Post-flop play is what makes poker interesting and complex.
There are virtually infinite possible post-flop situations, which can lead to a lot of uncertainty in one’s decision making.
In this article, I’ll be reviewing Doug Polk’s answers to 5 post-flop questions sent in by you, the Upswing readers. The questions cover these topics:
- How to play strong top pairs on monotone flops.
- Approaching paired flops with overpairs.
- How to play bottom pair on the flop when facing a bet.
- Playing overpairs on coordinated flops in multi-way pots.
- Whether or not to run it twice when given the opportunity.
Let’s dive right in.
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Q1: How do you approach monotone boards with strong top pairs?
A: It can be pretty challenging to play top pair on flops with all of a single suit. Nearly a quarter of the possible turn cards will bring a four-flush, reducing your once-strong hand to a weak bluff-catcher. Imagine the following situation:
Live $2/$5 in a casino, $500 Effective Stacks
Hero is dealt in the Cutoff
folds to cutoff, Hero raises to $15, 2 folds, Big Blind calls
(Pot: $30) The flop is
Big Blind checks..
Doug has a 3-step process for approaching spots like this. This process applies not only to the flop, but to future streets as well.
Step 1: Estimate the amount of flushes in your opponent’s range.
We start by estimating our opponent’s range to determine how likely they are to have a flush. Players in the looser positions, like the Button and Big Blind, will have a greater number of flushes in their range because their pre-flop calling ranges contain many suited hands.
Consequently, they will also have a relatively large number of very weak hands that have completely missed the flop. When facing such a polarized range it’s often best to play more defensively than usual.
In the hand above, the player defended from the Big Blind, meaning she has a wide range with a bunch of weak and marginal hands, along with many flushes that other positions will rarely have. It’s definitely best to go for a bet with our KQ to extract value against a against a range with so many marginal hands.
If the Big Blind check/raises or makes a big move later in the hand, proceed with caution and move on to step 2.
Step 2: Determine where this top pair falls in relation to your own range.
It’s important to keep track of how close our hand is to the top of our range, especially when our opponents start applying pressure with big bets or raises.
If it happens to be towards the very top, sometimes you are just going to have to go the distance with the hand and chalk it up as a cooler if they flopped the flush. Losing is no fun, but neither is playing with scared money.
The top pair in the hand above is somewhere near the top-middle of our range. Our standard Cutoff opening range will contain some better hands, specifically suited hands that have flopped flushes and a few hands that have made a set or two pair.
If the Big Blind check/raised the flop, this KQ is a clear flop call, with plans to fold to aggression on later streets.
Step 3: Note how aggressive your opponent plays post-flop (reads permitting.)
If we have any reads on our opponent’s tendencies, it’s time to consider applying them.
Against an overly-aggressive opponent, calling multiple barrels with top pair will be effective and profitable. Against an extremely tight opponent, we can probably get away early in the hand without losing a big chunk of our stack.
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Q2: How do you play overpairs on paired flops?
A: Doug advocates for a small bet sizing on paired flops for 3 reasons.
- Using a smaller bet size allows you to go for thinner value.
- Small bets allow you to bluff the flop more frequently and effectively.
- Checking will result in some of our marginal hands facing tough turn and river situations.
- Using a small bet size keeps our opponent’s range wide, allowing us to barrel the turn and river with a high frequency.
This strategy is particularly effective on low paired boards when neither player is likely to have trips, such as:
Most players will fold all of their 4x and 2x hands pre-flop, so you can be fairly confident no one has trips on boards like the ones above.
Betting small is still an effective play on flops with higher paired cards, but it’s important to proceed with some caution in case our opponent has trips.
Q3: How do you play bottom pair against a flop bet?
A: Despite the vulnerabilities of bottom pair, it is almost always a profitable hand to call the flop with when facing a bet. For instance:
$0.50/$1.00 on PokerStars, $100 Effective Stacks
Hero is dealt in the Big Blind
folds to button, Button raises to $2.50, sb folds, Hero calls
(Pot: $5.25) Flop is
Hero checks, Button bets $3
Let’s break down this flop situation to prove this is a profitable call. First, we need to calculate our pot odds:
So, in terms of raw equity we need at least 27% to profitably call (plus a little more to account for our positional disadvantage.) Next, we need to calculate our hand’s equity against the Button’s betting range.
Poker Equilab indicates that our bottom pair has nearly 39% equity against the Button’s estimated c-bet range. That’s well above the 27% raw equity needed to profitably call.
There are some instances where it can be reasonable to let go of bottom pair on the flop, but those situations are few, far-between and easy to identify. If you’re ever in doubt, just calculate the pot odds and equity as demonstrated above.
Q4: How do you play overpairs on coordinated flops in multi-way pots?
A: Every poker player is familiar with this terrible feeling…
You look down at the beautiful pocket Kings and raise. Your raise is met by a call from both the Button and Big Blind. The dealer slowly peels the flop from the rest of the deck…
…ICK! That just feels dirty. Your hand is still strong, but a less-coordinated board would definitely have been preferred.
As far as how to continue, there are multiple effective strategies for these situations.
Some good players will check these spots with all of their overpairs, planning to either check/call or check/raise the flop. This can be a reasonable strategy, but it’s usually better to employ a mixed strategy with your overpairs in this situation.
Back to that 8-7-5 flop, which happens to be a great board to use a mixed strategy. Here’s how Doug would approach this flop with each overpair:
1. 99 is a clear check here most of the time. It’s a great hand with which to check/call multiple streets and betting can lead to some difficult and unnecessary situations.
2. QQ, JJ and TT are fairly clear bets. Checking will severely limit our ability to get bets in because there are so many bad turn cards that will force us to check. Any Ace, King, 9, 6, 4 or spade can roll off, putting QQ-TT in a difficult spot.
3. You can occasionally trap AA and KK. Checking some percentage of the time with the strongest overpairs is a reasonable way to balance our flop-check range, as well as give our opponents some rope with which to hang themselves. Because there are fewer bad turn cards for AA and KK, they are less vulnerable and a more effective trap than QQ-TT.
Bolstering our check range on boards like this is important because as the pre-flop raiser, we will never have a straight. If we c-bet a merged range containing all overpairs, our check range will be very weak and easily exploitable.
That being said, don’t play in fear. A hand like JJ is still very likely to be ahead on a board like 8-7-5, just don’t start piling bets and raises like Isildur1 at his first WSOP Europe.
Q5: What are your thoughts on running it twice?
A: Running it twice isn’t applicable to everyone because it’s only offered in some games, usually higher stakes live games (some online games also offer it.)
Doug’s advice on this topic is simple: If you’re ever given the option to run it twice at no additional cost (rake), you should always take it. Winning players should want to limit their variance as much as possible because it allows them to move up in stakes sooner.
One thing to keep in mind: always pay attention to the rake associated with running it twice. If the house charges additional rake to run it an extra time, just run it once. It can become an expensive habit, and as good as it feels to lower variance, it’s not worth sacrificing EV in the process.
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