Ellie Biessek: Master the art of postflop play

When the flop comes down you need to think carefully about how to proceed… To bet or not to bet? Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek shows you how to take control post flop

In the game of no-limit hold’em, the more aggressive, thinking player who carefully selects the spots for showing aggression will be a winning player in the long run. Every bet and every raise you make should have a purpose.

The very simplified purpose of betting is either to:

  • Make a weaker hand call – which means you’re betting for value
  • Make a better hand fold – which means you’re bluffing

It sounds really easy in theory, but in practice I often see players make basic mistakes. I am going to illustrate what I mean through three examples. Also, for simplicity I’ll only concentrate on the flop.

Betting for value

If you think you have the best hand and you want your opponent to pay you then you should make a value bet.

Before you make a value bet you must consider what hands your opponent will fold, and what hands your opponents will call you with. You can only bet for value when you know that your opponent will actually call your bet with a weaker hand often enough.

Bluffing

Bluffing is an art form and a vital part of poker, but if you just bluff without any prior thoughts it could prove to be very expensive. Here are some basic rules to follow when you’re thinking of bluffing…

  • Don’t inflate the pot with bluff bets
  • Be more inclined to bluff when your hand can still improve
  • Only bluff against players that you know could actually fold their hand
  • Don’t bluff against several opponents at once
  • Only bluff when you can credibly represent a strong hand and it is also likely that your opponent will be capable of folding

Example 1: Good spot to bluff versus bad spot to bluff

It’s the middle stages of a tournament and the blinds are 400/800 with a 50 ante. You, the small blind and the big blind have similar stacks – roughly 40k each. You just got moved to the table a few hands ago and therefore you don’t have much information on the players. You pick up K♠-Q♠ on the button and everyone folds to you. You raise to 2k and get called in both spots. The flop comes A-8-3♠.

This is a classic example of a great spot to put out a continuation bet and a good opportunity for a bluff. Few cards, with which your opponents called you with before the flop, will have hit something playable on this flop.

You on the other hand raised preflop and could credibly be holding an Ace for top pair. If neither of your opponents are actually holding one of the three remaining Aces, they will not be in a favourable spot to continue with their hands.

Now let’s consider a different and more dangerous flop – J-9♣-8♣. This flop is very draw-heavy. The flop cards connect with a number of cards with which your opponents might have called you with before the flop. It’s also hard to pretend that you have a very strong hand on this particular board. If you are playing against very tight opponents, you could bet once, but on a draw-heavy flop like this you’ll find it quite hard to get your opponents to fold.

Example 2: Good c-bet versus bad c-bet

It’s the same level as before, a few hands later. You have A-K♣ in mid-position. You raise to 2k and get called by the button and the BB. The flop comes 5♠-5-9♣.

By raising preflop, you represented a strong hand, and can now more credibly make your opponents believe that you also have a strong hand on the flop. This means you now have the option of continuing your preflop aggression and making a c-bet.

You might be thinking to yourself that your opponents could easily have called with a pair. This is true, but what if you have A-A or 9-9? Your opponent has to ask himself that same question too.

The great thing about c-bet bluffs is that you would play your strong hands the same way. Your opponents are left guessing and will often just take the safe route and fold – if not on the flop then most likely on the turn if their hands don’t improve.

However you shouldn’t c-bet all flops just because you’ve got a strong starting hand. Let’s change the flop to 5♠-6-8. The best thing you can do on this flop is to give up your hand. There is no point in making a c-bet bluff, unless your opponents are both extremely tight. A lot of hands will have hit this flop and you can’t credibly represent a strong hand. The probability of both opponents folding to your bet are very low and you can actually often be raised by either made hand or a draw.

Example 3: Good slowplay versus bad slowplay

It’s the early stages of a tournament. Everybody has roughly the starting stack of 25k and the blinds are 25/50. UTG+2 raises it to 150, the cutoff calls and you call with pocket Eights on the button. The flop comes A♣-2-8, UTG+2 bets 250 and the cutoff calls. The action is back on you…

This is a good example of a situation where you can slowplay your hand. The flop is not draw-heavy. It looks relatively harmless and contains an Ace. You don’t need to protect your hand and can simply just call the opponent’s flop bet, as long as you’re of the opinion that this will make you more money in the long run rather than a direct raise.

If the flop was K-9-8 the situation is rather different. Here there are too many draws possible to let your opponents see the next card cheaply. Both of them have shown interest in the pot and it’s highly likely that you have the best hand. If you raise you are likely to get more money in to the pot. If UTG+2 has A-K for example, he might think that you are on a draw and he will pay you off.

In general, when you’re trying to decide whether to bet or not, think of what you’re trying to achieve. Pay close attention to the texture of the board and try to think of your opponent’s range and what he’ll be thinking about. 


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