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Playing The Flop With A Plan

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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Ed MillerNo-limit games are more aggressive these days than they have ever been. The lion’s share of this extra aggression comes early in hands. Where preflop reraising was a rare event in a typical game a few years ago, I now see it fairly regularly (along with occasional light four-betting and five-betting).

There’s also more flop aggression. Players are learning that it doesn’t pay to play fit-or-fold. I see more players fighting for pots on the flop.

With so much flop raising, you can’t just throw a flop bet out there and wait to see what happens. Instead, you should anticipate getting raised, have an idea for what hands a player might raise you with, and then develop a plan for dealing with the raise before you even put in the first bet.

I played the following hand in a Las Vegas $2-$5 game. When I played the hand, this year’s World Series of Poker had just begun, and the Las Vegas rooms were filled with out-of-towners, many of whom learned to play on the hurly-burly Internet.

In this particular hand, I played against two friendly young men from Norway. These guys both clearly had experience playing online, and I’ll admit that as I played the hand, I was working off the general stereotype many have of Scandanvian players. With just a few hands at a table, often stereotypes are the best information you have.

One of the Norwegians opened for $20 from early position. He had been opening many pots, and $20 was his standard raise.

It folded around to the other Norwegian man directly to my right. He called on the button. He too was loose, and I thought he could make this call with many hands.
I had AClub Suit KSpade Suit in the small blind, and I reraised to $65. Both players called. There was $200 in the pot, and we had about $500 behind.

The flop came QSpade Suit JDiamond Suit 3Spade Suit.

No one at the table seemed to have recognized me, and so I assumed that my opponents might initially give me credit for playing the snug, safe game that many Las Vegas regulars play.

Time for a plan. Both of my opponents are loose and play a wide range of hands preflop. There’s no question that a Q-J combo will connect with a number of these hands. But only a few of these hands connect so hard with the flop that I’d expect my opponents to call it off without a thought (for example, A-Q, K-Q, Q-J, Q-Q, J-J, 3-3).

I therefore decided that I would bet the flop and shove most turn cards. I thought that both the flop bet and the turn shove would have good fold equity against two loose ranges. And I’ve got a Broadway gutshot, two overcards, and a backdoor flush draw to the king to fall back on.

I bet $140 into the $200 pot. The first player folded quickly. The second player pondered for perhaps half a minute and then shoved all-in.

I snap-called the $360 raise.

The turn and river came 7-7 without completing the flush. My opponent said, “You win. I had spades.” When I showed my hand to claim the pot, my opponent seemed a little bewildered.

It makes sense that he might have been thrown off by my call. He no doubt assumed that he perhaps had some fold equity if I held A-K – he was likely counting on this fold equity and also fold equity from hands like T-T and 9-9 to make his play. If I’m snap-calling him with A-K, then his read of the situation was likely off, and his bluff-raise was a bad one.

Why did I call? It’s a pure equity thing. I don’t expect to be ahead when the money goes in. But I’m getting $840-to-$360 on my call, which means I need to win the pot just 30 percent of the time to justify the call. When I added up the gutshot, overcard, and backdoor flush outs at the table, and when I threw in the chance that he was shoving a straight or flush draw, I calculated that I easily had the required 30 percent equity to call.

I analyzed the decision afterwards using PokerStove and, after giving my opponent what I thought at the time was a reasonable shoving range, found out that I was well over 40 percent to win the pot at the time of the flop all-in. It’s a clear call just as I had deduced at the table.

So what’s the point? I had a clear plan for how I would play the remainder of the hand already formulated before I put the first $140 in the pot. My opponents seemed to be loose and willing to splash around. I assumed (maybe correctly, maybe not) that a large turn bet would represent to my opponents a range stronger than it should. Thus, my plan was to bet $140 and, if called, shove the remainder on the turn.

Furthermore, I anticipated that my opponents could raise me on the flop. I assumed each of them would shove a range that included flush draws, straight draws, sets, Q-J, A-A, K-K, A-Q, and maybe K-Q, though likely not hands like Q-T or A-J. Against this range, a quick mental calculation told me I would have an easy call. So I had already decided to call a shove before I put my first bet out there.

Now I didn’t have a plan for every possible contingency. If the first player had shoved, and the second had called the huge raise cold, I would have had to reevaluate. This would have been a low probability outcome, however, so I think it’s OK not to analyze it beforehand.

But a single call or a single raise are the two most likely outcomes (besides winning the pot without a fight), and I should be prepared for both of these possibilities before I put my money at risk.

Too often I see players make flop bets, get raised, and then struggle with how to respond. There are two problems with this. First, often as a player is struggling with a response, he’s giving off tells about his hand strength. If there’s still money behind, it’s extremely dangerous to betray the strength of your hand through tells while you’re deciding what to do.

Second, even if you are fairly certain that betting is correct whether you get raised or not, when you get raised you may wish you had not made such a large bet. Bet sizing decisions often depend on stack sizes and how you plan to play the rest of the hand. If you want to size your bets well, you have to look ahead in the hand and anticipate how things may play out. If you’re constantly getting caught by surprise when an opponent raises, you’re also likely making poor bet-sizing decisions.

So plan ahead. The more you plan, the better all of your decisions will be. ♠

Ed’s brand new book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at notedpokerauthority.com. Find Ed on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.