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StrategyNo Limit

On the Flop – When to Play Passively


In this article
  • The advantages of passive play
  • When you can afford to give away free cards
  • How to react to your opponents' action

Now that you have learned a bit about aggressive flop play it's time to take a look at the aspects of playing passively on the flop. Passive play simply means that you don't bet or raise. Aggressive play is advantageous in many situations, but sometimes it can be better to take things slow.

Passive play generally falls into one (and sometimes several) of the following categories:

  • Pot control
  • Playing way ahead/way behind
  • Induce-the-bluff
  • Passive draw play

The goal is to get as much value as possible out of weaker hands, and to lose as little as possible against stronger hands. Way ahead/way behind embodies this principle nicely (both pot control and induce-the-bluff are a part of way ahead/way behind play). The catch: you give away free cards and give a possible draw a chance to complete. We will discuss when you can afford to do so later in the article.

Let's take a look at a few examples.

When to play for pot control, way ahead/way behind

Example 1

PartyPoker $25 NL Hold'em (6-handed)

Stacks & Stats
MP ($25)
CO ($25) (15/12/3.0/24/1871) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]
UTG ($25)
BB ($25)
SB ($25)
Hero ($25)

Pre-flop: Hero is BU with K , Q
2 folds, CO raises to $1.00, Hero calls $1.00, 2 folds

Flop: ($2.35) 5, 7, Q (3 players)
CO bets $2.00, Hero calls $2.00

You decide to play your hand passively before the flop and call a relatively tight opponent's open raise. You hit top pair on the flop.


You can't really say for sure. Your opponent could easily have raised with a very strong hand (like AA/KK/QQ/AK) before the flop and have you dominated. However, he could also have a small pocket pair.


You could hardly expect more from a flop. You hit top pair on a relatively dry board. Any weaker hand would probably fold to a raise, and any better hand would call or raise.

You call and give your opponent the chance to bet again on the turn. You are playing way ahead/way behind, meaning you are way ahead against weaker queens and pocket pairs, or way behind against an overpair or AQ.


You don't have to go broke just because you called with top pair on the flop. You have to ask yourself what your opponent could have and why he might be betting on each street. In this example you could call another bet on the turn and possibly on the river, as well.


You can play a relatively strong hand passively on a dry board. Raising will usually only lead to your isolating yourself in a pot against a better hand. Raise/call would be overplaying the hand, and raise/fold would ultimately be a bluff, which isn't exactly your goal when holding top pair.

Example 2

PartyPoker $25 NL Hold'em (10-handed)

Stacks & Stats
UTG ($25)
UTG+1 ($25) (40/5/0.3/35/432) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]
UTG+2 ($25)
MP1 ($25)
MP2 ($25)
Hero ($25)
CO ($25) (8/5/1.8/18/371) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]
BU ($25) (15/12/2.1/23/800) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]
SB ($25)
BB ($25) (12/9/2.6/21/333) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]

Pre-flop: Hero is MP3 with A , T
1 fold, UTG+1 calls $0.25, 3 folds, Hero raises to $1.25, 3 folds, BB calls $1.25, UTG+1 calls $1.00

Flop: ($3.85) A, 6, 6 (3 players)
BB checks, UTG bets $2.50, Hero calls $2.50

You think your ATo is good and make a loose pre-flop raise to isolate UTG+1. Unfortunately, the BB called, too, and you are now in a 3-handed pot on the flop.


You hit top pair on a drawless board. You can expect to be ahead of UTG+1, since he limp/calls with a wide range of hands, including many baby aces. The very tight BB probably has a pocket pair and is not likely to have hit a set.


Once again you are playing way ahead/way behind. Raising will only get weaker hands to fold. You also have position on your opponent, so you can decide on the turn/river if you think your kicker is strong enough to call another bet. If your opponents start heavy action they probably have you beat, if not you might have the best hand.


You can lay down your hand if the BB goes over the top (check/raises). You'll have to give him something like AJ-AK; he will rarely bluff in this situation.

You can call on the turn if the BB folds and UTG second barrels. If he then slows down and tries to see a cheap showdown, you can make a value bet with your top pair.


You can play for pot control on the flop in a 3-handed pot, as well. You have a good hand and don't want to scare off weaker hands that could pay you off later. If there is too much action, you'll do no harm in laying down your hand.

Example 3

Let's look at an example of pot control.

PartyPoker $25 NL Hold'em (6-handed)

Stacks & Stats
MP ($25)
CO ($25) (14/4/0.7/26/518) [VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS/Hands]
Hero ($25)
BB ($25)
SB ($25)
BU ($25)

Pre-flop: Hero is UTG with A , K
Hero raises to $1.00, 1 fold, CO calls $1.00, 3 folds

Flop: ($2.35) K, 7, 6 (2 players)
Hero bets $1.50, CO raises $3.50, Hero calls $3.50

You definitely like the flop, but you don't like the min raise at all. Your opponent is very passive and could have a very strong hand.


You can theoretically give a player who tends to call instead of showing aggression a wide range of possible hands. 77/66, as well as flush and straight draws, can't be ruled out.


You don't have any real reason to think he is bluffing. The question is: Would he raise with a draw or a weaker king, or does he have a monster?

A fold is out of the question, and you have to be willing to bet it all if you plan to raise. And that is your hard spot: You will get your opponent to fold a weaker made hand or a semi-bluff to a 3-bet, but expect him to show you a monster if he calls. This is why you decide to play for pot control.

The idea behind this call isn't the same is in the way ahead/way behind examples. This time you are consciously giving a draw a free card. You want to keep the pot small and get to the showdown as cheaply as possible.


You're not willing to invest your entire stack now, so there is no reason to get reckless on later streets. The first piece of information you want: How high will your opponent bet and how much will it ultimately cost you to get to the showdown?

Unfortunately you will have to take a fold into consideration if another turns up; there would be hardly any hands that you still beat with which your opponent is still willing to invest money. That's the risk you run when you play for pot control, but at least you still have most of your stack.


Sometimes you have to play for pot control on wet boards. Don't try to protect your hand with a push if you suspect your opponent will only continue to play with a very strong hand. If your hand is too good to fold, you won't have much of a choice other than giving away a free card and seeing what happens.


That's not the entire article...

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Comments (18)

#1 LemOn36, 03 Apr 09 15:59

I don't like the cold call with 56s pre (Implied odds, thats what matters with this hand, and you are on the button jsus, you must play like 20/12 with this style lolz) <br /> <br /> <br /> And the KK, 11PFR would include loads of QQ JJ TT, 99,88 with many players, and they would call smallish bet (they don't have to bluff turn at all and just slowplay. I mean how does he check all of a sudden if he was c/betting a lot even in 3bet pots, player dependant really). Thats why people shouldn't just play only by stats and its hardly universal line here.<br /> <br /> <br /> But anyway, great article again.

#2 TheBrood, 23 Apr 09 13:06


#3 Tim64, 23 Sep 10 17:52


#4 borisevich, 21 Oct 10 08:54

what do you guys think in a situation when an opponent shifts the gear during the hand, ie. utg limps, fold all the way to you on the button with ad 10d, you raise, sb, bb fold, and utg calls. he check-calls the flop Kd 10c 2s, but suddenly he bets out 3/4 pot on the turn.<br /> <br /> i know that there are other factors like stack size, is he loose/tight, but let's say this hand is the first hand of 6 handed sit and go, and you don't have info on the opp.<br /> <br /> thanks

#5 Mammamia33, 05 Apr 11 14:22

that looks like a set or hitting 2 pair with 10 x on the turn

#6 staktas, 29 Jul 11 12:43

To #1: in the 56s example we didn't cold called, we overcalled several limpers. That"s a right move if we see that we don't have enough fold equity against several opponents. <br /> <br /> And in the KK, we were the preflop aggressor and we had the "right" to claim the pot with continuation bet - not our opponent. So that seems pretty logic to me that he may try to take the pot with the bluf.

#7 naudanauda, 01 Aug 11 02:44

HI Boys and Girls!!! <br /> <br /> I;m just newbie to NL cash so could U someone please explain me a lil bit about the line in 3th example the line of playing that hand, because maybe I'm missing something here!!!!<br /> <br /> First of all - even in basic was red - should avoid spots calling OOP on the flop especially then Hero is preagro! So in this particular spot... maybe better line would be(against this fishy player like I see it) just 4bet small(Let's play his game that's good for us in this spot!)- POT on flop: 7.35$ , he just min 3-bets, so, if we repop it let's say to 7,5$- it would be cheep way to know where we are! later it's easy - 1. if he shoves - easy fold, because of his AF ( villain- 77;66 most of time) This type of player very rare will go broke with Kx -just flats us on flop(likes to min rerise with top pair or monster-(from experience!)) 2. if calls (this villain is on fdraw or Kx. Now on turn Hero check/fold to any action (easy one)- villain would check behind with Kx and fdraw. ON the River hero blockbet/vbet very small regardless of what hits and easy fold to any action - no brainer. <br /> So what we can accomplish with small 4bet is what we get better information where we stand for cheep price - around 7.5$ invested (6$ 4-bet+1.5$blockbet) and value/protection from Kx;fdraw- like we should do with aggressive line as preagro IMO. This willain will vbet turn around half pot quite often and/so Hero just can't fold to that - and that to do on river if another vbet just halfpot? This will cost as around 12-15$. This will compensate theses times then: flop: hero calls 3-bet, check/check turn, river is total blank -so small vbet from Hero is must imo and if raise from willain-hero...? . Like U note earlier - no guessing in NL-BSS :D ..."If your hand is too good to fold, you won't have much of a choice other than giving away a free card and seeing what happens." --that's just didn't sounds good ;)<br /> <br /> But anyway -- just great article!:) txs a lot ;)

#8 MiiWiin, 01 Aug 11 13:42

@7<br /> <br /> The way you explain is a "Inforaise" and thats never a good play in NLH.<br /> <br /> When Villain raise a Draw, why he shouldnt push if we 3-bet? When we 3-bet, which hands will call?<br /> <br /> He will very often fold or push, so you can 3-b/f here a pure bluff, but not TPTK.;-)

#9 naudanauda, 01 Aug 11 23:01

@8 <br /> <br /> I agree with U 100% when wee talk about guidelines for way ahead/way behind play as a default. I personally myself would newer 3-bet in this spot as default. I would never make this line if aggressive player is behind me or thinking TAG/REG - the standard line here is prior. But.. <br /> <br /> I am talking about this particular spot with this kind of player. What I just wanted to achieve here is lil advanced play for pot size control with this villain! He like NEVER will 3bet us in this spot with fdraw unless Ah Kh, AhKx, AhQh, KhQh -AJh-ATh with his AF and in fact that hero is agro from UTG is likely just call behind. For example if turn comes Kh - this is probable thee worst card in the deck hero can't really fold and checking this turn would be clear mistake of any point of view imo. any Q is also bad and we can be freerolled as well (AKh). With this line (small 4bet) I will let him do what I want him to do. His range is so polarized, so if he 4bets/shoves - easy lay down. In this spot I don't even want to get more value, because I hardly can see hand what will pay off in his 3-bet range. I just will reach showdown with cheapest way imo. I mean this line is just in this case - he is so bad and passive that he can't realise what I want to accomplish with my small 4bet, because if he then 5bet small us- with his AF... monster, if he want to slow play us(hero call flop, turn goes check/check) whet like I said - blockbet/fold is just great. I think manipulation with pot size OOP is key for any seriously player and it is not the easiest goal - U would agree with me here. I'm just trying to see ahead in this spot what could happen if villain makes some move on turn/river. For this guy I can't find better line to get best of hero's hand. Maybe U R right, maybe I'm just finking lil bit to much advanced in this spot against our villain, but if U have another way to exploit this guy-let me know! ;) Like I said this line is never profitable as default, but in this case could work out ;) I hope I could explain my reasons clearly for You for this spot!

#10 naudanauda, 01 Aug 11 23:05

P.S. sry about my language ;)

#11 MiiWiin, 02 Aug 11 10:45

@9<br /> <br /> Its not advanced, 3-bet/fold with Toppair ist the worst play you can ever do. Its a big mistake, its not a bluffraise, its not a valueraise, its nothing.<br /> <br /> I also dont know would you mean with "Villain 3-bets just...","if he 4-bets" or "if he then 5-bets".<br /> <br /> Villain 3-bets nowhere, he calls preflop and raises the flop, we are in the position to 3-bet. He has only the chance to do a 4-bet.<br /> <br /> 3-b/f is just a inforaise, and that is bad. There is no Value in this 3-bet, so why should we do this?<br /> <br /> Its the easiest way cause you dont have to think about villain and his range, you just say "I have no idea whre I stand, si I 3-bet and I hope he will not bluff-4bet".<br /> <br /> When you think about Villain, the you can easy make a decision between fold (he raises just nuts), call (and play OOP on turn) or 3-et/broke (you know he would bring in Draws and worser hands).

#12 naudanauda, 02 Aug 11 13:37

@11 This is getting very interesting :D :D :D , but txs a lot btw- I see I can safe some money now :D <br /> <br /> This hand is just so great. <br /> <br /> 1. the goal after villain's reraise now is how to reach showdown in the cheapest way. Value extraction is now in second majority 3-bet go broke is overplay here. But I just don't agree with the statement "Fold is out of question here!" <br /> If we think about villains rerise range here, then Hero has 44.22% equity against villain(KK+,77-66,AKo,AhKh-AhTh,KhQh) at best!, with QQ-99,Kx He would call behind on flop. 8h9h in unlikely(even if it is in his range than we are behind). probable he would even call behind his Ax fdraws excluding AhKh. So what we get here is: Hero continue play hand OOP with -EV play with no FE, because of "fold here is out of question" Sounds to me like drawing death!!!Probable fold would be better here.<br /> <br /> 2. Let's say we chose way ahead/way behind in this spot, then check/calling down rock,week/tight OOP with marginal hand who shows a lot of aggression without FE and hardly any skill advantage is probable even worst play in NLH than trying to manipulate with pot size to reach cheap showdown imo. And yes -U was right I made inforaise (small so I'm not potcommited) not just in hope if villain 4-bets as, but I want him to play his hand in the way I want it a) I gain some small extra value in case if he are on fdraw (9outer) if so- he would check behind turn after my 3-bet/call behind so I now approximately where I stand. In case he wants to slow play his set or AA on the turn - that's what I wanted- blockbet on the river makes decision easy form me(bbet/fold) b) I know exactly how much I will invest ;)

#13 naudanauda, 02 Aug 11 13:37

... the question is: HOW high is the variance that villain will vbet turn/river ( probable more that 50%) so if villain chose to make this line (let's say trying to squeeze some value with his real monsters) that action would be like: villain bet turn 1/3pot size, bet river 1/2 pot size = we invest around 12$ as minimum!!! because Hero have to call theses small bets, because of w a/w b line ( if call turn small that call river any reasonable bet rule!) But in my case if I 3-bet small amount is just 7.5$. Hero can't hope here for check behind on turn- can't imagine what hand make sense in villain's range to do so if he wanted value.<br /> <br /> 4. Even I can see from stats that villain is rather bad and poor player , I can play "I know, what U think what I think game" with him nevertheless he probable have 0 thinking level. In this case it's in my favor anyway if Hero chose to stay in hand. I mean that's No-Limit :D :P U can be creative from time to time :) <br /> <br /> P.S. this is only I mean only if I make that play, that's because of villain's stats especially because of his AF. I would certainly not play this way if villain had AF >1 !.

#14 naudanauda, 02 Aug 11 13:42

sry about my language ;)

#15 MiiWiin, 03 Aug 11 08:43

1.) The Goal is to play the best EV-way. I never said we couldnt fold, i said<br /> <br /> "When you think about Villain, the you can easy make a decision between fold,..."<br /> <br /> Fold is possible here.<br /> <br /> 2.) The Inforaise is a bad thing, but I can not explain it in a few sentences. You argue with "a cheaper way", but this is not the aim.<br /> <br /> The aim is to make a +EV-Play, this can be a calldown, can be a fold (if the other options are -EV) or maybe 3-b/broke. 3-b/f is just a bluff, as I said it makes no sense. No Value, No Bluff.<br /> <br /> When you search the cheapest way, its b/f Flop or c/c Flop. This cannot be the main argument.<br /> <br /> I dont understand what you want in the 4th point. No Idea what you say there...;-)

#16 naudanauda, 03 Aug 11 16:52

@15 <br /> <br /> 1) That's right... that was my point in my comments just to show that in this case/spot w a/w b probable is not the best line. This would be case if f.e. villain had stats like (17/10/2.3/26) for (VPIP/PFR/AF/WTS). Just probable not he best hand example ;) <br /> <br /> 2) And don't worry - I get clue about how bad is inforaise OOP. Just burned money in long run especially against agressive/thinking players (only maybe in some cases to induce action)<br /> <br /> 3) about "cheaper way" - this problem could be solved with Math to in this spot..just took some time calculating all possibilities .. but for math guys shouldn't be any problems. And... that's right - The aim is to make a +EV-Play so I just can't accept in this spot this statement "THE FOLD IS OUT OF QUESTION..." Next thing is (but not necessary), in case if Hero wants to stay in hand and wants to reach showdown as cheapest as possible, AND maybe sees this spot +EV !... then probable there is more than one way how to do it. One of alternatives would be My way-- I already explained how, but I don't advice it to anyone- that's just my thoughts. -- had respond from U and I toke best of it ;)<br /> <br /> At 4th point I wanted to take another look how to exploit our villain. because he is poor player(from stats) he wouldn't understand my inforaise's purpose witch indeed from game theory view is bad, but against him could work out to my favor, where goal for it was manipulating pot size and probable villain outlevels him self f.e. with AhKh calls 3-bet flop and goes check/check turn on blank -thinking: ou wow this guy must have AA, so I will check behind - witch is good imo, because I know exactly I mean exactly what I wont to accomplish with my move and why -but I can't tell it about villain (probable even God don't know what is in his head!!!). I mean I'm taking it seriously about poker :d :P it's real science and I just love it because of those spots like this, otherwise I wouldn't wrote such a long essays :D:D so wait for me at the tables soon.. ;) :D :P <br /> <br /> and best regard for U and all stuff people .. U are doing very helpful job ! keep it up !!!! :P

#17 Strongsl, 30 Aug 11 01:46


#18 naudanauda, 07 Mar 12 20:13

Well!!!<br /> <br /> U was absolutely right about how inforaise is bad in this spot against this guy and as a default play - just forget that was written above by me. But...<br /> <br /> 1. this is clear fold against lose-passive player oop all most every time, if U want to save some money in long run. About 90% of time he has 2 pair or better. It's time to make tough fold ;)<br /> <br /> 2. this is call against average-good thinking player a) average player might raise here with all kinds of fdro- I mean f.e. QhTh,QhJh, Qh9h, Jh9h includeing and could continue aggression on later streets b) good player will reraise here nut fdro and all kind of combo Fdraws and call it off based on FE and pot equity. KQ,KJs,KTs (sometimes)as well is reraise on flop for him,2 pairs and sets. From time to time U will see random 3 barrel bluffs. With QJ,QT,Q9,J9,J8 of hearts (9outers) he would call behind, being afraid off losing his pot equity share if faced with 3-bet shove, but still would follow-up on turn if missed. So this would be clear WA/WB spot.<br /> <br /> 3. against super agro players (with some history, if 3-bet bluff on flop is part of Your game)and agro-bad it make sense to 3-bet here to induce shove from many weaker hands and call it off. Where is more value in playing fast the flop with good hands than WA/WB.