-called combo draws, fall into this category. A combo draw is a draw that can hit in several ways, for example, a pair and a flush draw, or an OESD and flush draw.

Strong draws are good, but that doesn't mean you should play them at all costs. You will learn how to continue to play a strong draw later.

EXAMPLE 14 - OESD
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, BU - Pot: $1.10
 

A classic example of a strong draw is an OESD on a rainbow flop (a flop consisting of three differently suited cards). You have 8 outs for the best possible straight, a nice situation to be in.

If you weren't drawing for the best possible straight, or if the flop showed suited cards, you would have to devaluate the strength of your hand.

EXAMPLE 15 - A WORTHLESS OESD
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, BU - Pot: $1.10
 

In this example you have an OESD, but it is not as strong as in the previous example for two reasons:

  • A flush draw is possible.
  • You are only using one hole card and are not drawing for the best possible straight.

You are on the so-called idiot's end of the straight, meaning your hand only connects to the lower end of the straight draw. If the turn shows a 7 and you go directly all-in with your straight, you would be making a stupid, negligent mistake. Any 8 would have you beat.

Your OESD isn't worth much on this board and your hand is relatively worthless.

EXAMPLE 16 - FLUSH DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, BU - Pot: $1.10
 

A flush draw is always a nice hand, provided you are using both of your hole cards. A better flush draw by an opponent is theoretically possible, but not very likely. If another heart shows up on the turn you can safely assume you have the best hand.

EXAMPLE 17 - A WORTHLESS FLUSH DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, BU - Pot: $1.10
 

This example shows the flip side of the coin. This flush draw is worthless for the following reasons: you are only using one of your hole cards; every club higher than your 8 gives an opponent a better flush draw; and, with three opponents still in the hand, it is likely that one of them has a better flush draw.

EXAMPLE 18 - A PAIR IN THE FLOP
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 folds
  • UTG2 and UTG3 call $0.25
  • MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO, BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG2, UTG3 - Pot: $1.10
 

You should always be cautious when a pair turns up on the board. A paired board puts you in danger of facing a full house or trips that can turn into a full house.

Flush draws and straight draws depreciate in value on paired boards, especially when several opponents are still in the hand.

The straight draw in this example is also weak for the following reasons:

  • You aren't drawing for the best possible straight. A ten would not necessarily give you the best hand.
  • A flush draw is possible, which leaves you with only 6 discounted outs. Furthermore, your outs could also be the same cards an opponent needs to turn his trips into a full house.

All in all this hand presents a weak draw and you should be very cautious if you choose to stay in the hand.

EXAMPLE 19 - A MONSTER DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 folds
  • UTG2 calls $0.25
  • UTG3 folds
  • MP1 and you call $0.25
  • MP3 folds
  • CO calls $0.25
  • BU folds
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (6): You, SB, BB, UTG2, MP1, CO - Pot: $1.50
 

We'll conclude with an example of a true monster draw. Here you have a flush draw and an OESD. This gives you a total of 15 outs - it doesn't get much better than this.

4. Medium made hands

Against several opponents, middle pair is a worthless hand. Against a few, however, it can be counted as a medium made hand.

You will usually find top pairs with strong kickers, like K or Q, in multiway pots. You will hardly ever have an overpair after limping in with a pocket pair.

These hands are strong enough for an investment, but you will usually have to give them up if an opponent decides to stay in the hand - and especially if he gets aggressive.

EXAMPLE 20 - A VULNERABLE TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP1
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO, BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $0.85
 

Here you have a strong, but vulnerable hand. You will usually be ahead, but should proceed with caution. In an unraised pot you could be facing any two cards from the BB. 22, JT or T2 would already have you beat.

EXAMPLE 21 - A SMALL OVERPAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG2, BU - Pot: $1.35
 

Here we see another strong, but very vulnerable hand. There are a lot of turn cards that could rob you of your overpair. You could also be facing a flush and/or straight draw.

You could even already be behind and facing a completed straight, two pair, a set, or an opponent could have limped in with a higher overpair.

There's no reason to immediately lose interest in the hand, but if an opponent shows aggression, especially if several opponents are involved in the hand, you should get out of the way. You are probably either already behind or facing a strong draw.

This is a dangerous board in a multiway pot. Even a higher pocket pair wouldn't put you in a great position. The opposite is the case when only a few opponents are in the hand. You could then count this as a strong made hand, which we will cover later in this article.

EXAMPLE 22 - BOTTOM TWO PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB check
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG2, BU - Pot: $1.35
 

The same applies for this hand. It is possible that you have the best hand at the moment, but there are a number of cards that could break your back on the turn or river. Be cautious when playing bottom two pair on this board, especially when several opponents are involved in the hand.

This hand isn't as strong as it appears. Any opponent with an 8 can catch a better two pair. You aren't necessarily ahead and can easily still get beaten.

5. Strong made hands

The last category is made up of strong made hands. This category contains everything from a strong two pair to a Royal Flush.

EXAMPLE 23 - TOP TWO PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • MP3 and CO call $0.25
  • BU and SB fold
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, MP3, CO - Pot: $0.85
 

This time you have two pair consisting of your hole cards and the two highest community cards. This is called top two pair and is much stronger than bottom two pair.

Right now there are only three hands that have you beat, pocket kings, fives and twos. It is very likely that you do indeed have the best hand. However, several draws are possible. The possible flush draw and OESD (43) are dangerous.

Your top priority should be protecting your hand by betting and making the turn card too expensive for your opponents to see.

EXAMPLE 24 - THREE-OF-A-KIND
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1 and UTG2 fold
  • UTG3 and MP1 call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO, BU and SB fold
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, UTG3, MP1 - Pot: $0.85
 

Three-of-a-kind, in this example trips, is a strong hand. The only hands that have you beat: the last 4 with a better kicker (J,K,A) or a full house (QQ or Q4).

A flush draw is possible, however, and seeing another Q would be disappointing. The last thing you should do in such a standard situation is to open a bag of magic tricks and hope your opponent will fall into a trap. You're best off with an aggressive bet, especially if several opponents are still in the hand.

What influence do your opponents have?

Aside from your cards themselves, you should always pay attention to your opponents and their actions.

The following factors will influence your decision making:

  • The number of opponents in the hand.
  • Your position.
  • Your opponents' play.

Remember this rule: The more opponents you are facing, the stronger your hand must be. Top pair with a medium kicker is good against a single opponent, but it will rarely win the showdown against four or more opponents.

Your position also plays a crucial role. How many opponents do you have ahead of you? How many might raise behind you?

You already know that playing in position is always much more profitable than playing out of position. This holds true for unraised pots, as well.

It's often better to fold a marginal hand than to play it out of position.

And last but not least, you should always pay attention to your opponents' actions. This doesn't mean trying to get extraordinary reads on them, for example, that they have a monster hand when they wait 1.3 seconds to raise. The questions to ask are relatively banal, but the answers are decisive for your play:

  • How easily can he lay his hand down against a raise?
  • How often will he try to bluff you off your hand in later betting rounds?
  • If he doesn't fold on the flop, when does he?

You can play more loosely against players that can easily be brought to fold. You can often win small pots with mediocre cards and a bet.

You have to play more tightly against players who like to call. When you do have a strong made hand, though, you can make more profit, since they don't like to fold and often call on the flop, turn and river.

EXAMPLE 25 - TOP PAIR, RAISE FROM AN OPPONENT
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1 and UTG2 fold
  • UTG3 calls $0.25
  • MP1 and MP2 fold
  • MP3 calls $0.25
  • CO, BU and SB fold
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, UTG3, MP3 - Pot: $0.85
  • You bet $0.55
  • UTG3 raises to $2
  • MP3 folds

This is not a simple situation. However, it's almost always better to get out of the way and fold.

There are a lot of cards you don't want to see on the turn (A, T, 8, 5, 3 and any heart), should you call. You are guaranteed to be facing a very tough decision later in the hand.

Reraising would be over the top - your hand just isn't strong enough. It's also quite possible that you're already beat. It's unfortunate, but folding is the best decision to make in this example.

How do you play after the flop?

Now that you're familiar with the basics and know what to pay attention to we can move to the more concrete strategy and answer the question: What do you do with a given hand on a given flop against given opponents?

You've already seen the categories which give you a basic guideline to follow. Remember: Never play a made hand passively on the flop. Don't set traps and don't call bets with a mediocre made hand. Just play straightforwardly.

The only exception to this rule is made when the SB bets. If he doesn't and you have a made hand, you have two choices: Bet or fold.

You don't want to check and then call a bet behind you. You will have no idea where you're at with your hand and will not be able to control the hand or the size of the pot.

Since bluffs on unraised pots are rare, you can be in two possible situations with your made hand:

  • You are ahead. Protect your hand and try to get money out of weaker opponents.
  • You are behind. Fold - your chances of winning are not high and won't get much better.
Worthless hands

You can give up all hands in this category without hesitation. It's simply not worth investing another BB into such a hand.

EXAMPLE 26- A SMALL PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 folds
  • UTG3 calls $0.25
  • MP1, MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, UTG3 - Pot: $1.10
  • BB bets $0.50
  • UTG calls $0.50
  • You fold

In this example you only have 2 outs. Your hand is trash and it's a waste of money to keep investing in it.

EXAMPLE 27 - A MIDDLE PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1, MP2 and MP3 fold
  • CO calls $0.25
  • BU folds
  • SB calls $0.15
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (5): You, SB, UTG1, UTG2, CO - Pot: $1.25
  • SB and you check
  • UTG1 bets $1
  • UTG2 calls $1
  • CO, SB and you fold

This time you have a stronger hand. You have middle pair and four outs for a better hand. There are, however, flush and straight draws showing, and someone could have a pair of aces, since poor players tend to play any hand with an ace.

If there are four or more opponents still in the hand it's probably a lost cause to continue playing; your hand is worthless. There are too many open draws, too many opponents involved, and your hand barely has a chance at getting better.

Weak draws

If you at least had a gutshot draw you could have considered calling a small bet in the last example, but $1 is definitely too expensive.

It would also be a different situation if you were only facing one or two opponents. If you're in position and both check to you, you can bet 2/3 of the pot - but only if you know they can be brought to fold.

This is a bluff, of course, but a bluff with something instead of nothing. When you make a bluff with a hand that isn't made yet, but does have outs, it's called a semi-bluff.

A semi-bluff can be useful when ...

  • ... your hand can still turn into a strong made hand.
  • ... you know you can make your opponents fold by betting.

You will sometimes win by making your opponents fold and other times when you get called and end up making your hand. These two conditions must be fulfilled in order for semi-bluffs to be profitable. If you don't have some kind of draw and your opponents can't be pushed out of the hand, there's no sense in making a semi-bluff.

If you get called and don't hit on the turn, it's time to hit the brakes. It's rarely profitable to bluff a second time and a semi-bluff that doesn't hit is ultimately just a bluff.

EXAMPLE 28 - GUTSHOT
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the SB
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO and BU fold
  • You call $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.00
  • BB, you and UTG1 check
  • MP1 bets $0.25
  • You and BB call $0.25
  • UTG1 folds

You have four outs for the nut straight. You can call a minimum bet from a player with a full stack. If he bet more you would have to fold. A semi-bluff on the flop against three opponents isn't a good option. You won't win often enough when you get called, which is very probable with three opponents still in the hand.

EXAMPLE 29- GUTSHOT
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • MP3 calls $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, MP3, BU - Pot: $0.85
  • You bet $0.55
  • MP3 and BU fold

This time you're only facing two opponents and can make a semi-bluff with your weak gutshot draw. If you get called and don't hit a 5 on the turn, it's time to give up the hand.

Strong draws

Strong draws, the third hand category, can almost always be played on the flop. If an opponent shows too much aggression, though, you will have to fold. A strong draw usually gives you a 30% chance at winning, the only question is how to play it best.

Suppose, for example, you have A2 on a 59T board. You have a draw for the nut flush. If all your opponents check to you, you should make a semi-bluff. Your bet should be between 2/3 and the full pot size. You can do the same with a draw for the second best flush.

Combo-draws, such as a flush and straight draw, a flush draw with a pair, an OESD with a pair, or an OESD with overcards, for example QJ on a 29T flop, also belong to this category.

If someone bets in front of you, you should only continue to play if your opponent(s) has enough money left to pay you off (implied pot odds) or if you're getting the right price (pot odds). You can learn more about playing draws in the two articles on the mathematics of poker.

Go to this article: Mathematics of Poker - Odds and Outs

Go to this article: Mathematics of Poker - Implied Pot Odds

Reraising with a draw, even a strong one, in an unraised pot is overreacting. You will force other draws that might have put money into the pot to fold and risk being reraised yourself.

If you have a weak draw, such as a low flush or straight draw, and are facing two or more opponents, it's often best just to check and see what happens. If someone decides to bet you can decide based on the pot odds whether or not you want to stay in the hand.

EXAMPLE 30 - OESD
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP2
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, BU - Pot: $1.10
  • BB and UTG1 check
  • You bet $0.75
  • BU folds
  • BB and UTG1 call $0.75

This time you're facing three opponents, but you have a very strong draw. With 8 outs for the best hand you can make a semi-bluff against this many oponents.

Even if the semi-bluff doesn't work, your chances at winning are twice as good as with a gutshot draw. You also have position. This justifies a semi-bluff against so many opponents. If you were the BB instead of MP2, for example, you could just as well check instead of betting.

EXAMPLE 31- A STRONG DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • BU folds
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, SB, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.25
  • SB, BB, UTG1 and MP1 check
  • You bet $1.10
  • SB and BB fold
  • UTG1 calls $1.10
  • MP1 folds

This time you have a strong flush draw and overcards, which make your draw even better. Normally you should refrain from semi-bluffing against four opponents - you will rarely get them all to fold.

In this special case you can bet. The main reason: You're in position and there are also a lot of outs you can hit on the turn or the river. If you do get called you will often make your hand and win the pot.

The only problem you could run into is a reraise, but this is unlikey, since everyone already checked.

EXAMPLE 32- A FLUSH DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the SB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • MP3 and CO call $0.25
  • BU folds
  • You call $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, MP3, CO - Pot: $1.00
  • You bet $0.80
  • BB raises to $2
  • UTG1 and MP1 fold

We can't talk about draws without going into odds and outs. The question is whether or not it will be profitable to call with your draw. If you've already read the articles on pot odds and implied pot odds you should already be able to answer this question.

There are $3.80 in the pot after the raise. You have to pay $1.20 to stay in the hand. Your pot odds are $3.80:$1.20, roughly 3:1. Theoretically you would have to fold, since you need 4:1 pot odds to call and see the turn card with a flush draw.

But you also have implied pot odds. This means you can inflate your pot odds, because you can probably get more money out of your opponent if you make your flush. It's also possible that your opponent won't continue to bet on the turn when you call and you can see the river card for free.

Assume you make your flush on the turn. How much do you now have to get out of your opponent to justify your call on the flop? The answer is simple.

As we said, you would normally need 4:1 pot odds to call with a flush draw. You have to pay $1.20 to see the next card, meaning the pot has to be 4 * $1.20 = $4.80 for you to have 4:1 pot odds.

But there are only $3.80 in the pot. This means you still have to get another $1 out of your opponent, which you should be able to do if you make your flush, since he raised your bet on the flop with two other opponents in the hand. This is a sign that he has a strong hand that he won't want to fold.

Medium made hands

Medium made hands should be played with caution, but you don't necessarily have to give them up on the flop. You will often have the best hand when facing one or two opponents.

You should always bet when everyone in front of you checks. If a raise comes behind you, no matter the size, you'll have to fold.

As we said at the beginning, you need a strong hand to play for an unraised pot. Top pair isn't enough to call a raise with.

If someone ahead of you bets, you raise, as long as there aren't too many other opponents in the hand. This is a way to get information and find out where you stand with your hand. If another raise comes, you know you're beat and fold. If you get called you will have to decide what to do based on the turn card and the opponent.

If there aren't any draws on the board and someone bets, you can call and see the turn card, provided three opponents or less are in the hand. Just don't make a habit of it.

EXAMPLE 33 - WITH TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP1
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3 and MP1 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO, BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $0.85
  • BB bets $0.50
  • UTG1 calls $0.50
  • You raise to $2.25
  • BB reraises to $7.30
  • UTG1 and you fold

In this example your top pair falls into the medium made hand category. Since so many draws are possible, you should raise the bet in front of you to protect your hand and get information on the strength of your opponents' hands.

In our example the BB chose to reraise. This is a sure sign that he has you beat this time.

EXAMPLE 34 - WITH MIDDLE PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, SB, BU - Pot: $0.75
  • SB checks
  • You bet $0.60
  • BU calls $0.60
  • SB folds

We already determined this is a borderline hand that could go either way. Your only two opponents are the SB and BU, who probably would have raised before the flop if they had a strong hand. This makes a bet possible. The call from the BU means you'll have to make another decision on the turn.

Strong made hands

It's easy to play strong made hands on the flop. You should only give them up when you're absolutely certain your opponent has you beat.

You will almost always play these hands aggressively. You have a strong hand and want to increase the size of the pot, which is small at the moment. And the only way to get money into the pot is to start putting money into it. As always, your bet should be between 2/3 of the pot and the full pot size.

When you raise an opponent's bet, use this formula to determine the size of your raise:

Raise = Pot (including the current betting round) + 2 * opponent's bet.

EXAMPLE 35
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP1
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3
  • You call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, SB, BB, BU - Pot: $1.00
  • SB checks
  • BB bets $0.70
  • You raise to $3.10
  • BU, SB and BB fold

It's unfortunate that everyone folded, but at least you won a small pot and didn't lose a big one on a bad beat.

There was $1 in the pot before the flop and your opponent bet another $0.70 into the pot.

Your raise should therefore be: $1.70 + 2 * $0.70 = $3.10

If there weren't such dangerous flush and straight draws on the board you wouldn't have to protect your hand so strongly and could bet less.

EXAMPLE 36
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, BB, UTG1, MP1 - Pot: $1.10
  • BB bets $0.50
  • UTG1 raises to $1.50
  • MP1 folds
  • You reraise to $6

Despite all the action you're probably ahead with your low flush. The last thing you want to see, however, is another diamond, ace, ten or nine on the turn. You need to protect your hand and get as much money into the pot as you can while you're ahead.

How do you play the turn?

A new round begins with the turn card. You will be in one of two possible situations:

  • Someone bet on the flop.
  • No one bet on the flop.

If no one raised, you can continue to play as on the flop. If you didn't have a made hand on the flop and hit the turn, top pair, for example, you bet. If not, you check/fold on the turn. If you land on a draw you can continue to play with the right pot odds. You need 11:1 for a gutshot draw, 4:1 for a flush draw, 5:1 for an OESD, for example. You should only call when you are sure that no one will raise behind you.

If someone bet on the flop and you're still in the hand, you should be holding either a medium made hand, or a draw. We'll start with the made hand.

If you're facing more than one opponent on the turn and one of them bets, you should fold a medium made hand. You can call with a draw and the right pot odds, as long as you are certain no one will raise behind you.

If your hand was able to improve, to two pair, for example, your decision will depend on the board and your opponents' play. Two pair probably isn't the best hand on a board with four hearts. If you are sure you do have the best hand, though, you should bet or raise.

Draws
EXAMPLE 37- A FLUSH DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, SB, BB, MP1 - Pot: $1.00
  • SB, BB and MP1 check
  • You bet $0.80
  • SB calls $0.80
  • BB and MP1 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, SB - Pot: $2.60
  • SB checks
  • You bet $2

In our example you are in position and your opponent checks to you. You played your draw aggressively on the flop, but missed on the turn.

You have two options:

  • You check - You can check and take a free card. This keeps the pot small and you get to see two cards for the price you paid on the flop.

  • You bet - This can work against an opponent who can lay his hand down. You're making a second semi-bluff and can either win by making your opponent fold or by making your flush on the river. If you don't make your flush on the river, or if you get reraised, you'll have to give up the hand.

EXAMPLE 38 - A FLUSH DRAW
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, SB, BB, MP1 - Pot: $1.00
  • SB, BB and MP1 check
  • You bet $0.80
  • SB and BB call $0.80
  • MP1 folds
Turn - Active Players (3): You, SB, BB - Pot: $3.40
  • SB, BB and you check

We see the same situation, but this time you're facing two opponents. A semi-bluff isn't a good idea this time. You should check and see if an opponent bets.

If so, calculate your odds and compare them to the pot odds before you decide how to continue.

Assume you had a made hand and bet on the flop. Would you still bet on the turn? Are you sure you're still ahead of your opponent(s)? Which draws are possible? What hands could beat you? Could the turn card have helped anyone? How many opponents are in the hand and how have they been playing?

You would bet on the turn with a strong made hand, and probably with an overpair or top pair, as well. You wouldn't bet, however, if a draw came or an overcard showed up on the turn. If you were only facing one opponent you might still be able to play your hand, but not against two. Remember, the more opponents you are facing, the stronger your hand must be.

If an opponent raises your bet, you'll have to fold anything but a strong made hand, in which case you put your money in the pot.

EXAMPLE 39 - A WEAK OVERPAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG2, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and UTG2 check
  • You bet $1.10
  • BU calls $1.10
  • BB, UTG1 and UTG2 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $3.55
  • You bet $2.75
  • BU folds

You should like the turn card. When the board pairs low on the turn it is usually a good sign for your overpair. If you were ahead on the flop you probably still are.

There are a lot of possible draws. You have to protect your hand and want your opponents to pay for their draws. There's no way around it - you have to bet. If you get raised, you're probably beat and can fold your hand. Your opponent probably isn't bluffing and a bluff is almost all you can beat with your hand.

EXAMPLE 40 - A WEAK OVERPAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG2, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and UTG2 check
  • You bet $1.10
  • BU and BB call $1.10
  • UTG1 and UTG2 fold
Turn - Active Players (3): You, BB, BU - Pot: $4.65
  • BB and you check
  • BU bets $3
  • BB calls $3
  • You fold

You're facing two opponents and see a scare card on the turn - time to give up the hand. The diamond ace could have completed a flush draw, an OESD (32) or given an opponent top pair. You're in an unprofitable situation and should get out of the way.

You only had a medium made hand on the flop against two opponents and now you're facing the worst possible turn card.

Medium made hands

When you're facing a single opponent with a medium made hand, you have to estimate the strength of his hand before you decide how to play your hand. You can fold to a bet, or call if you think he often has a weaker hand and doesn't bluff on the river. Be careful, though: Don't get into the habit of calling on the turn and folding on the river.

If your opponent checks, you'll have to decide whether you're better off checking or betting. You have two standard moves you can choose from:

  • Check Behind Turn, Call River

    The advantages:

    • You keep the pot small.
    • You induce your opponent to bluff on the river.

    The disadvantages:

    • You don't protect your hand.
    • You miss the chance to get money out of your opponents' draws.

    This is a good move against aggressive opponents on drawless boards. You don't have to protect your hand against a draw and your opponent is aggressive enough to try a bluff on the river.

    If you check on the turn and your opponent does, as well, you'll have to ask yourself again if it's a good idea to invest on the river. Are there worse hands that could call a bet? Are there better hands that could fold? How many hands could beat you? In general, though, it's best to go to the showdown without betting.

    If you do bet, you'll have to have the discipline to fold to a raise.

  • Bet Turn, Check Behind River

    The advantages:

    • You protect your hand.
    • You get money out of opponents' draws.
    • You can bluff an opponent off of a better hand.
    • You determine the price for which you see the showdown.

    The last point is especially interesting. By betting on the turn you can determine the price for the showdown.

    Assume there are $10 in the pot and your opponent checks on the turn. It's possible that he will bet $10 on the river if you check, too. If you bet $6 on the turn, however, he probably won't bet on the river, meaning that these $6 get you to the showdown as well. You save $4, get to see the showdown, and can get money out of a draw.

    The disadvantages:

    • You risk being check/raised.
    • You don't induce your opponent to bluff on the river with a weaker hand.

    This is a good move against most of the passive players you'll find in lower limits, as long as there are draws on the board, or if you think your opponent has a weaker hand. You can even bet on the river, depending on the card that shows up.

    You should fold to a raise on the turn. Your opponenet probably isn't bluffing and it's probably too expensive to find out.

EXAMPLE 41 - A MIDDLE PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, SB, BU - Pot: $0.75
  • SB checks
  • You bet $0.60
  • BU calls $0.60
  • SB folds
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $1.95
  • You bet $1.50
  • BU folds

The board is draw heavy and the turn card probably didn't help your only opponent. You don't have to bet, but there are reasons to do so.

It wouldn't be profitable to bet against two opponents or on a bad turn card, such as a nine, jack, queen or diamond.

EXAMPLE 42 - A WEAK TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2 and MP3 fold
  • CO calls $0.25
  • BU folds
  • SB calls $0.15
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, SB, CO - Pot: $0.75
  • SB bets $0.50
  • You and CO call $0.50
Turn - Active Players (3): You, SB, CO - Pot: $2.25
  • SB bets $1.50
  • You fold

In this example we see a typical mistake made by players in lower limits. You are stuck between two opponents. The flop shows a pair of eights and a nine, giving you top pair with a decent kicker.

The player in front of you bets. You don't have to, but you can call here, which you do in the example. There aren't many draws possible - your opponent could have an eight, a better nine, an overpair, and underpair, or he may be bluffing.

Once the player behind you calls, you know you can't invest any more if your hand doesn't get better.

The turn card probably didn't help anyone and the SB bets again, even though two players called him on the flop. If he doesn't have your top pair of nines beat, the player behind you might. He also might raise after you call.

You're stuck between a rock and a hard place with this hand. The player behind you makes things even worse. You can't know where you're at with your hand and are left guessing - something you never want to do in poker.

All in all you're in a dangerous situation with a marginal hand and there's no reason for you to call on the turn.

Strong made hands

If you were in the same situation with a strong made hand, two pair or better, you would continue to bet. You would have to fold two pair to a raise. A straight probably wouldn't be good, either. You could continue to play with three-of-a-kind, however, since you might be ahead and would still have a chance at making a full house. That would depend on the board, however, and if your opponent clearly has a very strong hand you can fold three-of-a-kind, as well.

As long as the turn card isn't dangerous, i.e., can't complete a flush or straight draw, you can continue to play a strong made hand on the turn and try to get as many chips as possible into the pot.

EXAMPLE 43 - A FLUSH ON THE TURN
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the SB
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 folds
  • MP3 and CO call $0.25
  • BU folds
  • You call $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, MP1, MP3, CO - Pot: $1.25
  • You and BB check
  • MP1 bets $1
  • MP3 calls $1
  • CO folds
  • You call $1
  • BB folds
Turn - Active Players (3): You, MP1, MP3 - Pot: $4.25
  • You bet $3
  • MP1 raises to $6

With so many opponents involved in the hand it's best to play the flop passively. Since you and MP1 still have plenty of chips, you can easily call his bet. Then you make your flush on the turn.

Now you should get active. Checking won't get you far - the third heart will probably scare your opponent and keep him from betting again. However, you will often get called in lower limits by players who would otherwise check. Maybe they think you are bluffing, for example.

If someone raises, like our example shows, you reraise or go all-in, depending on the stack sizes. In this example it would be best to go all-in after the raise. Your hand is definitely strong, but it does need protection and a normal raise would only make you pot committed. A fourth heart on the river could cost you your stack.

EXAMPLE 44 - WITH TWO PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP3
  • UTG1 and UTG2 call $0.25
  • UTG3, MP1 and MP2 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • CO folds
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, UTG2, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and UTG2 check
  • You bet $1.20
  • BU folds
  • BB and UTG1 call $1.20
  • UTG2 folds
Turn - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $4.95
  • BB and UTG1 check
  • You bet $3.50
  • BB raises to $8
  • UTG1 and you fold

You've probably encountered such a situation. You make a standard bet on the flop and should bet on the turn after both opponents check. Be aware that opponents will probably call with a flush draw or a weaker made hand. By betting again you also keep the initiative - checking would mean giving up control and not knowing where you stand with your hand.

But then the BB plays check/raise against several opponents on the turn, a move that indicates a very strong hand. He probably has a flush. Your two pair isn't good and folding is the right choice.

If the BB were to bet directly, or donk, you wouldn't necessarily fold. The rule of thumb says: If an opponent donks on a turn card that completes a possible draw, raise with three-of-a-kind or better. You could consider calling with two pair, but would have to fold on the river if your hand doesn't get better. Anything less should be folded.

How do you play the river?

Now you've made it to the last betting round. If no one has showed interest and bet yet, don't just bluff, look at your hand and ask yourself if it makes sense to ...

  • ... bet because enough hands will call and pay you off.
  • ... call a bet behind you because the opponent could have weaker hand.

If no one bet on the flop or the turn, you can bet 1/3 of the pot with top pair or middle pair. Don't invest in anything less.

If there was action in the previous rounds you will play differently. If you had a draw, but didn't hit, give up the hand, regardless how you played it so far. Unraised pots aren't worth bluffing for, especially in lower limits.

If you have a made hand you'll have to ask yourself what hands your opponents could have. You also have to take the cards on the board and your opponents' previous actions into consideration.

Can you bet with your hand? What's on the board and what have your opponents done so far? Which hands are possible? Which of those are better, which worse? If only one opponent raises is it likely that he has a worse hand?

If you decide to call, be aware of the following:

  • Situation A: An opponent bets, you call.
  • Situation B: An opponent bets, a second opponent calls, you call.

Both situations look similar. You could even win more in Situation B, since a second opponent put money into the pot, too. There is one key difference, however.

You only have to beat one opponent in Situation A. In Situation B you have to beat two opponents, and you can be certain that the one who called has a made hand and thinks he will win at the showdown.

The more players you have in front of you, the stronger your hand must be to call a bet on the river. You would probably have to fold a hand like middle pair or top pair with a weak kicker in Situation B - you simply wouldn't have good chances at beating two players.

Draws
EXAMPLE 45 - A FLUSH DRAW THAT DOESN'T COMPLETE
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (4): You, SB, BB, MP1 - Pot: $1.00
  • SB, BB and MP1 check
  • You bet $0.80
  • SB calls $0.80
  • BB and MP1 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, SB - Pot: $2.60
  • SB checks
  • You bet $2
  • SB calls $2
River - Active Players (2): You, SB - Pot: $6.60
  • SB and you check

In this example you played your draw aggressively on the flop and on the turn. There's no point in investing in the river. The SB has already called you twice and probably won't fold to a bet on the river. The only hand he might give up is a weaker flush draw, which you already have beat.

Medium made hands

Things get interesting when you make a medium made hand on the river. If you were the aggressor in the previous rounds your play will depend heavily on the cards in the community.

As long as no big draws were possible on the flop, you should bet 1/3-1/2 the size of the pot. If you get raised, fold the hand.

If you're in position and the river completes a possible draw you should try to get to the showdown for free.

If you're out of position and facing no more than two opponents you can make the same sized bet. Once again, if a raise comes you know you're beat.

A raise on the river is rarely a bluff. If you check, however, you will often face a bet from an opponent behind you and not know if you should fold the worse hand or call with the better hand.

Unfortunately, a lot of opponents won't bet after you check, because they are afraid of the flush, for example. They are, however, willing to call a bet from you. By betting and folding to a raise you lose the same as by checking and calling a bet with a losing hand. On the other hand, you can expect opponents to call who would have otherwise checked, which means you win that much more when you don't get raised by a better hand.

If you're out of position and think your opponent is on a flush draw that doesn't complete on the river, you can play "check/call to induce a bluff."

This means that you check with the intent to call an opponent's bet. Your opponent will hardly call a bet if he is on a flush draw that didn't complete, but he might be tempted into a bluff.

The community cards and your opponents' play should influence your decision to set a trap or to bet directly. There aren't any guidelines you can learn and follow, but with enough practice you will get a feel for the game and be able to make the right decision.

EXAMPLE 46 - WITH TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in MP1
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • You call $0.25
  • MP2, MP3, CO, BU and SB fold
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $0.85
  • BB bets $0.50
  • UTG1 calls $0.50
  • You raise to $2.25
  • BB calls $1.75
  • UTG1 folds
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $5.85
  • BB checks
  • You bet $4.50
  • BB calls $4.50
River - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $14.85
  • BB and you check

There's no more room to bet with this hand. Your opponent thought his hand was worth $4.50 on the turn; either he has a made hand or a draw. If he was on a draw, he either made it, in which case a bet would mean losing even more, or he didn't, in which case he won't call your bet anyway.

Given the board, there could hardly be a worse hand out there that could call; there could be quite a few, however, that have you beat. You should be happy that your opponent checked to you and that you can get to the showdown for free.

EXAMPLE 47 - WITH TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $0.85
  • BB and UTG1 check
  • You bet $0.50
  • BB calls $0.50
  • UTG1 folds
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $1.85
  • BB checks
  • You bet $1
  • BB calls $1
River - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $3.85
  • BB checks
  • You bet $2
  • BB folds

This is a completely different situation. Your opponent hasn't given any sign of strength. He probably wouldn't have called your bet on the turn with just bottom pair and is likely to have hit the king or the ten.

You have most pairs beat and your opponent will probably pay you one more time on the river. After having seen so much weakness you can bet a third time - sometimes you'll get more money out of the weaker hand.

EXAMPLE 48 - TOP PAIR, OVERCARD ON THE RIVER
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the BU
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • You call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (3): You, BB, UTG1 - Pot: $0.85
  • BB and UTG1 check
  • You bet $0.50
  • BB calls $0.50
  • UTG1 folds
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $1.85
  • BB checks
  • You bet $1
  • BB calls $1
River - Active Players (2): You, BB - Pot: $3.85
  • BB and you check

There's no need to bet on the river card. The OESD (QJ) may have completed and your opponent might be waiting for you to bet again. You won't get any more money out of him if he only has a pair of tens, the only hand that he could pay you off with is a weaker pair of kings.

It's not worth betting in such a marginal situation, the best thing you can do is check and go to the showdown.

EXAMPLE 49 - WITH TOP PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You and BU call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, MP1, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 check
  • You bet $1
  • BU calls $1
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $3.35
  • You bet $2.25
  • BU calls $2.25
River - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $7.85
  • You bet $3.50
  • BU raises to $9
  • You fold

A third club shows up in the river and you have to decide: Bet or check?. The right answer: Bet. Here's why: If you don't bet you can't get paid off by a weaker hand. Your opponent could easily call with a weaker pair of jacks; if he completed a flush draw he will tell you with a raise, your sign to fold. Remember, a raise on the river is rarely a bluff.

EXAMPLE 50 - WITH MIDDLE PAIR
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are the BB
  • UTG1, UTG2, UTG3, MP1, MP2, MP3 and CO fold
  • BU calls $0.25
  • SB calls $0.15
  • You check
Flop - Active Players (3): You, SB, BU - Pot: $0.75
  • SB check
  • You bet $0.60
  • BU calls $0.60
  • SB folds
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $1.95
  • You bet $1.50
  • BU calls $1.50
River - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $4.95
  • You check
  • BU bets $2
  • You fold

There's no point in investing any more on the river. This hand didn't play out for you and it's time to give it up. The bets on the flop and turn were questionable, your opponent could have bluffed with two diamonds, but it's just as likely that he has a ten, queen or a two. Folding is the most profitable decision you can make.

EXAMPLE 51 - TOP PAIR, A HARMLESS RIVER CARD
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You and BU call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, MP1, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 check
  • You bet $1
  • BU calls $1
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $3.35
  • You bet $2.25
  • BU calls $2.25
River - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $7.85
  • You check
  • BU bets $3
  • You call $3

We've already discussed this case. The flop shows a flush draw and your opponent passively calls your bets on the flop and turn. It's quite possible that he is indeed on a flush draw. Once the river comes, his hand is worthless.

This is a good chance to induce a bluff by playing check/call. Even if he wasn't on a flush draw, he might be tempted to bet with a small pocket pair just because he doesn't think you have anything.

EXAMPLE 52 - TOP PAIR, A HARMLESS RIVER CARD
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are on the CO
  • UTG1 calls $0.25
  • UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 and MP3 fold
  • You and BU call $0.25
  • SB folds
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players (5): You, BB, UTG1, MP1, BU - Pot: $1.35
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 check
  • You bet $1
  • BU calls $1
  • BB, UTG1 and MP1 fold
Turn - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $3.35
  • You bet $2.25
  • BU calls $2.25
River - Active Players (2): You, BU - Pot: $7.85
  • You bet $3.50
  • BU folds

If the flop doesn't show any draws you can make a moderate bet on the river, but you'll have to fold to a raise.

Strong made hands

You should always bet with a strong made hand. Depending on your opponents' willingness to pay your bets should between 1/2 and the full pot size. This counts when you complete a draw on the river, too.

You can't assume your opponent will bet if you check. If you've played your draw passively and only called, it will be up to you to bet on the river. Your opponents will only check all too often and you will miss out the chance to get more money out of them with your strong made hand.

EXAMPLE 53 - WITH A FLUSH
Before the flop - NL25 Blinds: $0.10/$0.25
You are in the SB
  • UTG1, UTG2 and UTG3 fold
  • MP1 calls $0.25
  • MP2 folds
  • MP3 and CO call $0.25
  • BU folds
  • You call $0.15
  • BB checks
Flop - Active Players 5): You, BB, MP1, MP3, CO - Pot: $1.25
  • You and BB check
  • MP1 bets $1
  • MP3 calls $1
  • CO folds
  • You call $1
  • BB folds
Turn - Active Players (3): You, MP1, MP3 - Pot: $4.25
  • You bet $3.50
  • MP1 calls $3.5
  • MP3 folds
River - Active Players (2): You, MP1 - Pot: $11.25
  • You bet $7
  • MP1 folds

This hand is easy to play: You always play a strong made hand aggressively to give your opponent another chance to lose money to you.

Conclusion

You now know how to play in a hand in which no one raised before the flop. You've seen example hands for the different situations you will regularly face and learned when and why to invest in certain situations and not in others.

Don't be tempted into playing a made hand passively on the flop; you should either raise or fold with a made hand. It's much more important to get information on the strength of your opponents' hands in a small unraised pot than in a large raised one.

The best way to get information is to bet. If you remain passive and an opponent bets behind you, you won't know what kind of hand he might have.

If you bet and he raises he probably has a monster hand. This is the information you're looking for and the only way to get it is by betting.

You should generally avoid any tricks or traps in an unraised pot and just play good, solid poker. You haven't invested much, the pot is small, and your opponents have a wide range of possible hands. You only want to increase the size of the pot when you have a very strong hand.

Remember: Playing for a large pot with a medium made hand when no one raised before the flop is always a big mistake.

 

Comments (27)

#1 mistique, 04 Feb 09 09:47

No comments available...

#2 PidKoker, 03 Mar 09 20:17

LOL @ "The last thing you should do...is to open a bag of magic tricks..."<br /> <br /> Good information really helped me to pick my spots when playing in limped pots.

#3 usun, 05 Apr 09 23:08

very useful

#4 usun, 07 May 09 15:06

all NL BSS related info was extracted from these Bronze articles and be found as 4 printable charts here: http://www.pokerstrategy.com/forum/thread.php?threadid=51055

#5 Yoroichi, 12 Jul 09 11:07

Very good information!

#6 theboydave, 21 Jul 09 18:56

top read something for every situation.

#7 Koshburger, 16 Jan 10 06:30

ok

#8 antonin87, 05 Mar 10 13:08

ok

#9 idiit, 19 May 10 08:22

ok

#10 alister15, 05 Jul 10 17:12

just re read. makes more sense now i've played a few thousand hands.

#11 MicuValentin, 03 Sep 10 11:48

nice

#12 happybui, 18 Sep 10 03:21

Good article,

#13 machine85, 02 Apr 11 13:17

why limp in mid position with 9s? serious?

#14 Elroch, 17 Jul 11 20:34

Few books on poker have as much content as this article: excellent attention to detail!

#15 Alleen86, 18 Jul 11 10:05

Example 33: Shouldn't we raise bigger on the flop?<br /> <br /> The flop is draw heavy as in example 35 where we raised by formula:<br /> Raise = Pot (including the current betting round) + 2 * opponent's bet<br /> <br /> Thus, we should raise by that formula in example 33 also. If we don't, we are making a difference between our play with strong made hands and medium made hands, don't we?<br /> <br /> We should raise to 2,85 (Raise = 1,85 + 2*0,50).

#16 hasenbraten, 20 Jul 11 08:59

indeed ohne could Marke a slightly Lager raise there. however IP its Not entirely necessary. betsizing in NL usualy US a Rather grey area than a black white one

#17 Alleen86, 20 Jul 11 12:03

Yep, it's clear! Great article, though!

#18 chocular77, 01 Oct 11 09:18

I have a question to the intro to "How to play after the flop". I don't understand the "The only exception to this rule is made when the SB bets." in relation to the sentence above.

#19 muel294, 15 Oct 11 19:05

#18 +1 this confused me also <br /> <br /> "The only exception to this rule is made when the SB bets. If he DOESN'T and you have a made hand, you have two choices: Bet or fold."<br /> <br /> if the SB doesn't bet and the action is on us surely our options are check/bet?<br /> <br /> or does it mean to say w/ the SB DOES bet we can either call/fold?<br /> <br /> surely this is a mistake?

#20 ellamcc, 01 Jan 13 23:01

see notes - e

#21 plobek, 22 Jul 14 16:00

After few years of loosing in poker, I've startedd slowly moving up. Now when I'm reading those articles again i suddenly see them clear and what they are talking about. Thx PS.

#22 Boruzh, 21 Aug 14 14:50

It'll be verey useful, thanks

#23 toske1, 13 Mar 15 18:41

ok

#24 mirth, 03 Apr 15 11:14

toske, do you always just say "ok"? then why comment?<br /> <br /> back to the point: this helped me realize why to keep the pot small with one pair hands and when to do so. thanks!

#25 bubamarasr, 25 Jan 16 03:32

Read it. Thank you!

#26 hassux, 25 Jan 16 21:12

badi nik kiss emou

#27 MrSpoKes, 27 Feb 16 15:15

Very good article. Definitely helps to remind yourself of the do and don't do