Pre-Flop vs. Post-Flop Poker

Joseph Cada
Know your players, know their styles.

There's a big difference between playing pre-flop poker and playing post-flop poker.

Although all forms of Hold'em have pre-flop and a post-flop play, one of them will typically be more dominant during the course of play and will require the focus of your skills.

It's crucial to understand which form is most prominent in the game you're playing and make sure your play is suited to fit it.

The rule of thumb obviously is if the majority of your major decisions happen pre-flop, you're playing pre-flop poker. Likewise, if the majority of the decisions you make happen post-flop, you're playing post-flop poker.

These are some common poker situations and what style of poker each requires:

Situation Style
Deep-stacked cash game Post-flop
Late stages of online tourney (average stack 7bb) Pre-flop
Heads-up cash game versus 10bb short stacker Pre-flop
Heads-up against a vastly inferior player Post-flop

Play To Your Strengths

If you're a player who likes to run elaborate bluffs, or you feel you have a knack for maximizing value and minimizing losses, you're best suited to play post-flop poker.

If you're a player who likes to play "small ball" poker, exploit weakness and play a very fine-edged mathematical game, you're best suited for playing pre-flop poker.

This is the reason some players are naturally more profitable in sit-n-gos while others thrive in deep-stacked cash games.

While many post-flop oriented players think a pre-flop game is simply gambling compared to the chess-like approach of post-flop play, no one style is better or more profitable than the other.

Once you understand which style of player you are, it's in your best interest to seek out and play only in games that match your style.

If you're a strong pre-flop player, it doesn't make sense to lose money sitting deep-stacked in a cash game.

The Cards or the Player

Daniel Negreanu
Short stack = Pre-flop.

When playing pre-flop poker, the player decides the "when" in making the move, but in the end it's the cards that decide his or her fate.

That's why there's so much variance in a typical donkament; even if you always get it all-in as a 4-1 favorite, eventually you're going to lose to that 20%.

This reason alone is why you'll see some of the best players choosing to just call, or even limp, into pots pre-flop in tournaments, choosing to use their obvious skill advantage in post-flop play.

The wider the gap in skill between you and your opponent in post-flop play, the less your hand value matters.

If you're not as strong as your opponent, don't afford them the luxury of outplaying you post-flop. Force them to play pre-flop poker against you.

This means you should be raising instead of limping, re-raising instead of calling and folding any trouble hand you would be forced to play post-flop - especially if you're out of position.

The Luxury of Choice

Most poker players understand what their strengths are. Regardless of the game's overall leaning to one particular side, each player will try to manipulate the play of the hand to their preferred style.

Unfortunately, not all poker situations let you make this choice.

When you start playing pre-flop poker in a scenario suited to post-flop poker (or vice versa), you're going to start running into trouble.

For the most part, your general game selection will determine what style of poker needs to be played. But there are times when you will have the opportunity to choose what style of poker to play while at the table.

It's important to identify these moments and force the play of the hand into the style of your choice. Maybe even more important, try to force the style of play into one where your opponent is uncomfortable.

For example: You're in $1,000 buy-in live tournament with only 200 players left from the starting 800. Thanks to a great blinds structure and a couple lucky pots you have a large stack of around 250bb.

You've been feeling out the table for the last two hours and have a pretty good handle on your opponents. One player, an online MTT grinder with a stack of 100bb, raises in middle position, the table folding to you.

Jason Mercier
Large stack = Post-flop.

Looking down at your hand you see A Q. Although in most tournament scenarios a three bet would be the obvious choice here, you know that your opponent is accustomed to playing tournaments with the average stack being a fraction of what you hold now.

Rather than three-betting, and allowing your opponent to play the majority of the hands action pre-flop, where he's very confident and comfortable, you choose to flat call, forcing your opponent to play post-flop out of position.

Every edge you can gain over your opponent puts you step closer to winning the pot.

Choose the Right Game

There's nothing wrong with being a pre-flop player, as long as you can admit and embrace it. Some of the most profitable online poker players in the world made their rolls playing this exact style.

If you're uncomfortable with pre-flop play and would rather wait until you see a board, that's fine as well. The key is to understand how you want to play and find a game to suit.

In the world of online poker, you're a click away from almost any variation of game in virtually any size. What you play, and for how much, is entirely up to you. There's never a reason to play out of your element.

If for some reason you must play in a game that doesn't naturally lend itself to your skills, you need to find a way to adapt to the game at hand.

For example, if you're a pre-flop player seated at a deep-stacked cash game, you might want to consider buying in short. By limiting the amount of chips you have, you force the other players to play you pre-flop, where you're more comfortable.

Know your own game, understand where your game is weak and then adapt your play to suit.

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Kevin 2009-09-08 21:15:00

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why people SS in cash games. Why they enjoy doing it is beyond me. But some of these reasons (off the top of my head) are:

Taking shots at a higher limit while sticking to bankroll management (I buy-in for 60BB when taking shots at a higher limit)

Forcing the opponent to play pre-flop poker, I've noticed that the Dang brothers always buy in short at the nosebleeds, maybe that's the reason?

Recreational players usually want to play at a higher limit to look like they're a better player than they actually are to their peers.

Playing against a maniac who shoves every hand blind to decrease variance.

Fitz 2009-08-21 17:50:00

I'm not doubting that ss'ing is a proven and winning stategy in poker but I personally feel that the the reason people mainly play deep stacked cash games to test their skills at post flop poker and the ss'ers ruin alot of these games. I fail to see how anyone can enjoy ss'ing (obviously totally different in mtts) as at the end of the day, poker is primarily supposed to be a game of entertainment.

Sean Lind 2009-08-19 18:17:00

Fitz,

I also detest short stackers, but like it or not it's part of poker. In fact, there are times where SS'ing is the correct choice. This is why Barry Greenstein short stacks when playing on HSP.

Sean Lind 2009-08-19 18:15:00

Stipe,

Small ball poker is simply when you're playing to win smaller pots, with less risk. Typically this means winning the pot outright on one street.

You can play post-flop small ball, but if your playing to steal blinds, squeeze, and force folds, winning the pots before ever seeing a flop, that's still small ball.

Fitz 2009-08-19 14:08:00

Good article overall however I was sickened to see short-stacking in a ring game being advertised in the last paragraph!

stipe 2009-08-19 06:35:00

"If you're a player who likes to play "small ball" poker, exploit weakness and play a very fine-edged mathematical game, you're best suited for playing pre-flop poker."


Could you explain this? I mean, isn't small ball all about post-flop play?

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