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I have a question for you. What are you hoping to flop with that hand?

If you are struggling to win at the microstakes, especially 2NL, this post might be of help. 

Before entering any pot, ask yourself “What am I hoping to flop?”. The answer to this question can help you formulate a value based plan for the hand, which in turn will make your decision making process much easier. Assessing my flopping potential in this manner is a central tool in creating clear lines of action for my play. Adhering to my plan helps me minimize my losses and maximize my profits.

Many elements go into choosing the best line in a given situation such as position, stack sizes, reads, cards etc. However, I see many players that enter a pot without any plan at all. This often happens in the blinds where players call behind wanting to see a flop cheap. Or worse, as often happens with speculative hands, players overplay their hand postflop because they forgot their plan. Assessing your flopping potential may help you avoid these pitfalls.

Let’s look at a few examples of how this question can help us at the tables.

Hand 1
2NL cash table. Everyone involved has a 100bb stack. It folds around to the average 2NL player on the btn who min-raises to 4c. We are in the small blind and look down to see A7o. The bb is a loose-passive player who rarely 3-bets preflop.

First thought: “Yippi, I have an A! I’m playin this hand.” But, let’s ask our question first.

“What am I hoping to flop?”
- My cards aren’t suited. So, I won’t be flopping a flush draw.
- My cards aren’t connected. So, I won’t be flopping a straight draw.
- I can flop a 7. But, if I do, I will rarely have top pair.
- I can flop an almighty A! Sure, fine, my Ax hand is ahead of a large portion of the btn’s opening range.

Let’s now formulate a gameplan based on this flopping potential:

I flop an ace
Now I can lead out on the flop. If the villain does not have an A, he will probably fold. This wins us a small pot. However, if we bet the flop and get called or raised, then we have a problem. There is a very real threat that the villain also has an A, but with a better kicker than ours. If we keep betting, we risk losing a big pot with a second best hand. Even when we get the flop we are hoping for, it is going to be tough to play post flop. We can not expect to get three streets of value with A7o!

In other words, this hand offers no realistic potential for us to take the villain to value town. It is more likely that we get lost postflop.

We miss the flop:
I’ll check-fold to a c-bet since I don’t have any backup plans with this hand.

Conclusion
This hand doesn’t have much flopping potential and is going to be tough to play postflop. Even though I may have the best hand preflop, I prefer to fold preflop rather than willingly entering an unclear situation where I am most likely to win a small pot or lose a big one.

These thoughts typically apply to A6o, A7o, A8o, and A9o. All of these aces are have kickers in no-mans land making for very little flopping potential and unclear postflop play.

Ax suited hands do have some potential since they can flop strong draws to the nut flush. They may also have some connectedness offering limited straight potential. These hands may be played profitably, especially if other conditions are present such as if you and the villain are deep stacked, there are a large number of players in the hand, or for example  we are in position on the btn.

But remember, if we play Axs we want to flop a strong draw. Don’t overplay your backup plan when flopping top pair weak kicker, or middle pair top kicker. Keep the pot small.

Hand 2
It’s one orbit later on the same table with the same players. This time we are in the sb and see J10s. Let’s ask our question:

“What am I hoping to flop?”
- My cards are suited. So, I can flop a flush draw.
- My cards are connected. So, I can flop a straight draw.
- I can flop a 10 or J. This might be top pair.

Let’s make our gameplan.

We flop a flush draw or open ended straight draw.
This is the flop we hoped to get. Now we can continue on the flop with the hand. If we make our draw on the turn or river, we will have a strong hand that we can usually bet/raise confidently for value. This has the potential to win a big pot. Our flush or straight will beat the hands that many players find hard to fold such as premium overpairs QQ, KK and AA, top pair top kicker with AK, two pair hands and in particular sets.

We need to remember though not to get carried away all the times we don’t get our draw on the turn or river. Also, even when we do make it, we still need to be somewhat wary with this hand. There can be hands that beat us. If the board pairs, then a full house is possible. We might be beat by a better flush. Perhaps there is there a possible flush in a different suit that beats your straight. Do we have the best possible straight? Don’t overplay your hand in these spots.

We flop a pair with a weak draw such as a gutshot straight.
With this type of flop we want to be more careful. We have some showdown value and outs to improve. Try to keep the pot under control unless our hand improves.

We miss the flop
We can check-fold pretty easily for a small loss.

Conclusion
Even though J10s is a weaker starting hand than A7o, suited connectors are much easier to play post flop. J10s offers us clearer value lines to follow and has more potential to win a large pot.  Plan A is to flop a strong draw which can develop into a bet bet bet line. We have a back-up plan B for playing weaker draws or pairs. And we have an easy check-fold line for when we brick the flop.

Note: Unsuited connectors and suited gappers do not have the same potential as true suited connectors! The math is worth studying, but rather than making a post with a long list of percentages, here is an non-math example to illustrate the point.

What am I hoping to flop with J10o?
Three flop combinations give us an open ended straight draw:  QKx, 98x or Q9x

What am I hoping to flop with J9o?
Only two flop combinations give us an open ended straight draw: Q10x and 108x

What am I hoping to flop with J8o?
Just one flop combination gives us an open ended straight draw: 109x

As the gap between our hole cards increases, the number of good flops decreases!

Hand 3
Next orbit on the same table with the same players. This time we are in the sb and see two red aces - oh yeah! This is the best starting hand in the game. Do we even need to waste time asking this question? Yes, now perhaps more than ever!

With AA more than any other hand, players have a tendency to ignore the board and just keep blindly firing bullets on every street. Then we complain about getting our aces cracked. Many of these situations could have been avoided if we had asked ourselves this question:

“What am I hoping to flop?”
- Flopping top set would be ideal
- We will have an overpair to any other flop
- We won’t be flopping too many straight or flush draws

Let’s make our gameplan
We know we have the best hand preflop. So let’s raise for value and to protect our hand. Big pairs play best against a single opponent.

We flop top set on a dry board
We can confidently bet/raise for value.

Overpair on a dry board
We can still bet for value, but if the action gets too heavy, we may be facing a set or unlikely two pair.

Overpair on a wet board
We may still want to bet for value and to protect our hand on the flop, but may have to slow down or fold on a later street. If a straight or flush seems likely, we should often fold to heavy action rather than getting stacked with “just a pair”

Here is a hand from a recent tournament in which I had to fold a set of aces on the river. The only thing I’m beating is a bluff.

With premium pairs QQ, KK and AA, it may be better to ask “what am I NOT hoping to flop?” In other words, which flops will help the villain’s range?
- I don’t want a connected flop
- I don’t want a monotone flop in the wrong suit
- With QQ and KK, I don’t want to flop overcards

Assessing our flopping potential should help you recognize that many hands look good preflop, but don’t have much flopping potential. For newer players, it will usually be best to avoid these murky situations and just fold these hands. This is especially important when playing from the blinds. Playing too many hands from the blinds is a common leak for many players.

More importantly, assessing our flopping potential helps us make good decisions postflop and stick to a plan for the whole hand. For example, if we are playing medium suited connectors, we are hoping to flop a strong draw. Don’t overplay your hand when you flop middle pair and no draws. The same is true with pocket pairs. Don’t stack off to the villain when you are holding JJ and two overcards come on the flop.

This approach is not only for holdem. It works equally as well for Omaha and other forms of poker. For example, in PLO8, I rarely enter a pot unless my hand has realistic potential to scoop the pot. Preferably we want to have a several plans. Plan A for extracting maximum value when we make a strong hand. Plan B for controlling the pot when we have some showdown value but can’t confidently bet for value. And Plan C for knowing when to fold and minimize our losses.

Remember, ask yourself “What am I hoping to flop?” Then make a plan based on your flopping potential. Stick to the plan and you won’t get lost. Good decisions and good lines from preflop to the river will start to become clearer.  With a bit of practice, asking (and answering) this question will become second nature.

GL and have fun at the tables!

Roland GTX

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