Proper play (whether you should check, call, bet, raise, re-raise or fold) in any given situation is governed by numerous factors, some of which are (not in order of importance):
- The limit you are playing. You are usually much more flexible in small limit games due to the normal nature of these games.
- The type of game you are in (whether the game is tight & aggressive, tight & passive, loose & aggressive, loose & passive or a mixture).
- The type of player(s) who have called or raised before you, as well as the type of players yet to act behind you (whether they are tight, loose, aggressive or passive).
- Your position relative to how many players are still left to act behind you.
- Your self- image at the table.
On the Flop
On the flop, you will find yourself in one of six situations:
- You have a real big hand, for example you flopped a set or a full house. With these hands, it’s generally best to wait until the turn to raise; however, it’s best to raise on the flop if you think someone has a draw that could beat you. Naturally, whether or not to raise on the flop, often depends on the type of game you are in. In some games it’s best to play your big hand real strong because you will still get plenty of action.
- You have a hand that is most likely the best hand at the moment but is very vulnerable, for example top pair with an Ace kicker or an over pair. Your main objective with this hand is to eliminate players from the pot.
- You have a hand that may be the best hand, but you are not sure (for example, when you flop second pair). You obviously need to determine if your hand is any good. If you know your hand is second best then you will often fold; however, if you have an over-card kicker (preferably an Ace), then depending on the situation, you will sometimes call with hopes of hitting your Ace or trips. This assumes that you feel confident you will win the pot if you hit. The situation and the implied odds will dictate whether this is the proper play or not. The same sometimes holds true if you flop third pair with preferably an Ace kicker. If you feel you may have the best hand, then usually the best way to determine if you are second best, is to bet (or raise) on the flop and see how your opponent(s) react. Based on their actions, you can hopefully determine your best course of action. If many players saw the flop and an Ace flops, your hand is history (assuming you do not have an ace), someone is very likely to have an Ace.
- You have a drawing hand. You must now calculate the number of outs you have and calculate the implied pot odds. Only continue with the hand if the pot is laying you the proper odds and you feel you will win the pot if you complete your hand.
- You have a hand that you are fairly confident is beat at this stage. You should either fold or treat the hand as a drawing hand.
- You have no pair and nothing to draw to that you feel may win you the pot and you are certain that you are beat. Don’t call any bets.
On the Turn
Since the betting limit has doubled on the turn, you will frequently attempt to utilize this fact to eliminate players. Often players will not be getting the proper odds to call your bet or raise, which would make it incorrect for them to continue with their hand (assuming they have the second best hand). If they do continue under these circumstances, then they will be making an error and anytime this happens, it is a plus for you. Unless you have a very big hand, if you feel confident that you have the best hand and your opponent(s) bet into you, then most often you should raise. Usually when you raise a player on the turn, it implies strength. Against good players you can sometimes use this point to your advantage. If you don’t feel you have the best hand, but think there is a chance your opponent(s) may fold, then a raise in this situation may win the pot for you. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to fire the second bullet on the river. Also, in situations where you intend to call on the river anyway, then raising on the turn may get the opponent(s) to check to you on the river. If you check on the river also, then it will have cost you the same amount of money in this situation. To clarify, instead of calling a bet on the turn and on the river, you raise on the turn and then check the river when it is checked to you. Naturally, this assumes that you are confident that your opponent(s) will not re-raise you on the turn and then bet the river. If you are on a draw and you feel confident it will win if you hit, then you now use implied odds to determine if you should call the bet.
On the River
By the river there is often a fair bit of money in the pot. It is a huge error to fold a hand in this situation that would have won the pot. However, consistently calling bets on the river when you are fairly sure you are beat, is also very costly. Learn to have good judgment in this situation. You need to learn to read your opponents well, read the situation well and thereby determine if your hand is the best or not. Sometimes a raise will win the pot for you, but be aware that most players have a tendency to call on the river if they have anything at all.