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Inside the Mind of a Pro – Unconventional Flop Lines

December 10, 2019
by Pete Clarke

Poker is a game about rules and when to break them. Because of the complexity of the game, it is nearly impossible to make rule for which there are no exceptions. These two hands are a testament to the dangers of trying to oversimplify the game with the words ‘always’ and ‘never’. These hands are both played during my Wednesday evening stream, which you can catch from 6pm-10pm UK time every week on the PokerStars Twitch channel. The game is 100NL 6-Max Zoom where the blinds are $0.50 and $1.00.

Hand 1 – When to Fast-Play Top Set

I am dealt QQ from the HJ and open to $2.25. A recreational player who has been quite tight so far flats in the SB. My read about this player being weaker comes from two things. Firstly, I have never seen this player before, and secondly, he has flatted a raise from the SB – a play that is currently very out of fashion among the regulars. The BB comes along and we go three ways to the flop.

On the flop of Q102 it checks to me, as expected, and I opt to c-bet $1.99 into $6.75. Maybe we should call this the ‘retailer’s bet’ as it looks like a price tag you might see in the supermarket! In reality, it is simply the smallest of my flop bet-sizes, which I control using the PokerStars ‘Hot Keys’ setting. I like a small bet here as it allows me to bet a lot of one pair hands to deny equity to my opponents. When you are in a multi-way pot, big bets are going to be less effective as your opponents can fold more of their ranges. This filters their ranges more and means that big bets will isolate you against strong hands much faster. Of course, QQ is not worried about this, but when we block a lot of top pair hands, we would also like to earn some money from Tx. The small bet does this job well. The SB raises to $9.78 and the BB folds. This is where the rule differs from the reality. You will often hear poker ‘wisdom’ such as:

‘Don’t 3-Bet the flop in position – you can get the money in later.’ And ‘When you block the top card on the board you crush the deck and should slowplay’

You might even hear less rational thoughts that are motivated by a fear of Villain folding such as:

‘If you raise, you’ll just scare him off.’

The right way to approach this spot starts with an analysis of your opponent’s range. What does a tight recreational player make a big raise with on this flop in a three- way pot? Generally, a lot of strength. The bulk of his range will consist of two pair and sets, but it is not impossible that he takes this line with a decent draw. What we will see much less of is a low equity bluff like AJ. For this reason, there is nothing to gain by slow-playing here. There are plenty of run outs that might slow Villain down and cause us to win less against QT, TT or 22. If Villain holds a draw, then we are equally incentivised to increase the pot-size now before that hand either gets there or shuts down on blank turns and rivers. I have an easy 3-Bet here and make it $31. Villain shoves all-in for $100 and I call. We win against Q10 – a hand that Villain should never be making this pre-flop call with. My player type read was correct. This player is certainly not a serious regular.

Hand 2 – A Big Flop Fold

This next hand was a lot less enjoyable to play. A different tight recreational player opens to $3.00 in the HJ and we 3-Bet KQ in the SB. The BB folds and Villain calls. All standard so far.

The flop is J108. This is a flop that we will generally hate. So many of our AQ, AK, and QQ-AA hands have been devalued on this texture and Villain’s [88 99 JJ] have become monsters. We could of course c-bet here but being raised is a real issue and will put us in a situation where it will be very difficult to realise our equity. I opt to check as I will want to do with much of my range.

There is very little chance of a nitty player checking behind with a very good hand or bluffing with a very bad one on such a wet board, and so this check will gain me a lot of visibility as to which part of his range he has. Sometimes people talk about ‘betting for information’, but what is the point in getting information that has already cost you money when you can get it for nothing? I can make a much more informed decision here by checking rather than betting into an uncapped and fearsome range.

I check and Villain quickly bets $19.95 into $21. This situation is awful. I dismiss raising immediately as fold equity is likely to be close to zero against this line from this player type. It is very likely that he is betting a very strong range in this manner. My hand has okay equity but only some of it is realisable for this price. I am getting 2:1 meaning that if I call, I will need to be entitled to 33% of the pot. This seems optimistic given that my non-straight outs are very tainted. I have 8 outs which is only around 17% realisable equity, assuming a big turn bet will force me to fold when I don’t improve.

Could implied odds save the case for calling? There might be some implied odds on straight completing turns against Villain’s sets, but on those cards the board will be scary and my lack of position will not help in getting me paid. I decide to fold here and feel quite good about it. I will fold an open-ended straight draw with two overcards and a backdoor flush draw about once a year to a single flop bet, but this situation ticks all the boxes.


Knowing when to make a non-standard looking play is a major sign that you are improving as a player. Always ask if an exception to a rule exists before telling yourself that you must play the hand in a conventional way.

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