Playing different hands after the flop

In this section, we explain how to play different hands on the flop, including:

So, after the first round of betting comes the flop, or first three community cards. This is where the game of poker really begins. Are those three cards going to bag you some chips? Should you wait for the turn and river – or get out while you still can?

How good is your hand?

The first thing to decide is whether the flop has improved your hand or not. If the answer is yes, you’ll need to understand the strength of different poker hands to know how to play it for maximum returns.

Ace high

Not as great as it sounds. If no-one’s betting after the flop, you might be able to carry it through. If your opponents are looking confident, then fold.

Top pair

Finding yourself with two pair after the flop can be good, but don’t forget, your opponent can use those cards too. Bet early before they get the chance.

Trips/set

Trips, or three-of-a-kind, after the flop is a very good thing. But again, you need to move quickly before someone makes a flush or straight.

Straight

A well-disguised straight (one that’s not obvious from the flop) is good, but not if your opponent has a flush or full house. Again, your chances of winning are better before the turn and the river. If the flop contains consecutive cards, then your straight is obvious, and much harder to play.

Flush

This is a great hand, but don’t forget a flop of suited cards will benefit your opponent too. So, unless you have the ace (in the case of two flushes, the top card wins), a check and call might be a good idea.

Full house

If you find yourself with a full house on the flop, you can afford to take things slow. A higher hand is unlikely, so take it easy and let the bets build up. But keep your eyes open, because if something bigger does come along you could take nasty hit.

Quads

Virtually unbeatable, but also quite hard to hide. Your best chance is to bet slowly, let your opponents build their hands, and wait.

Straight flush

No-one can beat you with this hand. The trick is making them think they can – or you won’t get much for it.

Drawing hands: are they worth it?

There is one other possibility – you have a ‘draw’ hand. This means you’re one card short of a major hand like a flush or straight, depending on what happens at the turn or river. Time to let the odds decide.

If you only have a straight or a flush draw, and you’re being asked to put in 20% of the pot value or more, then you should fold. The chances of making your draw are rarely more than 35%, so it just isn’t worth it.

But a combination hand (like a pair and a flush-draw or a straight and flush-draw) is a different story. With these hands you can call big bets, raise aggressively or even go all-in if you need to. Your chances of winning by the river are 50-50 at this point, so it’s worth a try.

What to bet and when

If you bet before the flop, you should carry on, or ‘continuation bet’, most of the time. Even if you haven’t improved your hand (missed the flop), your confidence might encourage other players to fold. And if they don’t, your hand might get better on the turn.

If you weren’t the one to raise before the flop, you should check (skip your turn to bet), and let the original raiser make a bet first. Then you can raise.

If you were the one to raise before the flop, you’ll need a straight or flush to raise again. Otherwise, if other people start betting or raising, then fold.

How much should I bet?

After the flop, the usual starting bet is two-thirds the size of the pot (the total that has already been bet). So if the pot stands at $9, you should bet around $6. If you want to re-raise, you should aim for two and a half times the previous player’s bet. So if they bet $6 you should raise to $15. If they re-raise, you should go all-in.

The key is to avoid betting too much, unless you’re pretty sure you have the best hand. In poker, a timely fold is next to a win. So if things aren’t going your way, it’s better to get out quickly.

Other ways the flop can help you

Playing after the flop is not just about what hand you have, but what hands your opponents may have. This is something you can use to your advantage.

Let’s say the flop is a sequence of low cards in the same suit. That’s no use to you, but your opponent doesn’t know that. Bet confidently and they’ll assume you’ve got a flush and fold, even though you have nothing and they’ve got a top pair.

As a beginner, this is something you should do rarely. Most times you are looking to have the best hand and make other people pay to see it by calling your bets.

Why position matters

A lot of the time, the risks you take will depend on your position. Let’s say you’re on the button and the flop turns up an ace. You have an ace in your hole cards, which looks good for you – unless someone else has an ace, or something better like a flush. If everyone else checks, chances are they haven’t. So, at least in lower-level games where bluffs are rare, you’re probably holding the best hand.