Should You Bet the Flop With a Monster?

Should You Bet the Flop With a Monster?

Probably the best ever episode of Seinfeld, in my humble opinion, is the one titled "The Opposite." In this episode, George Castanza comes to the realization that every decision he has ever made in his life has been wrong and resulted in disaster. As a result, George believes that if every instinctive decision he makes is wrong, then the opposite must be right. And so it begins: George does the opposite of everything he normally would have done and ends up a big winner. He scores a new apartment, a new girlfriend and a front-office job with the New York Yankees. A classic piece of television history

There is an old adage in online poker: do the opposite of what your opponents are doing. The most common application of this maxim is "if you're on a loose table, play tight; if you're on a tight table, play looser." The reasons why you should do this are fairly straight-forward. If you sit on a loose table, you will be paid off when you have quality hands, so play tight. You don't need to create an "image" by playing loose cards and attract action in subsequent hands. They'll pay you off whether you're the rock of Gibraltar or the loosest cannon in the room. Conversely, if you sit on a tight table, you will be able to steal more often which means you have to get involved in more pots, even if that means playing substandard starting hands.

There is another emerging trend in poker regarding play on the flop with a big hand and I think that it's time to 'do the opposite' to increase your winnings. The trend I'm referring to is the automatic slowplay on the flop with a monster.

Let's say you have As-10s and the flop is Ks-9s-6s. What's your move? Well most players immediate say "check" because every reputable poker author has written pages about slowplaying the flop with the nuts. The problem is this: at the time of writing their books, most authors focused on how to beat "obvious-playing" opponents. Therefore, if your opponent is playing straight-forward poker, you should do the opposite and use deception by check-raising and slowplaying.

Should You Bet the Flop With a Monster?

But times have changed! Most players have gained all the insights from reading books and articles on strategy. They now know that the standard play is to check/call (slowplay) the flop when you hit a monster and wait for all the loose action on the turn when the bets are twice the size.

The problem in dogmatically following this rule is that your opponents often clue in to what you're doing. For example, I once saw one flop of 9c-7c-2c when I was holding two red eights. Two early position opponents checked in front of me and I bet. An opponent on the button called and the other two players folded. The opponent on the button was a reasonably good player. On the turn, a blank hit, I bet again and he raised. I put him on a big flush, probably the nuts. I quietly folded and he collected the mediocre pot.

Now let's rewind his hand and work out what he has. There is some possibility that I have flopped a small flush in this hand, which is why I am so eager to bet it. He knows this because he's a good player, so he won't get tricky with me on the turn, even if he has a good hand like two pair. So if he does raise the turn, he must have an extremely strong hand.

To confirm this suspicion, I went back to the flop. On the flop, he simply called. This "indicates" that he may have slowplayed the flop. Then I considered that he was on the button and was therefore in a perfect position to raise the flop and pressure the two early position players. This would be a sensible move if he had a set or a small flush. But he chose to call on the flop instead and come out raising on the turn. This basically confirms my suspicion of a slowplay. He was clearly hoping that the blinds would call the flop to swell the pot and perhaps one of them would pick up a hand/draw on the turn to call with.

While this shows you how to deconstruct a slowplay, I suppose this also goes to show you how the smallest bits of information in hold'em can take on enormous significance when determining an opponent's hand.

But there is more important point to make here. As you can see above, his deceptive strategy gave his hand away to me. I was certain that he had a monster because of his textbook slowplay.

And it isn't just me who picks up on this. I have seen a lot of players (even loose'ish players) make strong laydowns when it seems that an opponent has slowplayed an earlier street. The more they recognize it, the less potent the slowplay will be.

Should You Bet the Flop With a Monster?

So how do we overcome the problem? By doing the opposite! If you have a monster, everyone will suspect that you will slowplay the flop. Therefore, you should occasionally come out betting on the flop so that they don't put you on a big hand. Ironically, I find that being aggressive early with the nuts gives away less information about your hand than if you start slowplaying and check-raising, especially against experienced and knowledgeable opposition.

I suppose there is always the "it depends on your opponents" aspect to this advice. But if you start playing mid-limit games where your opponents are experienced enough to realize when they're being trapped by a slowplay or check-raise, then these deceptive strategies are not ALWAYS the way to go. That isn't to say that I object to the slowplay or check-raise. On the contrary, they can be magnificent when well timed, even if your opponents are strong players. But coming out firing on the flop with a monster can frequently confuse them into calling, whereas, a slowplay or check-raise will scare them away.

I'll leave you with an example to ponder. I was in a middle position and there was one early position caller. I raised with 10-10, hoping to thin the field. To my surprise five opponents called (two late position players, the blinds and the early position caller). Clearly, the early position player couldn't resist either. The flop came 10c-10s-8s. An early position player came out betting, so I raised. I knew that if I raised here, my opponents would probably put me on a hand like KK or QQ. Three opponents called my raise on the flop.

The turn was an ace. It was checked to me and I bet. The players with A-K, Q-J and the flush draw all called the turn, so I know that they didn't put me on quad tens or even a full house. They would have expected me to slowplay with quads, so I did the opposite and played it fast. Ironically, I created deception with straight-forward play and score a nice big pot. I am convinced that with deceptive plays, this pot would have been only half the size.