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Head Games: How Do Different Board Textures on the Flop Change the Way You Continue in a Hand

With David “The Maven” Chicotsky, Rex Clinkscales, and Joe Tehan

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Sep 16, 2015

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Craig Tapscott: Can you share the best way to play various types of boards on the flop and share essential information for a player to understand? And how do you vary your approach against different types of opponents?

David Chicotsky: People are creatures of habit, and having a general semblance of how your opponent plays will allow you to interpret boards in a more logical fashion. For example, some passive players like to limp any ace from any position. If that’s the case, the frequency of them hitting an ace on the flop relative to a typical player (with a more normal limping range) is expected to be extraordinarily high.

As a general rule, raisers and re-raisers have more leverage when representing Broadway-type boards, while the player that just called preflop is more likely to represent low-to-medium boards. With that being said, a striking amount of players are simply in call-or-fold mode post-flop, and if they didn’t hit the community cards hard enough, they’re leaning towards folding. When a typical player wants to continue on, they tend to call the majority of the time. If they like their hand and are convinced they’re winning, they tend to raise.

This is the easiest type of player to play against. If they think they’re losing they fold, if they think they might be good they call, and if they’re thoroughly convinced they’re winning they’ll raise. Players need to re-raise more often post-flop when they’re losing (to get folds) and just call when they’re winning (to keep them in the hand and in order to extract more value on the later streets, where progressive betting leads to much larger and more consequential bets).

When you are on the flop, you need to decide if your hand is a one-street, two-street, or three-street betting hand. Middle pair with a good kicker on the flop is a good example of a one-street hand, after all, if you bet two or three streets and get calls, what are the odds you’re good? Top pair with a very weak kicker might be an example of a two-street hand, where you provide some pot-control measures while still trying to extract the maximum amount. A flopped two-pair or better situation clearly warrants a three-street value betting situation. All too often, it’s obvious a player is just in robot mode and is betting because they “hit the flop” with no plan going into the turn or river.

Rex Clinkscales: I base a lot of what I do or don’t do strictly on the limitations of my opponents. In general, boards with straights and flushes present don’t offer the best value for bluffing.

With that said, sometimes a dry board like 4-4-2 rainbow might be so dry it instigates a bet or a raise out of a thinking player. When we are thinking on a more broad level: the preflop raiser typically represents Broadway type cards; preflop callers typically represent low-to-mid type cards or drawing hands. 

Joe Tehan: I will have different approaches to each hand depending on the texture of the flop. I will also vary my bet sizing based on what I am trying to accomplish in each given hand.

For example, let’s assume we are in a tournament playing 50-100 blinds (with 10,000-chip stacks) and I make it 250 with 5-5 and only the big blind calls. If he checks to me on a K-7-2 rainbow flop, I would make a continuation bet (c-bet) of 300. I am simply betting based on what I am trying to accomplish. I am not trying to fold out better hands in this scenario, I simply want to bet small to protect against his random overcards that he didn’t pair on the flop. 

In another example, let’s assume I raise to 250 with 5-5 and get three callers and now the flop comes 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit 5Diamond Suit. Now I am trying to accomplish something totally different. This is a scenario where I will be trying to get in as much money in on the flop as I can. The reason for this is because there are so many bad turn cards that will give someone else a winning hand or that will kill the action. If I am unlucky to run into a bigger set or a straight, I will simply have to “take my medicine!” However, there are so many draws that will have far inferior equity to your hand that will not fold to your bet. For this example, it is okay to bet closer to the size of the pot or even look to make a big check-raise. 

Craig Tapscott: Certain boards are ripe for continuation bets, while others might be a Venus fly trap of trouble. Discuss the pros and cons of c-betting certain boards.

David Chicotsky: Obviously the more draws out on the flop, the more likely our opponent is to call. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Scared players make the mistake of assuming that anything that increases their variance leads to negative expected value. Don’t think like this. Remember that the wider they call, the less hand-strength they retain, on average. Meaning we might be able to get a call on the flop, then a fold on the turn or river.

Remember that our opponent will miss a draw five out of every six times per card. Also worth noting, better players will be sticky against your c-bet on very wet and very dry boards. It’s no scarier betting a 9-7-6 board with a flush draw out or a 4-2-2 board with no flush draw, assuming our opponent is capable of making a play on the flop a decent percentage of the time.

Don’t just automatically c-bet, but at the same time, you’ll need to fire at the flop enough to be able to take down pots when you don’t have it (while giving action and increasing your chances of getting paid off when you actually have it). Many players over-focus on the board and under-focus on the number of players in the hand.

I’d rather bet into a wet board on the flop against one player, rather than a dry board with multiple players. In its most basic form, the math is heavily skewed towards you getting a fold on the flop against a single player and not as heavily skewed towards the type of board. Along with the number of players, it’s necessary to key in on what your opponent is capable of or not capable of in the hand. A player that doesn’t have a bluff-raise or float in them (meaning they’ll always either call when they feel they’re winning, or fold) will garner a c-bet almost 100 percent of the time, while a capable player will drastically reduce how often it’s profitable to c-bet.

Rex Clinkscales: C-betting has become passé to some extent since everyone does it and players in general tend to call more than they used to in my opinion.

I like to vary my c-betting with really small and really big bets instead of just auto-dumping half of the pot in the middle. This throws my opponents off a bit, I feel, while allowing me to throttle up or down my bets going into the more important streets, the turn and river. Most players will check to the raiser, but if they’re just check-calling and you’re bluffing, you really have to decide if it’s a good spot to outlay chips.

Many up-and-coming players paying their dues right now will likely learn the hard way that just automatically c-betting can cause problems. Boards that are connected, especially boards with both straight and flush draws present, provide extraordinary stickiness from our opponents. Be sure to think things through, whether to c-bet and how much. Don’t just auto-c-bet and don’t just bet the same percentage of the flop every single time. Don’t just say you’re a thinking player, act like a thinking player by adjusting.

Joe Tehan: My goal when playing any form of poker is to try to get in as much money as I can when I am a favorite. So I first look at a flop c-bet and assume my opponent is never folding. Is my hand a favorite over his range of hands in that spot? If I feel like it is, I am more than happy to get some chips in the pot.

After factoring that part of the equation, I then think about how often I can get my opponent to fold with a bet. In general, c-betting on very dry boards will get a lot more folds than c-betting on draw-heavy boards. So I am more likely to bluff with air on a K-7-2 rainbow flop vs. a 7-6-5 flop with a flush draw. In general, however, I feel like people tend to overestimate c-betting and most players tend to c-bet too often. There is nothing wrong with taking a free card (especially vs. a straightforward opponent) and either make a delayed c-bet on the turn or fold if they bet. ♠

David “The Maven” Chicotsky is a renowned poker coach, former top online tournament player, and online player of the year. He has recently released his first e-book: “The Basics of Poker and Beyond” – which can be downloaded on Kindle/Amazon.

Rex Clinkscales is originally from San Antonio, TX and moved to Vegas to pursue a poker career. He recently won the $400 event at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza III. Clinkscales also won the 2012-13 WSOP Circuit Main event at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

Joe Tehan started playing low limit games while attending college and worked his way up the stakes. He won the 2006 WPT Mandalay Bay Poker Championship for $1,033,000 and has more than $4 million in career cashes.