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Post-flop play – Part II

Back to our discussion of post-flop play; see Part I.

V. Control pot size. This one is tricky, almost certainly trickier than you think. Controlling pot size has two obvious elements, keeping it small and making it grow. When you’re on a draw you usually want to keep the pot small (adjusted, of course, for fold equity). There are some straightforward gambits here, particularly when first to act such as blocking bets (initial bets that are likely to be less than your opponent would bet) or “timely” checks (made after “thinking” for some time) which can induce a check from an opponent.

You also will often want to keep the pot small when you’ve got top pair, even with a decent kicker. No, don’t howl. I’m serious. More money is lost with TPTK than any other holding (with the possible exception of bottom two). If the pot gets too big you’re going to find yourself committed with the second best hand … one of these thumpings a session and you’re a losing player.

If you’ve flopped a big hand you want, of course, to grow the pot and you need to carefully judge what your opponent is likely to call. Generally something around 2/3 or 3/4 of the pot on the flop and turn works well to get an overwhelmed opponent pot-committed. There is a tendency to get greedy and overbet the pot. Sometimes this will work but it is a finely tuned decision based on your read of the situation and your opponent. Unless you can get him to think you’re on a bluff you’re unlikely to get a call. If your opponent folds the worst hand because you bet too much, you’ve made a significant mistake.

VI. Pay close attention to stack sizes, yours and your opponents’. I often sit there and watch the others at my table. I am surprised at how often people make bets without taking into account what their opponents have in front of them. There are some pretty simple principles operating here.

Don’t try to bluff a small stack. If your opponent is down to some 10 or fewer BB’s and has called to see the flop, he’s unlikely to dump his hand to an all-in —- unless he missed everything and then he’ll dump it to a lesser bet anyway. Similarly, be restrained with big stacks, because they’re feeling pretty good about life and will look you up with less than they might under other circumstances.

Some hands gain in value when facing a big stack such as small pairs and gut shot draws. When you hit one of these your hand is usually well disguised. Conversely, these hands lose value when facing small stacks.

Stack size issues are important in tournament play where their role can get magnified at critical times like the money bubble and the final table bubble.

VII. Don’t try to put opponents on a hand, try to put them on a range of hands and let each street narrow it. This is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be discussed, but it does. Look around the table next time and notice how often someone will say something like “well, I put him a flush draw” or “he had to have 7’s or at best 8’s.” Sometimes this kind of close read is legit, but most of the time it’s an error. Sometimes the error is caused by unimaginative thinking about your opponent but, alas, sometimes it is the result of watching too much TV.

An awful lot of players have been struck by some seemingly occult hand reading on the part of top players like Daniel Negreanu and Mike Matusow. And it is very impressive when Daniel looks across the table and says, “okay, okay so you hit the 9 to go with your A; nice. I fold.” —- And the pocket cam indeed shows us A, 9.

Before you get sucked into trying to match these feats, here are some things to think about. First, these guys are good and they have had a lot of experience. Second, their opponents are often either people they know well or amateurs whose games are fairly transparent. Third, these miracle reads are on TV and the show you’re watching is edited.

In the real world not only is it very difficult to put someone on a hand, it is usually the wrong thing to try to do. Start with a range of hands that make sense given the action and then adjust your read as new information comes in.

And, importantly, don’t forget, if you’ve started out best or flopped a made hand each new card that hits the board will diminish its value. Made hands can only lose value, drawing hands can’t. Make sure you adjust your read with each successive board card.

VIII. The float. This piece of post-flop subterfuge has gotten a good bit of attention lately, so much so that you probably want to be careful using it. The play is designed to take advantage of a pre-flop raiser who likely missed the flop. Suppose there’s an early raise, 4xBB pre-flop. You call on the button with modest junk. The flop is a raggedy 9, 3, 5 rainbow. The raiser makes a continuation bet, assuming (probably) that you didn’t hit the flop either. You call, implying that either you did hit it or you called the initial raise with a pair.

If the raiser was playing a big ace, he is likely to check the turn. You make a bet of about 2/3 the pot. You will have a pretty high probability of taking down the pot. Your cards are irrelevant.

However, this play has become so routine that often the initial raiser will counter it by checking raising you. The lesson to learn here is to be careful and get a sense of how tricky you think the initial raiser is before you try ‘floating’ him.

Next time we’ll look at another group of post-flop situations and explore how to play them.

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