Limit Hold 'em Heads-Up Flop IV

You can miss the flop in more than one way in hold 'em. We've already covered the basics on how to play overcards, and overcards can surely be seen as a missed flop. Here, however, we're looking at flops where even pairing up on the turn isn't going to make us feel good about our chances.

What are the important parameters to look at in situations like these? Besides position, reads on opponents and the other usual stuff, we should now look increasingly to two things:

  1. How does the board texture match what I believe my opponent has, and
  2. Is there a reasonable chance that my hand is best?

When I say \"a completely missed flop,\" the implication is that our hand is unlikely to be best at this time. But unlikely is a little vague, it only implies that there's a worse than 50% chance that we have the best hand. So for the answer to question #2, I'm looking more for a \"only once in a blue moon will my hand be best.\" For instance, if we raise 76s on the button (as we do in the first example), get called by the big blind, and the flop comes J-T-4, then it's fairly safe to say that our hand is (virtually) never best.

The reason why that's even interesting is that if there's some chance of our hand being best, but not greater than 50%, then checking (in position) is almost always better. If we don't know whether to bet to protect our hand or bet as a bluff, it's better not to bet at all, because being raised in that situation is awful. This is not the case when we have a hand that is likely to be best - because then calling comes easy. It's also not the case when we have a hand that is all but doomed - because then folding is the obvious next step. But when we're holding a hand like JT in the big blind on a board of 6-6-2 where it's just us and the small blind - and he checked - I wouldn't bet. I'd rather take a free card.

What about board texture? Analyzing this can be done by employing some basic statistics; or rather, common sense. If we missed the board, it's much more likely that our opponent missed as well if the board paired up. If the board is 9-9-3, it's much more likely that our opponent missed (and may fold if we try to take it away) than if it is 9-T-J. Let's count some cards:

Besides pocket pairs, our opponent needs to have a 9 or a trey in their hands to hit the first flop. But any 7, 8, 9, T, jack, queen or king can be said to have \"hit\" the second flop. admittedly, a 7 only has the sucker end of an inside straight draw. But when playing missed flops, we're bluffing when we're not folding and bluffing someone who is very likely to call sucks, because then we have to invest another bet on the next street to find out if we're good or not.

Basically, when it comes to flop texture, we're looking for cards that mean that if we get called, we might as well give up completely.

Before continuing with the examples, I want to stress that often, the standard play in two of these is to just check or fold. Deviating from this strategy has its places, and we should, but only when we think there's a considerable chance that it will be profitable. Here, we're playing for fold equity.

Example 1: Raising Trash from the Button

The blinds are reasonably tight and you haven't played a hand for awhile. Everyone folds to you on the button and you're holding 7-5s. Raising, while perhaps not standard for everyone (although it is for me), is at least very conceivable given the recent action and the two players in the blinds.

Unfortunately, the big blind calls. Let's take it from there.

PokerStars 5/10 Hold'em (5 handed)
Preflop: Hero is Button with 7♥, 6♥.
2 folds, Hero raises, 1 fold, BB calls.

Flop: (4.40 SB) J♦, T♣, 4♠ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero...

Board Texture

As I said in the introduction to this chapter, we're looking for boards that are unlikely to have hit our opponent. How does this one rate?

Honestly, I'd prefer it to not have been connected. JT on the board means that any combination of two high cards are likely to have hit at least some part of it. With the big blind being somewhat tight, it's likely that he has some hand selection. At least the flop is rainbow (meaning that each of the three cards are of different suits). Also, the third low card (the four) doesn't hurt us much. All things considered, this is an average board for us.

Chance of Our Hand Being Best

Very unlikely. I hate to say \"never,\" but this is pretty close. This gives us strong incentive to bet.


Clearly we're hoping that our opponent will fold if we bet. We're, as it's called, bluffing. Although not as spectacular in limit hold 'em as in no-limit, it has its definite places. Might this be one of them?

The pot, at this time, contains about 4 bets (depending on rake) and we're betting one more hoping to take it down. We're offering our opponent 5:1 and we're getting 4:1 ourselves. Our plan should be to drop the hand immediately if we get raised, so if our opponent folds only 20% of the time, we're breaking even on our bet. We may even get away with less than 20%, since some (admittedly small) percentage of the times we get called, we'll end up with the best hand on the river. That gain can be mostly discarded from the flop analysis, however.


Since we're almost certain that we have the worst hand, checking (and taking a free card) must be considered, as well. Here, however, I do not feel that it's the best play. We already know that we won't like whatever comes on the turn anyway, and in fact the free card may end up being the most expensive card in the deck: One of the three remaining sixes. If a six comes off, and our opponent checks the turn, do we bet? If we do and he calls, then what. No, while it's nice to take free cards on the flop, it's better if we do it when we actually know what we're hoping will come. And unless a free card can save the day, what reason is there to check when we've already established that we show a direct profit on this flop by betting if our opponent will fold more than only 20% of the time? None.


We have a hand that we can easily get away from, a flop that is only somewhat coordinated. This flop is a clear bet. Out of position, things might have been different, but here there's no question about it.

Example 2: 94o in the Big Blind

Here, our opponent limps UTG and we get a free flop from the big blind. We have no reads on the opponent since is our first hand at the table.

PokerStars 5/10 Hold'em (5 handed)
Preflop: Hero is BB with 4♠, 9♥.
UTG calls, 3 folds, Hero checks.

Flop: (2.40 SB) T♣, A♠, 3♠ (2 players)


This is not a good board for us. Although that ace can be used as a scare card (and possibly make him fold small pocket pairs if we bet), it's also one of those cards that people like to play. So we at least have to acknowledge that there is a better-than-average chance that he has an ace in his hand.

Furthermore, any two broadway cards have flopped at the very least an inside straight. And to round things off, the board is double-suited. This flop is fairly coordinated.

Chance of Hand Being Best

This is statistically unlikely, but as already pointed out, we don't know what our opponent limps with. It's not quite as clear-cut as the 76s hand above, but it's at least close. Our hand is not going to win a showdown very often at all.


In the last hand, our opponent only needed to fold 20% of the time in order to make betting an option that breaks even. Here, the pot is only a little over two bets big, so our opponent would need to fold about a third of the time for us to gain from betting. While I agree that it doesn't seem all that far-fetched to believe that he would, in fact, fold that often, it's not as clear cut as the last hand, especially given that we have on read to help us out.


This should surely be the default play, given that we've established that our hand has no real value, that we're not sure our opponent will fold often enough and that we're out of position. More arguments for checking aren't really needed.


Betting here is a big risk taking, and should be done sparingly. Certainly not as a default play. It can work as a balancing meta-game bluff, where we bet the flop but check the turn and the few times that our opponent checks behind both the turn and the river, we'll score some points in future hands where someone may call us down with king high when we lead the flop on an ace-high board. Presumably, we're smart enough not to run the same bluff twice, so that it actually is to our advantage.

Still, if we want to make a stab with a worthless hand to achieve some image of a madman, there are probably better times to do it. If the board had been A-9-3 instead of A-T-3, we wouldn't be in the situation that any two broadway cards had a straight-draw, and the board would therefore have been a lot better for us. This is less than ideal, and when looking for places to make weird but well-timed bluffs, we should look for ideal scenarios.

Example 3: QTs Gets 3-bet Preflop

In this last example of this series of flop play, I've been deliberately mean. I've placed us in a tricky situation and I don't intend to give a definitive conclusion, but to encourage you to think for yourself.

Villain is loose and aggressive, preflop as well as postflop.

PokerStars 5/10 Hold'em (6 handed)
Preflop: Hero is CO with Q♠, T♠.
2 folds, Hero raises, Button 3-bets, 2 folds, Hero calls.

Flop: (7.40 SB) 4♣, J♣, J♠ (2 players)
Hero checks, Button bets, Hero...


I won't look at board texture and likelyhood that our hand is best this time, because you should practise that yourself for this hand. Instead, I'll point out three things about this hand that makes it different from the other examples:

  1. We have two backdoor draws; both a straight and a flush draw.
  2. We have an overcard.
  3. The pot is 8 bets big when it gets back to us.


Out of the three options available to us, I believe two are almost identical in value, and one is out of the question.

What do you think?

Limit Hold'em Series by F Paulsson

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