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Flop Decisions With Doug Polk, Jeremy Ausmus, and Zhuang Ruan

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Sep 22, 2021

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The Pros: Doug Polk, Jeremy Ausmus, and Zhuang Ruan

Craig Tapscott: What should players know about how to approach various textured flops?

Doug Polk: For myself I’ll change the question slightly to, ‘How should you approach the flop heads-up?’ To which my answer is, it’s important on the flop to know if it’s a board you want to be betting quite often for a small size, or a board you want to be betting infrequently for a big size. The difference between those two will drastically change your strategies.

I don’t change my approach versus different opponents because game theory is the correct answer. It doesn’t matter what someone is going to do. I’m not in the business of changing my strategy to fit my opponent. I’m just going to play the correct strategy, figuring out the frequency at which I should bet the flop, while trying to construct a range that makes sense given that frequency.

You should remove your thinking about your opponent. It’s a waste of time.

Jeremy AusmusJeremy Ausmus: Different types of boards require various approaches. A few years ago, the question was to check or bet. As poker has evolved, that question has now become… to check or bet, and if betting, which bet size do I use? If a player knows how to use an arsenal of various bet size strategies correctly, it will likely put their opponent in a lot of tough spots at the end of the day.

One of the more common flop types we see for a small bet is when the flop is paired, for example something like 10Diamond Suit 10Spade Suit 5Club Suit. This a prime spot where a small bet makes more sense than a big bet for a few reasons. First off, our range just doesn’t need a lot of protection since there are no draws. Another one is if we have trips or a full house, we don’t want to put too much pressure on some weaker hands that would fold to a big bet but would see the turn for a small bet, something like ace or king high. Lastly, a small bet will still generate a lot of folds from someone in the big blind with a very wide and very weak range. 

When we bet small, it also allows us to bet more of our range, so these spots can often be a pure c-bet (continuation bet). The best approach on some other boards is a big bet, though. A flop like 9Diamond Suit 6Spade Suit 3Heart Suit presents several draws, even if it’s rainbow. For this reason, your made hands like 9-x and 10-10+ will want to put more pressure on all of the open-ended and gutshot draws. It also gets the most value from a nine when we have an overpair, as they will often raise to protect from all of the draws and possible overcards to come. 

And when you bet big, the raise ends up getting a lot of money in and often stacks find their way in the middle. The caveat here though is that you usually can’t just blindly c-bet every flop when using a bigger sizing. Certain hands that can’t stand a check-raise, but are still good, hands like second pair or 8-8, are better off checking. 

Zhuang Ruan: You really can’t talk about how to play flops in detail when there are a ton of different potential factors such as who’s raising or three-betting, how deep everyone is, and other factors such as if there is ICM (Independent Chip Model). Instead, I’ll talk about how you can approach playing different flop scenarios.

The first step would be to figure out how people are supposed to be playing preflop in your situation, so you know what ranges players are supposed to be starting with. Once you know what ranges people are starting with you can figure out how each player’s range interacts with the board.

For example, in an under-the-gun versus big blind single-raised pot situation, a low board like 6Club Suit 5Diamond Suit 4Spade Suit is quite good for the big blind who has tons of two pairs, sets, and straights, and not as great for the in-position raiser who has lots of high over cards. If there would ever be a situation to start donk betting, this would be quite a good situation. On the other hand, the in-position player should not be blindly c-betting on this board that doesn’t favor him greatly. On the flip side, a board like AClub Suit KDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit favors the in position player a ton so he should c-bet his perceived range and the out of position player can do nothing but fold the majority of the hands he has.

As far as different types of opponents go, there are only two ways to categorize them. There are those that are too aggressive (calling too much, raising too much, folding too little, bluffing too much) and those that are too passive (folding too much, raising too little, bluffing too little). In any given situation, all players are on a spectrum of either too aggressive or too passive as no one plays perfectly.

Against an aggressive opponent, I generally play a little bit passive, and against a passive opponent I can play more aggressive. You can picture a scale where at the middle is the perfect solver player and on either end are the players who fold everything and the players who play everything. If someone is on the scale say two spaces to the aggressive side, I would generally play a game that’s 0.5 to 1 steps on the passive side. Obviously this is not really an exact science, but it’s a good rule to follow.

Craig Tapscott: Certain boards are ripe for continuation bets, while others might be a Venus flytrap of trouble. Can you talk about the pros and cons of c-betting certain boards?

Doug PolkDoug Polk: Some boards have a higher bet frequency than other boards, so it’s important when you’re considering your c-bet strategy to think about how often it makes sense, in theory, to bet the flop.

Typically, if your range is much stronger than your opponent’s range, you should bet more frequently. Similarly, if you have way more nutted hands than your opponent, you should usually bet much bigger. 

So, on a board like K-6-2, you want to bet frequently as the preflop raiser because you have way more medium to good hands than your opponent. But on a board like Q-J-10, you want to be betting a much bigger size because you have all of the sets and A-K that your opponent does not have.

You want to be thinking about how often each player has a good hand and how often does each player have the best hands when you’re thinking about what type of c-bet strategy you want to employ.

Jeremy Ausmus: Playing various types of flops first depends on the ranges of each player. If we take the most common scenario which is the big blind defending against a button raise, the flop will skew each player’s equities considerably. The button raises close to half of the time, but the big blind is defending much more often than that and three-betting their better hands. That leaves the big blind’s range very weak and makes it tough to continue versus a c-bet on many flops. 

The big blind’s hands can range toward low offsuit cards, while the button’s hands probably will not. Let’s consider that a flop like 7-6-4 is very likely to hit the big blind harder than the button since they might have defended the big blind with many hands that make two pair or a straight. For that reason, the button should be more selective about betting these types of flops as they should get check-raised much more often. 

Something else to consider in this scenario is if the big blind has a leading range or not. Some players will check to the raiser 100% of the time. That would be a situation where you wouldn’t want to just blindly c-bet. Another type of player might lead out when they have a little something. So when they check, they should be quite weak, and a c-bet will work quite often.

The best players though have a mixed strategy here. They know which boards to lead, but they do it at a frequency that doesn’t leave their checking range too weak. They have some value when they lead, and some draws or even backdoor draws. They will also mix in some check-raises with these types of hands. Against these opponents it’s very important you aren’t too out of line c-betting unfavorable boards too much, because in the long run it will probably be a losing proposition.  

Zhuang Ruan Credit: Merit PokerZhuang Ruan: My personal thoughts on c-betting is that this is somewhat of an over analyzed part of the game by the poker community. In reality this is just one line that isn’t any more important than any other.

The basis of c-betting is range advantage. First, you should figure out how much of a range advantage you have and that will tell you how often you should be c-betting. When you’re considering c-betting, you are always the preflop aggressor. What that means is that in almost every situation you should have more and better cards than your opponent. This makes high boards or paired boards better for c-betting than low connected cards which whiff your range.

A-K-J is a way better board in most situations than 7-5-4 to c-bet due to your range advantage. I think in general, c-betting more is good because the vast majority of players do not raise enough, which is a big deterrence to c-betting too much.

Generally multiway, you want to c-bet less. This is because more people equate to more people having potentially really good hands, which means your value range should shrink and so should your range of shitty hands. On a lot of great boards for you, it is a pretty good strategy to just range c-bet even if that’s not theoretically correct.

The more confident you are in your future street play, the more you can potentially bet on earlier streets. This is due to the fact that the bigger the pot, the bigger mistakes will cost. If you make significantly less mistakes than your opponents on future streets, it will result in a greater profit than playing smaller pots. On the flip side, if you are not as confident in your game, you should be looking to play smaller pots, so your mistakes aren’t as costly.

This is all without the consideration of tournament ICM of course. With tournament ICM, the bigger your stack is in comparison to your opponent the more you should bet and vice versa. The smaller your stack is in comparison to your opponent, the less you should bet. This is due to the fact that you open yourself up to getting raised, which your opponent should take advantage of. ♠

Doug Polk is the founder of Upswing Poker, a leading poker training company. The California native has earned more than $9 million in live tournaments, including three WSOP bracelets. The semi-retired YouTuber is considered to be one of the best heads-up players in the world, and earlier this year he beat Daniel Negreanu out of $1.2 million. Check out Polk on Twitter @DougPolkVids.

Jeremy Ausmus is a professional poker player originally from Colorado. He has more than $8.5 million in career live tournament cashes, including a fifth-place finish in the 2012 WSOP main event for $2.15 million. In 2013, he won a bracelet at the WSOP Europe series. Follow Jeremy’s poker journey on Twitter @jeremyausmus.

Zhuang Ruan is just 20 years old, but has already made a name for himself as a professional poker player. He recently won the $5,000 WPT event at the Hard Rock Tampa, and followed that up by taking down the $50,000 buy-in Hard Rock Poker Open Super High Roller event in Hollywood for $562,000.