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Post-Flop Play Part 1
This is part one of a three-part series dealing with the basics of playing a strong game post-flop.
What to Watch As the Cards Come Out
It's instinctual to want to watch the board as it's being dealt. But this is the most opportune moment in a hand to pick up a read on another player.
Almost every poker player will be watching the flop as it's dealt, and many forget they are playing poker and let their guard down. They'll react to the board in ways that couldn't make it more clear what two cards they have in the hole.
Online players are notorious for watching the board exclusively. All their poker experience has accustomed them to doing so because online they have nothing else to watch.
One of the most valuable things to watch for is players who look at the board shorter or longer than average. Players usually fall into patterns and rhythms. A given player will look at the flop for almost the exact same length of time on every hand. When this changes, it means something is up.
If the Duration Gets Shorter: Think about how long it takes you to register which three cards are on the flop and compute their suits and value, how they fit with your hole cards, what possible outs you have, what anti-outs you have and what dangers the flop represents.
That's a lot of information to process. A seasoned poker player will get all of that done in around two seconds. Now if the player you're watching, seasoned or not, looks at the board for a mere fraction of a second that gives you a significant amount of information.
It almost always means that they hit a hand like a set, or flopped a nut flush. A flopped straight still takes most people a little while to see (they have to count out the five cards in their head - don't laugh; you do it too).
The fact that they did not give themselves time to assess all those things that need to be computed means they only calculated how this affected their hole cards. It was done so quickly that there has to be a very obvious conclusion.
I would be scared of a set here.
Warning: Make sure the player doesn't look back when it's their turn to act. They could have started to look at the flop, then remembered to watch the other players and aborted.
If the Duration Gets Longer: A longer look at the board by a good player typically means they're recomputing the board. This happens when they are trying to look for obscure draws, or hoping that they have a draw and just didn't see it.
So, a longer gaze at the board indicates that they missed, but that's only a general rule. If the player is an amateur, they are very possibly counting their outs. When you're new to the concept of outs, it takes time to figure it out.
As is the case with all tells, these tells are not 100% accurate. Every player acts and reacts differently than the last. A duration change almost always means something is up; it's up to you to figure out exactly what it means.
How you play post-flop has very much to do with position. Late position almost always gives you a large advantage in the hand. This is why it's so important to take that into consideration when you're making your decisions.
It's obvious why late position is so advantageous: you get to see what everyone else in the hand does before you have to act. As always in poker, the more information you can gather on that hand, the more likely you are to make the right plays.
The reason early position can occasionally be a strategic advantage is that you get the first chance to bluff at the pot. It's harder to come over the top to steal a pot than to open the pot for a decent bet.
The other time being out of position can benefit you is when you flop the stone-cold nuts. Check-raising a pot is impossible if you're on the button.
For more about playing in position, take a look at this article by Daniel Skolovy.
Part two of the Post-Flop Play trilogy will be coming soon!
More strategy articles from Sean Lind: