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StrategySit & Go

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

As already mentioned a lot of these points go hand in hand. Playing way ahead / way behinds indirectly encompasses pot control and bluff induce.

The goal is to get the 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

Party Poker No-Limit Hold'em 11$ Tourney, Big Blind is t40 (10 handed)

Stacks & Reads
UTG (t2000)
UTG+1 (t2000)
UTG+2 (t2000)
MP1 (t2000)
MP2 (t2000)
MP3 (t2000)
CO (t2000) (loose fish)
Hero (t2000)
SB (t2000)
BB (t2000)

Preflop: Hero is BU with K , Q
6 folds, CO raises to 120, Hero calls 120, 2 folds

Flop: (300) 5, 7, Q (2 players)
CO bets 150, Hero calls 150

You decide to play your hand passively before the flop and call a relatively loose 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. A more detailed analysis is hardly possible.


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

Party Poker No-Limit Hold'em 11$ Tourney, Big Blind is t40 (10 handed)

Stacks & Reads
UTG (t2000) (loose player)
UTG+1 (t2000)
UTG+2 (t2000)
MP1 (t2000)
MP2 (t2000)
Hero (t2000)
CO (t2000)
Button (t2000)
SB (t2000)
BB (t2000)

Preflop: Hero is MP3 with A , Q
UTG calls 40, 4 folds, Hero raises to 120, 3 folds, BB calls 80, UTG calls 80

Flop: (380) A, 6, 6 (3 players)
BB checks, UTG bets 250, Hero calls 250

In this case you raised a bit looser pre-flop since you saw yourself ahead with AQ and wanted to isolate UTG. 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, 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.


That's not the entire article...

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Comments (9)

#1 HasuHasi, 06 Mar 09 14:30

That's one of the best - if not the best - article I've read in the SnG section. Most other articles are pretty mediocre and didn't help me thaaat much, because they are hard to bring into play (imho). However this article somewhat opened my eyes on it's topic and I think I can actually use this pretty often to my advantage! This also finally is something I can use my reads for, I never really knew what to do with reads on opponents in SnG's...

More of this plz!!

#2 EthereaL, 17 Aug 09 14:44

Nice article. I definitely should improve this aspect of my game.

#3 lessthanthreee, 26 Aug 09 03:55

i love the explanation of way-ahead / way-behind.

well written

#4 Hahaownedlolz, 26 Dec 09 16:49

i agree, really great article. i'm definetly going to think about this some more.

#5 Koshburger, 10 Feb 10 02:14


#6 Avatars91, 05 Aug 10 16:03

Love the KK on an Ace high board example! Thanks so much for this!

#7 RazvanDan, 27 Sep 10 09:01

It's really hard sometimes to lay down a good hand even when you know you are beaten,it takes time and a lot of bad beats to know when you have to slowplay or throw your cards.As a begginer it's very easy to be over agressive and overestimate your cards,this article also shows us some tips for traps.

#8 SPADES1, 03 Feb 11 11:08

Referring to 'A more detailed analysis is hardly possible' in Example 1. An easy calculation of the hand you are behind is: let use assume he is loose but not unreasonable so: we put in his range 55 (3), 77 (3), QQ (1), 57 (9), KK (3), AA (6), AQ (8). A trivial sum (by mean of bynomial coefficients is immediate (6 2)+(6 2)+3=33) lead us to say there are 33 (reasonable, I refuse to fancy he has Q7 or Q5) hands better than KQ. I'd be happy to get into further details if sbdy is interested.

#9 SPADES1, 03 Feb 11 11:53

Referring to; 'You obviously want to stay in the pot, since you're getting excellent odds' in Example 4. I disagree since your chances to improve are 19,15%, whilst pot odds are 22,5%. Of course if you consder at leastyour queens good the odds are 25,53%, so calling i s mathematicaly correct. Eventually if you put your oppo on A8 or 78, acually you have 15 outs so odds are in favour (54,12%).