Opening Your Flat Calling Range in Position


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Introduction: This article will be discussing why flat calling the flop may be better than raising in some seemingly normal situations. Too often do players have a powerful hand or draw and immediately look to get the money in without considering different plays (primarily: flat calling in position). This article is solely about playing in position and does not apply to out of position (OOP) play at all. The author advocates heavier aggression when OOP, more so than the advice in this article.

All hand examples will be 6-max, 100bbs unless stated otherwise.

Hand 1.0- It is folded to CO who opens 3xbb with As Qs. BB 3-bets to 12xbb and CO calls. Both are regulars. The flop is Qd 4s 3s. BB bets 15bbs and CO raises his bet.

From the initial glance, this hand seems standard all around: CO flops a huge hand (TPTK+ flush draw) and is looking to get it in. This is certainly a fine way to play the hand and certainly +EV. However, is flat calling the flop an option as well?

Some benefits to flat calling BB’s flop bet:

 

  • CO does not have much to gain by raising. BB will typically fold most all worse hands (smaller over pairs) and air hands. Unless CO thinks that SB will more likely get it in on this flop with a hand like TT by raising the flop, flat calling is a better option.

 

 

  • If CO is behind in this hand (if BB has QQ+), he may be able to get the money in when he improves. A short example would be if the turn is the 5s and BB has KK. With the quality of CO’s hand, he can comfortably call a turn bet on a complete brick turn as well. CO may even consider (gasp) folding the river against some opponents.

 

 

  • CO has position. With top pair (TP), he is already has solid showdown value and can call multiple streets. Shoving or raising the flop may be a more viable option if CO had zero showdown value (no pair) and wanted some fold equity.

 

 

  • By flat calling the flop, CO under represents his hand and may allow BB to either a) value bet his hand (in his eyes) with something such as JJ or Qx or b) allow BB to bluff (and semi bluff) all of his air (AK/lower flushes/gut shots/etc). When CO raises the flop, he prevents BB from betting himself. Sometimes, more value can be attained by letting BB betting himself.

 

What if CO did not have top pair? What if the flop were Jd 4s 3s instead? Flat calling can still be viable on the flop (though less due to not having as much show down value).

Another example:

Hand 2.0- An aggressive and loose MP player opens 3.5x pre flop, BTN calls with Qs Js, all else fold. The flop is 6s 4s 2c and MP bets.

Again, this may be a situation where BTN might automatically think “two over cards and a flush draw = I’m ALL IN!” Raising the flop can be a good option vs. some opponents. However, by raising and lowering the stack to pot ratio (SPR), BTN does not take advantage of his positional advantage as much. What are some other benefits to flat calling this flop (in addition to hand 1.0?)-

 

  • BTN’s over card outs may not be entirely clean. What this means is that even if BTN hits a Q or a J on the turn/river, he still may not have the best hand. With this in mind, the two over cards are significantly weaker than, say, a hand like As Ks. So when the money goes in, the BTN may be over estimating how much equity he actually has vs. MP’s all in range.

 

 

  • With position, BTN can more easily take the pot down by bluffing. Unlike hand 1.0, where it is a 3-bet pot, this pot is only a single raised pot and the SPR is larger. This means that if MP bets the flop and checks the turn, BTN can opt to bet. Another line is that MP may bet certain turn cards and BTN may elect to call again and see the river (or raise the turn). There are many possibilities with position.

 

 

  • Given the texture of this board, there are numerous value hands and semi bluffs that MP may have. Not only will MP continue to bet the turn/river with 2 pair and sets, but also with semi bluff hands such as straight and flush draws. With the Q high flush draw, BTN can certainly dominate some of those other draws if the spade does come. Furthermore, if MP has pure air, he may believe that BTN has a weak medium hand and will fold to bets if the spade comes on later streets.

 

 

  • More on bluffing and semi bluffing later streets: Calling the flop allows MP to hang himself. Imagine the turn is the 9s. There are numerous combos that MP may semi bluff with (the lone As/Ks/Qs/etc) and continue to bet. BTN can decide to raise or flat call again (flat calling is probably preferred in most cases).

 

Hand 3.0- MP opens 3.5xbb PF, CO calls with Td 8d, all else fold. The flop is 6d 7d Jh and MP bets 2/3rds pot. CO…?

This is another standard spot where players may initially see their equity and decide to raise and get it in. Like the other hands previously, that is a fine play. It is most certainly +EV. But is it the most profitable play? Why can calling be better?

 

  • Reverse Implied Odds and equity domination- Though CO’s hand is strong (two over cards + gut shot + flush draw), the hand itself is not top tier against MP’s all in range. What this means is that if CO raises the flop and MP shoves all in, CO is not going to be truly strong against MP’s range. MP may shove a hand like AA here (which Td 8d is 48% against). But against a stronger range such as 2 pair (Td 8d vs. 67s = 45%), a set (Td 8d vs. JJ= 35%), or a higher flush draw (Td 8d vs. Ad 5d= 33%), T8s does not bode nearly as well. By raising the flop, CO has much of the same problem as in hand 1.0- he will face a very strong continuing range from MP and may not be a favorite if they get the money in).

 

 

  • Board texture- This board texture is such that CO may be able to bluff on later streets if he misses his draw. Floating the flop or turn are profitable options against certain opponents, and there are numerous scary turns and rivers for MP if he has an over pair. This is a widely used concept that applies to many board textures.

 

Exceptions for Flat Calling the Flop with a Strong Draw:

As stated previously, raising the flop with a strong draw can be an excellent play. Though this article in view of alternate lines, there are common situations where raising the flop is the better play. One exception is when the players get deep stacked (http://www.texasholdemonline.com/strategy/deep-stacked-play-in-nlhe-part-2/). With a larger SPR, players have more room to maneuver, and raising becomes a more powerful play. Unlike 100bbs, raising the flop does not mean the end of action on the turn (where the SPR is small if the flop is raised and the turn is bet), and players still have the river to play.

Occasionally, raising the flop against aggressive players can be profitable. It is harder to get to the river with draws against these types of players, and sometimes taking the lead can help future decisions (ie. A pre flop raiser (PFR) bets the flop and we raise, the turn comes and he checks to us). Take this situation compared to him just betting the flop and turn and it becomes more difficult.

There are many more reasons why raising the flop can be a better play than flat calling. As with all things in poker: ‘it depends’. Certain opponents may dictate different strategies.

Conclusion: Position is a powerful tool in NLHE. Too often do players see their raw equity and decide to go wild, negating their positional advantage. While raising and bloating the pot can be profitable against certain opponents, calling can also be a very good decision. Position allows players many more options post flop, something that gets negated once a raise is put in and the SPR is much smaller.