Post-Flop Strategy for Texas Hold ‘em


The difference between pre-flop and post-flop play in Texas Hold ‘em is akin to the distinction between lower primates and human beings. While pre-flop strategy shouldn’t be discounted, especially in tournaments, the real money is made after the flop. Playing the odds, disguising your hand, picking up on your opponents’ tells and varying your style of play are just a few basic strategies that become much more nuanced after the flop. In short, post-flop play is an evolved version of what goes on before the first three community cards are dealt.

If you want to tighten up your pre-flop play, you can read our article on the subject. If you’re looking for post-flop strategies, however, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Gauging the Table

Whether you’ve called, raised or checked your way to the flop, the first thing you need to do after the cards are dealt is get a read on your table. Much of that will depend on how many players are still in the pot and what kind of action took place before the flop. Based on the information you gained from that initial round of betting, and how your opponents react to the flop, you should be able to come up with at least a superficial idea of their strength or weakness.

Before you make any sort of decision, look around the table, try to spot if someone in later position appears eager to make a raise, or someone in early position might be trying to trap. The way they look at their chips, or fidget with their hands can give them away. Conversely, if it looks like everybody at the table is about to fall asleep, it might be time to try to steal the pot.

Proceeding After a Pre-Flop Raise

One of the most common and most debated techniques in post-flop Texas Hold ‘em strategy is the follow-through bet. It comes into play when you raise before the flop and are either in first position or the action has been checked to you afterward. Many argue that almost every time you are in that position you should follow through with an attempt to take the hand down.

The problem with the follow-through bet is that it has become so common that people rarely fold to it anymore. Instead, they often use it as an opportunity to bluff on a check-raise. There is always a place for a properly timed follow-through, but you should be highly aware of your table image and opponents’ tendencies before using it when you’ve missed the flop.

If you were the pre-flop raiser and then hit your hand on the flop, the first thing you’ll want to do is consider the drawing possibilities on the board. If there is an obvious flush draw, you might want to put in a slightly oversized bet to dissuade an opponent from chasing you down.

32-2-King-Ace

A player drawing a pair of Aces on the flop.

You’ll also need to be aware of the chance that though you’ve hit your hand, one of your opponents may have made something even better. For instance, if you’re playing ace-king, raise pre-flop, get a couple of callers, then see an ace-jack-three flop, initially you’ll probably feel pretty good about your hand. However, someone could have easily called your raise with ace-jack or pocket three’s, in which case you’ll be in a position to lose a lot of money.

Finally, you’ll want to change up the way you play on a regular basis. Just as you shouldn’t use the follow-through bet every time you’re in position to do so, don’t play your big pocket pairs the same way every time. And when you’ve hit a flop, vary your strategy between trying to take control of the hand and sneaking up on your opponents.

Proceeding After a Pre-Flop Call or Check

If you’ve managed to sneak into the pot by simply calling the big blind, or checking your option when you’re in that position and there hasn’t been a raise, post-flop strategy is slightly less complicated. The onus isn’t necessarily on you to lead the action, and you can often make decisions based entirely on how hard the flop hit you.

If you’ve made your hand, it’s just a matter of deciding whether to slow play or come out firing. In no-limit Hold ‘em, slow playing is often a recipe for disaster. If you have a good hand you want to establish it quickly to avoid getting run down. In limit Hold ‘em, slow playing is a more useful tactic since it’s hard to chase people off draws, and you’ll want to build the pot up as much as possible to realize the greatest return if your hand holds up.

Playing after the flop off of a smooth call also gives you an opportunity to sit back a little, observe your opponents, and use that information. Without the pressure of leading the action, you can react to the flow of play. Maybe there is nothing but checking going on, so you can try to steal the pot with a small bet. Or maybe there is a lot of action, and your top pair no longer seems so promising.

32-3-Diamonds

The players hand with five-six suited now becomes three of a kind.

However, the best part of playing after the flop when you’ve called to get there is that it allows you to sneak up on everyone when you do hit your hand. If you called a pre-flop raise with a drawing hand like five-six suited, only to hit triples, it’s going to be hard for your opponents to make that read. You are now in position to raise or check-raise, and maybe even draw in someone who refuses to believe their pocket aces are no longer the best hand.

Playing the Turn and River

If you’re still around after the first round of post-flop betting, you’re probably one of only two or three players still in the hand. While that limits some of the factors you have to account for, the escalating amounts of money involved in the betting add enough extra pressure to render those advantages moot.

While bet size and calculating odds are important at every stage of betting, the turn and the river are where they are the most crucial. It might be easy to call a small bet on the flop with your flush draw but, if the turn is a blank, you’ll have to consider the pot odds on your next call option much more carefully. On the other hand, if you think you’re winning, it’s imperative that you make a large enough bet to chase your opponents away.

If you would like some help calculating pot odds, check out our Poker Odds article.

The turn and river are also where you get the chance to put every type of “higher” poker strategy to work. If you think you’re great at reading your opponents, this is where that skill will come into play more than ever. You might be facing someone who doesn’t often play deep into hands, and appears uncomfortable in those later stages. It could serve you well to make a bet or raise where you would normally call or check, as putting extra pressure on them could force a mistake.

32-4-Pocket-Jacks

Playing a risky hand can depend upon your table position.

Position and pressure are two other factors that become increasingly important the longer the hand goes on. When there are only two or three players left in a hand, where you sit in relation to them makes all the difference.

If you’ve been betting into somebody with top pair or two pairs, and they seem determined to call you down, it’s easy to lose your nerve. If you’re out of position late in a hand, unless you’ve got the nuts, it might be best to check and try to make your money by calling an opponent’s bet.

Having a positional advantage also allows you to do what every good poker player is always looking to do – exert pressure. Especially as the hand wears on, the more pressure you can put on your opponents, the higher the chances are they’ll make a mistake, and the less likely they are to make a move that puts you to a tough decision.

Like geology, poker is about time and pressure. If you have the patience, the guts and the wherewithal to avoid danger and make your opponents work through as many decisions as possible, with a little luck you can wear them down to dust.