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Analyzing The Flop

A quick, yet thorough reading of the flop is a critical and must have skill of a good hold’em poker player. The sooner a player can learn to read the flop and all of its possibilities the sooner he will finish in the money, since correct reads will make for correct decisions. Reading the flop is a matter of asking the right questions and having enough knowledge to guess enough of the right answers.

The first question a player must ask when analyzing the flop is what is his own best possible hand at that time and what potential stronger hands are possible down Fourth Street (AKA “the turn”), and Fifth Street (AKA “the river). Along those same lines of analyzing your own best hand and potential hand, the player additionally must ask what is the best possible hand on the board. An easy example would be if you see an ace on the flop, and you aren’t holding any aces as hole cards, depending on the amount of players in the game you must assume that an ace is likely to be someone’s hole card, (the likelihood is higher with a higher amount of players), and play your hand accordingly.

Another read to consider would be if two or all three of the flop cards are of the same suit, (i.e. diamonds), that a player either may have gotten diamonds as hole cards or be holding a nut flush draw, (needing just one more diamond to complete the flush). The possibilities are far more than these two most basic of examples, but this should served as a basic guide and example of what to immediately look for on the flop.

Along those same lines it is important to not just read the flop at that time but also ANTICIPATE the turn and river and what potential cards on those deals could constitute the best possible hands.

Another source on reading the flop is how the players bet it after it is dealt. How a player bets after the flop is a good indicator of not only what he has but also what he might be betting on come the turn and or river. He may be “betting the come” on the turn and river, expecting, (if not hoping), for the final piece of the puzzle to cap off a winning hand. If a player goes heavy on a pair of two’s on the flop, it’s a decent assumption he is holding one as a hole card and has three of a kind, and is shooting for four of a kind or a full house.

When the flop has come, by reading it and your competitor’s actions you will know if you have the “nuts” (best hand at that time) or a “nut draw” (a draw on the “turn” and “river” to the best hand). You must also take into account the hard lesson of hold’em that having the nuts on the flop doesn’t mean you’ll have them on the turn or river and you must quickly try and analyze the chances of that happening.

We have discussed drawing dead in part one of the dangers and pitfalls of drawing on a lower hand that cannot be the nuts. This is in relation to what is on the board and the actions of your competitors.

Let’s take a look at another trap, which is perusing the short or ignorant end of a straight. If you entered the pot after drawing an 8-7 of hearts and the flop comes in a rainbow (3 different suits) 10-9-7 you have made a pair and have a draw to the straight with either a jack or 6. Let’s say the jack comes on the turn and you have your straight. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Think again.

If a player is holding a queen your straight has just gone straight down the tubes and you are left holding the short end and a losing hand. You may get the queen on the river to give you a tie; you still aren’t out of the woods if someone else is holding a king. The point is that you cannot invest to many chips in hands that are not the nuts because someone else may have them. To avoid drawing dead you must correctly analyze the best possible hand that ANYONE could have and compare that to what you are holding.

Another trap could be a situation in which you are holding pocket spades ranked king and queen and two spades (7&3) come on the flop. You have a flush draw on the turn, with a seemingly strong hand. But is it the best possible hand? NO! The best possible hand would be someone also holding pocket spades, with one of the spades being an ace. That hand would be the NUT flush draw hand and beat you if the turn or river comes spades.

A mistake that many inexperienced players make is getting to excited about seemingly good hands, caught up in the momentum of their possibilities but not fully analyzing the sober reality that there is something better that could be out there. A little bit of pessimism is perfectly acceptable, always look for what can beat you as much as what can help you (the “out” cards) and then you can combine that with the actions of your competitors come betting time to keep yourself out of trouble and in the game.

Also keep in mind that strong hands are stronger in games with lesser players. A pair of queens is far more powerful in a “heads up” game of two players than in a game of many players such as anywhere from 7 to 10 participants. In games with several players there are so many possible combinations that can beat you that it is critical that you learn to read the board and cards and come up with the best possible hand or hands that can beat you.