First, there was stud poker (5-Card Stud, to be precise). Then came the draw games, like 5-Card Draw and California Lowball. These days, most everyone out there is playing “flop” poker, with Texas Hold’em by far the most popular variant in the world today – although Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo are both gaining ground.
These are called flop games because of the community cards in play. As long as the action doesn’t end pre-flop, each hand will see up to three more rounds of betting; the “flop” is where the first three community cards are dealt, then another on the “turn,” and the last one on the “river.” Pre-flop play is relatively easy. It’s post-flop where you really have to start using your noodle, so let’s take a moment to look specifically at this phase of the game, and what you can do to improve your results.
So, you’ve opened with a properly tight range of hands, which should give you the advantage post-flop over your looser opponents – especially in the micro stakes, where most beginners should work on their craft. Now that you’ve hit the flop, your focus, for now, should be betting for value. But how much to bet? And how often?
To answer that first question, if you’re new at poker, you should really be playing Fixed-Limit games. You don’t have to worry about bet-sizing in Limit poker; there’s only the “small” bet pre-flop and on the flop, and the “big” bet on the turn and river. But if you’re going to play Pot-Limit or No-Limit, start by using the same bet size every time, maybe half the pot. This will prune your decision tree so you can concentrate on everything else that’s happening, and learn from there.
When it comes to how often you should bet, it’s also good to use a more robotic strategy when you’re just starting out. In the highly-recommended 2006 book The Mathematics of Poker, Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman took a close look at Texas Hold’em, using simplified “toy games” to build a winning strategy. They came up with some “betting thresholds,” a modified version of which you’ll find below:
One bet: Third pair
Two bets: Top pair, good kicker
Three bets: First and third pair
Four bets: Second nut straight
Five bets: The nuts
These thresholds aren’t perfect by any means, but again, you can use them to further prune your decision tree while you’re getting used to playing. If the flop comes and you have at least a pair, bet or call a bet with confidence; otherwise, fold with confidence. If you have top pair with at least the second-best kicker, like Ace-King or King-Queen on a King-Seven-Three board, you can cover two bets; maybe you bet the flop and turn, maybe you raise the flop. Let’s not get too deep into all the different options just yet.
As you get more experienced with poker, you can start varying your bet sizes where appropriate. The simplest adjustment to make (but again, still not a perfect one) is to bet bigger on the flop when it’s “wet” or “dynamic,” meaning there are a lot of draws that the turn and/or river cards can complete. Betting bigger here, say three-quarters of the pot, will generate more folds from your opponents and protect you from getting outdrawn.
Ah, but don’t do this on “monotone” boards where all three cards are of the same suit; bet very small instead, especially out of position. See, there’s already so much to learn about these games. It’s well worth it, though, so keep reading, keep practicing, and may the rectangles be with you.