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Post-Flop Play Part 3
This is part three of a three-part article dealing with the ins and outs of post-flop play.
In the first two parts of this series, we've seen what to watch for as the flop hits the board, how position influences your post-flop play and why you need to pay close attention to the texture of the board and the betting story.
Now, in the conclusion of this trilogy, we'll look at why being the aggressor is preferable to being a caller and why deception is an integral part of successful post-flop play - at least against strong opponents.
Aggressor vs. Caller
Simply put, if you're the aggressor in the hand, you have the most fold equity. Therefore, the aggressor by default will win more pots in poker than the caller. As a result, the more you can be the aggressor rather than the caller, the better.
As Michael McDermott says in Rounders, "Tight but aggressive professor, that's your style."
It's always better to be tight-aggressive than weak-tight. The aggressor is in control of the hand. I try to play as few pots without control of the hand as possible.
But it's not always an option, or the best option, to take control of the hand. There are times when you want to take the odds being offered and run with them. There are other times where your whole goal is to trap.
The aggressor vs. caller roles can change throughout a hand. If you're the aggressor leading into the river and your opponent suddenly bets out on the river, the betting story just got messed up and the roles have changed.
If he made a reasonably small bet, it doesn't make sense that it's a bluff. It's most likely a value bet. If that is the case, coming over the top is going to cost you many bets. Unless you have the nuts, it's better to call or fold without risking your entire stack.
Again, there are exceptions to this example. I have been known to make bluffs against strong players in that exact scenario. If you have a read that they have a weak hand, a missed draw, or something short of a monster, making this small bet on the river can be a solid play.
If they're good enough to put it on you making a value bet, they can greatly overestimate the strength of your hand and lay down to you. It's also a cheap way to take a stab - if the player does call or raise, your investment was small enough for it to be of little consequence.
Most players play poker with a mix of math and psychology. Therefore when you make a value-bet bluff or call, you have to take the odds into perspective. Betting $15 into a $200 pot will almost always get immediately called by anyone with any hand.
You have to make the bet big enough that the odds aren't ridiculous, but small enough that it doesn't look like a bluff.
Deception is an important part of the game when you're playing post-flop against strong players. I can't stress this enough: if you're playing against a table full of complete idiots, it pays best to play perfectly straightforward poker.
They'll make so many mistakes that you'll make money. Getting creative and fancy will only increase the chance of you making mistakes yourself.
When playing against strong players, though, you have to start playing a deceptive game.
If you check-call a flush draw the whole way down to the river, a strong player will know you have a flush draw and won't pay you off when you do hit. You either get pushed out, or win nothing when you hit.
Playing a straightforward tight-aggressive game with zero deception will make you very little money at a table full of good players, and will make you no money at a table full of great players. Playing this way will put you back to being at the mercy of the cards.
The biggest lesson here is that if you're not good enough to play a smart, calculated, deceptive game - anytime, but especially post-flop - you shouldn't be sitting at a table where that kind of game is needed. You can always find a game where a solid ABC style will stand you in good stead.
I'm not talking about changing your game completely. You're not going to start overcalling big raises with rags. You're not turning into a super agro; you're just getting deceptive.
The first step in a deceptive draw is simply to take control of the hand. Betting on the come is the most straightforward way to mix it up. You're putting more money into the pot without the hand equity to back that up, but you gain fold equity in its place.
You win if you hit; you win if they fold.
If you're at a table full of people who simply will not fold, then this can be a losing play. Mind your surroundings.
Betting on the come is one of the most obvious deception plays, and that being the case, many professionals quickly recognize it. It's just one of the many ways to mix it up at a table and try to keep yourself one step ahead of your opponents.
The key post-flop lessons to take away from this trilogy are that it's always better to be the aggressor than the caller. You always want control of the hands you play.
The most important aspects to post-flop hold'em is simply paying attention. Know what to pay attention to, and actually do it.
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