When You Drop the Flop Part 1: Learning to Read...
What comes next? At any Hold’em table, there is no moment more crucial than the flop. You are more or less committed to this hand inasmuch as you now have a stake in the pot and only two more cards coming. Think of the flop as a little gremlin that pops out to say, “Hello roller! This is your hand!!” This is code for, ‘you have some decisions to make’. These are decisions that will bless or curse you throughout the remainder of this hand, and perhaps even the rest of the session. Whenever faced with tough decisions it is best to seek out as much information as possible. Here are tips for gathering information in-game.
Learn to read. That is, learn to make educated guesses as to what your opponents hold. Try to pay attention to these four factors: the player’s type or style of play, position, pre-flop betting, and post-flop betting. Evaluating and diagnosing a player’s playing style is an in-depth topic, and dealt with well in other articles (see ‘online poker table tells parts 1 and 2). Position and betting habits, however, warrant a brief discussion here. We begin the discussion pre-flop.
Blinds are forced bets, and position gives too little information as to what they may hold in their hand. Remember, the blinds are wild. They are forced into the pot before they can look in their pocket, and will therefore tend to make the best out of the hand over which they had little choice.
A player’s position in relation to the blinds, however, is very useful information. The tendency is for players close to the blind to play strong hands and fold on weak ones. Why is this? This is because the first few players after the blind have limited information on this hand. Since nobody else has folded or bet they cannot gauge the number of potentially strong hands in play. Whereas the blinds bet blindly, the first few players after the blind bet out of focus.
The later players benefit from their table position enormously. If a later player has been paying attention to the hand and not their email they will have gathered much data as to who probably holds the high cards this time around. This advantage, however, can turn around and sting. With all this information a later player tends to be more confident with their hand, and will tend to play somewhat weaker hands than they might were they in an earlier position.
Do not think too hard about position. Just keep the variable in mind when making decisions. The bulk of your attention should focus on betting behavior and should, ideally, involve both note-taking and quick analysis. This information allows you to type-cast certain players after a few hands, and gives you insight on their bluffing/calling patterns. Again, more detailed information covering online tells should be referenced. In the meantime, however, if a player bets aggressively before the flop, they probably have (or want you to believe they have) a jewel of a starting hand, like an Ace and face card, or a high pair. Those who call usually have (or want you to believe they have) a decent, but not a killer hand.
Wham! Down comes the flop; out comes the gremlin. Now everyone who did not fold at the pocket can see what will more or less be their hand. Here you want to pay particular attention to whether or not people raise. Blinds, being the mysterious poker beings that they are, will sometimes raise the hand on an unremarkable flop.
Following the pattern established before the flop, players in early positions will raise when the flop contains a few high cards. Remember, the early players probably only paid for the flop if their pocket was strong. Later players, on the other hand, will tend to raise the pot only when it looks promising for finishing a straight or flush. For tactics on playing the flop, reference part two.
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