Guest post by Mark Holland from http://www.sitandgoplanet.com
Flushes, made up of 5 cards of the same suit, are a powerful holding in poker. A flush beats a straight, 2-pairs and even 3 of a kind and is only bettered by Full House, Straight Flush and 4-of a kind. While beginning players know they can win a big pot with this hand, there are common errors made which can actually end up costing money, rather than winning it. This article, the second in my series on profitable poker, covers these errors and shows you how to play suited cards and flops to maximize your returns.
I will start by looking at suited cards before the flop, and common mistakes made with them. Next the situations in which you have 4 cards to a flush on the flop are covered, including the effect of stack sizes and playing aggressively. Finally, those situations where you make your flush on the turn or river are discussed, should you bet or should you check and hope your opponent bets instead, allowing you to get in an extra raise?
New players often make the mistake of thinking any two suited cards are playable before the flop in No-Limit Holdem. While flushes are undoubtedly worth trying to hit, this thinking is deeply flawed for several reasons. Often, it is not as cheap to see a flop as a player first imagined, calling one raise can often lead to being ‘priced in’ to calling a re-raise and so on. Sure, you will sometimes win a big pot with your King-Six suited, though more often you will fold to further bets on the flop when you miss. As a rule of thumb if you are calling off more than 4% to 5% of your chips with these hands before the flop you are making a mistake in terms of long term profits.
New players also get in trouble in situations where they partially hit their hands on the flop. Let us take Queen-Five of hearts as an example, it was cheap to see a flop and so our player called. What often happens is that the flush misses, while a queen hits, it then takes several raises and re-raises before our player realizes they are behind (for example a king-queen held by an opponent). I recommend playing fewer ány-2 suited’ hands to all new players.
There are two kinds of suited cards which are playable before the flop when there is not too much action at the table. These are suited aces, the bigger the kicker the better, and suited connectors such as 7-8 suited which can make straights as well as flushes. I will cover suited connectors in more detail in a future article.
Once the flop comes the potential for mistakes gets even bigger. Those times you hit 2 cards of your suit, you are in a strong position – you will make a flush just under half the time by the river. One problem is that the suited cards are visible to your opponents, and smart players will try and make it unprofitable for you to try and hit your hand by changing their bet sizing.
A huge mistake made on the flop is to draw to (that is try to hit) a flush without ensuring that both you and your opponents have enough chips to make it profitable to do so. For example, you call a raise of $5 on the flop and hit a 5th heart on the turn, making your hand. Great, only your only opponent only has $10 left! Since you were almost 4-to-1 against hitting your heart on the turn* your call of $5 needed to win $20 just to break even, and since your opponent did not have this much your call loses money over time. Learning to fold when there are not enough chips to give you the correct future price to draw is a giant step on the road to profitable poker.
*You have seen 5 cards (your 2 hole-cards and 3 cards on the flop) of which 4 are hearts, this means there are 47 cards you have not seen, 9 of which would complete your flush.
In fact, calling is often the worst play in situations where you are trying to complete your hand. You often have no idea how strong your opponent’s hand is, and an aggressive player may bet the flop every single time. Experienced players often make strong re-raises with their flush draws. The idea is that your opponent folds sometimes and when you are called you still can make your hand just under half the time. In combination these factors make the raise a profitable play.
Whether you make your flush on the flop, turn or river you generally need to bet and get some value from your hand – especially against inexperienced opponents. Everyone will be able to see that a flush is possible, and you will often find players will simply check their hand down on the river to avoid being trapped. If you flop a flush with is not the strongest possible or hit it on the turn, remember that players holding the ace of your suit will often stick around. By betting you get value from lesser hands and charge your opponent to try and hit the higher flush.
To summarize, suited cards before the flop are often a mixed blessing for beginning players. Sticking with the strongest ones and ensuring you can see the flop cheaply is only part of the equation – players also need to be disciplined enough to fold those times they only partially hit their hand on the flop. After the flop you need to ensure that you have the potential to get paid-off those times you call a raise trying to hit the 5th card. Taking the lead with aggressive betting leads to the best of both worlds, as you will often find your opponents fold.
Mark Holland runs a large network of poker strategy websites and is the author of the 4-part course ‘The $16 / Hour Sit And Go Blueprint’, teaching beginning players how to profit from 1-table tournaments. You can join this acclaimed course at Sit and Go Planet today!