Honestly, it’s one of the reasons we play poker. For that moment when you are holding [Ks][Jh] and the flop comes [Th][Qd][Ac]. The stone-cold nuts. You have the best hand, no one knows it yet, and there’s a stack of chips in front of you. What do you do? How do you make the most out of this opportunity?
Made hands are often simultaneously the most fun hands to play and the most deceptively complicated. Made hands can include hands like flopped straights, flushes, full houses or quads, that usually do not need to improve to win at showdown, and lesser made hands like sets, two pair, and strong one pair hands (overpairs and top pair top kicker hands). In this article, we’ll demonstrate how to evaluate hand strength on the flop, discuss different strategies for extracting value from made hands, and touch on scenarios where slow-playing a monster flop could be the best move.
The most important thing to recognize when deciding how to play a made hand is the strength of your hand relative to the texture of the board. Flops are not created equally-some are “wet” or draw-heavy like [Td][Jc][Ac], others are “dry” and uncoordinated like [Ad][7s][3c]. While a two pair hand on the dry board is an extremely strong holding, a two pair hand on the wet board is vulnerable to draws on the turn and river. Any spade, queen, king, eight, or nine completes a straight or a flush. That is 25 potential scare cards before even considering other outs, like trips or a better two pair.
Let’s go back to our original example. The flop was [Td][Jc][Ac] and you are holding [Kc][Qc]. You are in the best spot possible with a made nut straight along with a nut flush redraw and should be thinking about how to extract value from your opponents. It may not seem like it, but a set is also a strong made hand on this board. Sets play well against big draws and come with roughly a one in three chance of improving to a full house by the river. Hands like [Ah][Js](top two pair), [Ah][Th] (top and bottom pair), or [Jd][Ts] (bottom two pair) are less powerful, as they could shrink up in a hurry on the turn if a scare card falls. In this particular situation, top pair hands like [Ad][Qd] or [Ah][Kh] have some added value with the straight draws their kickers provide, while aces with smaller kickers should be played with extreme caution. On this board, a weak made hand like middle or bottom pair most likely belongs in the muck in the face of action.
On a drier, more uncoordinated flop like [Ad][7s][3c], the best possible made hand is a set of aces. Any set on this board is an extremely strong holding and can be played for unabashed, straight-up value since it is extremely likely you have your opponents drawing to only a few outs. Any two pair combination is also a very strong made hand given the board texture, as are top pair hands with strong kickers, like ace-king, ace-queen, ace-jack and ace-ten. Middle pair hands, something like [7h][8h], are also worth some consideration, especially if you’re playing from position, or are in a heads-up pot.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of how to play a strong, but not invincible made hand on the flop. Let’s say you’re holding [8c][9c] and the flop lands [Jc][6c][3c]. You’ve flopped a flush, but not the nut flush. Although you probably have the best hand at the moment, another club falling on the turn or river could improve an opponent’s hand or kill the action altogether. In this situation, your best move is to play your hand aggressively on the flop. How exactly to play it depends on your opponent’s betting patterns and starting hand range, but in most cases it would be wise to take a straightforward approach and lead out on this flop if the action is checked to you. If you’re in position and an opponent out, a raise for value is certainly in order. Think about the range of hands an opponent would bet out with in this scenario-sets, overpairs with or without a flush draw, top pair hands with a higher flush draw like [Ac][Jd], [Kc][Jh] or [Qc][Js], and smaller flushes. The [8c][9c] crushes all of those hands-it’s a 7 to 3 favorite over top pair with a higher flush draw, a better than 2 to 1 favorite over a set and a whopping 97% favorite against an overpair without a flush draw. Raising is definitely the profitable move here.
If you are reraised, then it is time to consider (a) the possibility you have run into a higher flopped flush (unlikely, but certainly possible), and (b) the tendencies of the person you are playing against. Would this guy three-bet with a set? A smaller flush? An ace-high flush draw? This is also a good time to go back and re-evaluate the pre-flop action as you narrow his range of hands. Most of the time, though, you’ll be in great shape with your jack-high flush on this flop and should be able to extract value out of inferior hands.
On rare, special occasions, you will flop the nuts or very close to it. Say you’re holding [Jh][Jd] and the flop comes down [Jc][2s][2d], there is only one hand in the deck that can beat you, and it’s four deuces. Since the board texture makes it less likely that the flop hit your opponent’s hand (they would need the case jack, one of the two remaining deuces, or a pocket pair to connect with the board at all) this is a scenario where slow-playing might be the best way to get the most chips from your opponent.
If you are out of position, checking on the flop will either lead to (a) your opponent doing your bidding for you by betting out or (b) your opponent checking behind, which isn’t a total disaster. Why? His hand could improve enough on the turn for him to call a bet. Let’s say the [Kd] falls on fourth street. If he is holding something like [Ks][Qd] or [Kc][Td], his two pair isn’t looking too bad at the moment, given that the action went check-check on the flop. If he has something like [Ad][Td], he just picked up a flush draw, but is still drawing dead to your boat. In this case, opening the door for your opponent to improve with a free card has the potential to induce more action.
If you are out of position against an aggressive opponent who gave a lot of action pre-flop, checking your boat is a good option, as he is extremely likely to make a continuation bet. Then, you will have the option to either put in a raise right away or make a crafty call. If you are in position and facing a bet, go ahead and keep your opponent on the hook by smooth-calling. It is extremely unlikely you’ll be outdrawn, so do not worry about protecting your hand. Just get as much in the pot as you possibly can.
The key to playing strong and monster hands is assessing their strength relative the board and your opponent’s likely holdings. Once you can assess these two factors, you will hopefully be able to determine when it is best to slow-play your opponent or bet for value. Getting the strong hand is just half the task. The other half is what you do with it.