The “flop” refers to the three cards dealt face up, after the first round when each player makes their play. These are the first community cards dealt in the round—cards which all the players can use to make their best hand. During the pre-flop stage of each round, players are weighing up the relative strength of their hands and positions in the order against those of their opponents.
POSITION IN PLAYING ORDER
Unlike in the first round, it is the player in the small blind position who acts first after the flop and the player in the dealer position (also known as the player with the “button”) who acts last. Therefore, it is the small blind that is in the weakest position in the playing order and the dealer that is in the strongest position.
Remember the rule of relative strength in position – the earlier in the order you are, the stronger your hand ought to be, in order to merit calling or raising.
If you’re later in the order, you may (though it’s by no means certain) have gained more confidence that a typically mediocre hand is worth investing in for that particular round.
But how do you know whether it is worth investing in a hand for that particular round? This is an essential (if not the essential question) of poker. To answer it, you need to read the flop.
READING THE FLOP
The first question you will ask yourself after seeing the flop is, “Does it help me?” In other words, do any of the community cards improve your hand? For the purposes of the below example, let’s assume that you are on the button (therefore playing last), there was no pre-flop raise and all the other players checked to you on this round.
Let’s imagine that you called the flop with Queen King and the flop came out King Nine Seven. Now, your two Kings would give you top pair with a reasonably strong kicker. This flop would appear to help you.
However, the next question you need to ask yourself is, “Has the flop helped my opponents?” For instance, one of your opponents may have checked pocket Sevens or pocket Nines before the flop, in which case they’d now have a triple, beating your pair of Kings.
Let’s also imagine your Queen King were both hearts and the flop came out all diamonds. While you still have top pair, the chances that someone is on a flush draw are high (more so the greater the number of players in the hand). If your opponent makes their flush, they will also beat your pair of Kings. So what do you do?
ACTING AFTER THE FLOP
You’re in a tough position. You have a reasonably strong hand given your playing position, but you still need to consider very carefully before making your next move. What you do next could determine whether you win or lose the hand.
The lack of a pre-flop raise suggests that no one had Ace King or pocket Kings in their hole cards. This is obviously just an assumption based on orthodox playing behavior, but unless you know a particular player’s playing style incredibly well, that’s really all you have to base your actions on.
Now, there’s also the chance that someone has triple Sevens or Nines and you’re also concerned about someone on a Diamond flush draw. So how do you work out whether it makes sense to check or raise the pot?