Flip FlopThis month, Daniel Negreanu takes a page from his Power Hold ‘Em Strategy and reveals how to throw your opponents off the scent by mixing up your flop play.
Here are some simple guidelines on how to mix up your flop play when using the small-ball approach.
When to Bet
1. When you miss the flop entirely, but also have position, you should still bet the flop if you think your opponent also missed it. Be wary of flops that contain two or more cards above 8. Flops like J-9-7, A-Q-9 and J-10-4 hit a lot of hands that many opponents will call with.
2. You should bet the flop with good hands that also need protection. If the flop comes J-8-4 and you have K-J, you should bet the flop a high percentage of the time.
3. You should bet monster drawing hands. You want to either steal the pot on the flop or build a bigger pot for when you hit your hand.
4. Anytime you pick up a tell and feel as though your opponent is going to fold, even if you have a marginal hand, you should bet. For example, if the flop comes J-6-4 and you have 4-5, you should bet that flop if it looks like your opponent is legitimately uninterested in the hand.
When to Check
1. When you have a drawing hand and want to catch your card cheaply. If you bet the flop, your opponent may raise you, thus forcing you to lay down a drawing hand that potentially could have won you a big pot.
2. You should often check on flops that pose little danger of outdrawing your hand. If you have A-A and the flop comes 2-2-9, there is little danger in giving away one free card. If your opponent has a hand like K-Q, you might win more money from him if he catches a pair on the turn. The risk of checking in this situation is minimal.
3. If you have a marginal hand on a dangerous board. In these situations, it’s often better to check the flop and see what develops on the turn before committing any more chips to the pot. You can even do this with strong hands. For example, if you have a 9-9 on a flop of 9h-10h-Js, checking wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. If the turn card is a 7, 8, Q, K or a heart, you could limit a loss that may have been inevitable.
4. When you suspect an opponent has caught big on the flop. When you pick up a tell on your opponent that leads you to believe that’s he’s hit a big piece on the flop and you have nothing, checking is in order. Pay close attention to your opponent’s behaviour and you can save some bets in situations that might otherwise have been automatic betting situations.
Hit or Miss Flops
Flops such as K-K-4, A-6-6, Q-Q-2 and 2-2-3 are what I like to call hit or miss flops. If you started with the best hand, it will remain the best hand after flops like these a high percentage of the time. Your opponents will either hit those flops big, or they will miss completely. By playing your marginal hands cautiously after these types of flops, you’ll be able to minimise your losses without taking a major risk of losing the entire pot.
Manipulating the Pot Size
Keeping the pot small by checking the flop is one way you can manipulate the size of the pot. Other times you’ll actually want to play a bigger pot when you hit a hand, and there are ways to do that as well. The concept is even more important in a game like pot-limit hold ‘em, but if you’re playing small-ball poker, your approach to the game is similar to playing pot-limit hold ‘em since you rarely bet more than the amount that’s already in the pot. But remember, you shouldn’t follow any of these strategies to a tee. You want to use these tools as general rules, because doing the same thing in every situation will give away too much information. So you’ll need to raise the flop from time to time as a pure bluff in situations where you just feel that your opponent is weak and believe you can take the pot away from him.
Hand in Action
For example, let’s say that a player raised to $600 under the gun before the flop. You call from middle position with 6h-7h. The flop comes Ad-Js-4c.
Your opponent makes a weak-looking bet of $850 on the flop. Trust your instincts. If you don’t think he has an ace, you should go after this pot on the flop with a raise. If you have, say, $28,000 in chips at that point, risking $3,000 to win about $2,500 isn’t so bad—if your instincts are sharp, that is.
The reason I bring up this bluff is that it’s an integral part of being able to manipulate the pot size when you actually have a big hand and want to get paid handsomely. If you never bluff-raise the flop, you’ll be giving away far too much information about the value of your good hands when you raise on the flop.