Deciding Whether to Check or Bet on the Flop...

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This is the first part of the "Post Flop Play" series. The introduction to this "Post Flop Play" series may be found here.

You’ve met an early position raiser’s preflop raise with a call on the button. The flop comes Ace-six-three and you’re holding ace-six suited. What do you do when he checks it to you on the flop? Or how about three handed when you’ve raised middle position with pocket sixes and the flop comes Ace-King-Six? Holding nines under the gun four handed, flop delivers 10-3-5 all suited, what then? Pocket twos in the cutoff three handed and an unraised pot with a rainbowed flop all containing low cards. So much to decide and so little time to do so. With some theory and a little thought, one can better decide what to do. In the next few minutes, we’ll look over each of the above situations and go over how one should best play the hands. Keep in mind, this is all theoretical and there are always more than one way to do things. My intention is to more so get everyone thinking about some of the things that perhaps they may not normally think about when playing NL Texas Hold’em. Please note, these three situations will be visited later on in the series. For this reason, we won’t be playing the hypothetical hand all the way through right this moment, but instead we will do so throughout the series.

Situation one: You’re heads up on the button holding Ace-six of clubs vs. an early position raiser. For the sake of assumption, the player has shown down quality hands played in position. He raises 4x’s the big blind and was second to act preflop. The pot contains his four initial bets preflop, your four bets, and the folded big and small blind bets. You were rather certain the big blind would have made a call if he had something playable and were originally calculating his call into your equation when you decided to call.

For simplicity’s sake, the pot contains 10 bets (we’ll just say 10). You each have stacks of 1000 remaining. The flop is rainbowed and comes Ace diamonds -six hearts -three clubs. The opponent checks to you, what now?

My thoughts are that while you “may” be able afford to give a free card here, the opponent checked to me on the flop, yet he liked his hand enough to raise preflop out of position. I’m thinking that normally, he’d continue his bet if the flop didn’t help him somewhat. More than likely, he’s got a high ace, maybe even suited. He could also be holding kings-nines, however, he’d be more apt to bet the flop out of continuation to say the least. On the other hand, I’ve been helped by this flop significantly. Top two pair at the moment and a backdoor flush draw. I’m convinced this flop helped me and also got him a piece in such a manner that he was comfortable checking to me. If I check I have two streets to get his entire stack into the center (this is now my goal). If I bet, I get to see how much he thinks this flop helped him. It should be noted, if he folds to my bet, it’s likely this flop would have produced zero for me, thus it makes little sense to give a free card. Additionally, there’s no over cards to come, so checking now with the purpose of bluffing or semi-bluffing later is not going to apply here. If he has ace-king, ace-queen, etc. he’s going to pay you off. Heads up, two pair vs. early position when this board is checked to you, I make a clear argument for betting here and will gladly await a check raise coming back at me.

Situation two: You have Pocket sixes in the middle position, three handed on a flop of Ace clubs -King hearts - six clubs. You have one person acting before you in the big blind and one person in the cutoff to act behind you. The big blind is a trappy player who checks to you. Pot contains 12 bets, once again everyone has 1000 chips. Once again, you’ve been helped by this flop. While the BB may be trappy, he most likely didn’t overcall with pocket aces or kings. The cutoff didn’t simply call either with aces or kings. If either of them did, you’re destined to get stacked. There’s no over cards to the board for a bluff/semi-bluff here either, which means that if they‘re not scared of this flop now, they‘re not going to become scared short of queen-jack of hearts coming on the respective turn and river. I’d be inclined to continue the bet on this flop and hope both of them want to stick around and play back at you. Once again, my goal is to get each of them to donate 1000 chips to the center of the pot. I don’t wish to appear too excited, nor do I want to play too cautiously. Betting, once again, is the clear answer.

Situation three: Pocket nines (9c-9h) UTG raised 3x preflop, four handed, which includes the big blind, the small blind, and the person directly to your left. Flop comes 10c -3c -5c. What now? Once again, the suited board is either going to look scary or it’s not, period. If you check here, it’s going to give the player to your left an opportunity to bluff at the pot containing 12 bets (all have 1000 stacks). This time, you’re not wanting to build a pot, necessarily, instead you’re looking to weed out the players who do not have an over pair, the players who do not have a club or clubs in their hands, and the players who do not have a set. This board would be a great candidate for a check had it not been such a coordinated flop. There would be a bluff opportunity on the turn or river with an over card falling, plus the possibility of you hitting a set on the turn, but with the board being suited, I’d be likely to bet out and I’d be content getting either two handed or terminating the hand right here.

Situation four: You’ve limped into the pot preflop with pocket twos from the cutoff position. You’re four handed with 2 middle position limpers and the big blind. The flop comes 5-9-3 rainbowed. Everyone checks to you. The pot contains four bets presently, everyone sitting at 1000 chips. This flop “shouldn’t” scare anyone. You don’t have a big hand, so you do not really wish to build a big pot yet. If you bet into this flop, anyone calling or raising likely has you beat. I’d be inclined to give a free card here and check behind. If the hand is checked to me on the turn, I’d be more inclined to bet out strongly. Additionally, I’d be almost willing to represent an over card or set on the turn if the situation presents itself. Here checking behind is clearly the better move.

Next we’ll dig deeper into the “why’s” of the above. Feel free to comment, discuss, add to, and/or question anything in the above situations. Once again, there’s not any single correct answer for these problems. In many ways, the game of Hold’em is simple and easy to understand. The theory behind it‘s play, however, can be an entirely different creature, as it’s a game that can be learned in less than an hour, and mastered over the course of more than a lifetime.