Texas Hold ’em Playing the Flop

In Texas Hold ’em, the "flop" – the three communal cards laid face up after the first round of betting – define five-sevenths of each player’s hand. So the most important strategy in the game is to fold if your two dealt cards don’t fit the flop.

You should continue play only if the flop gives you a stronger hand or the potential of a big-winning draw, or if you start with a big pair before the flop goes down.

If the flop gives you a straight flush, four-of-a-kind, a full house or the nut flush, it’s time to work on maximizing what you’ll earn from a win. This involves giving other players the chance to make a second-best hand but without giving them a free card that could lose you the victory. You do still have to examine the board if you’ve got anything other than a straight flush to ensure that someone else doesn’t have a better flush or full house – but victory is likely.

With any other combination, you need to have observed the previous round of betting carefully and to match up the information you obtained with the cards available in the flop. It’s this that will help warn you whether an opponent has a hand stronger than yours.

Good flops to bet on include

  • set with safe board – for example, a pair of 8s and only one matching 8 in the flop
  • trips – for example, you have an 8 and there are two 8s on the board
  • two pair – you flop two pair but they are not the top two pair
  • top pair – top pair and an apparently safe board
  • overpair – a pair in your dealt hand that is higher than the highest card on the board (for example, if you have a pair of 10s and the cards in the flop are an 8, a 6 and a 2

If the flop gives you several possibile ways to win, it’s almost definitely worth playing.

It’s risky to play the flop unless you have a strong kicker (side card). So even if you have the top pair, it’s wisest to fold if you’ve got a weak kicker.

A time to be especially cautious is if the flop includes all cards of the same suit or all chronologically sequenced cards. This makes it more likely that an opponent has secured a straight or a flush. If you’ve got a top pair or even two pair at this stage, it’s probably safest to fold.

If you flop a four-flush or a four-straight, you need to decide whether to continue with your draw. This involves determining whether the size of the pot – which depends on the number of your opponents – justifies the risk of not making your hand. Generally, two or three opponents means that it is worth taking the draw. However, if you have two big cards, like an ace and a jack, it’s probably worth drawing even if you have only one opponent.

If you make it through the flop, the next step is playing the turn.