Your Ultimate Flop Poker Strategy Cheat Sheet (2024)

Flop Poker Strategy Cheat Sheet

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

The flop play is the crux of the hand in no-limit Texas hold’em, and learning how to play it can make or break your winrate.

Since there are so many factors to consider when playing the flop, it can quickly become overwhelming to many players.

Worry not, because we’ll break it all down in this article. Here’s everything you need to know about playing the flop like a poker pro.

This is your ultimate how to play the flop "cheat sheet"

Let’s get right into it.

1. Poker Flop Strategy 101 - To C-Bet or not to C-bet?

We’ll start with the assumption that you are the preflop aggressor, as this gives you the opportunity to make a continuation bet  (or c-bet for short) on the flop. 

A flop c-bet is simply a bet made by the preflop aggressor, i.e. you’re continuing with your betting. 

For example: 

You raise with KJpreflop and one person calls.

Flop comes: 

8T4 and you decide to make a bet (AKA a continuation bet/c-bet).

Knowing when and when not to fire a c-bet is one of the most important strategic aspects of no-limit hold’em. 

Due to the sheer frequency with which this spot occurs and the number of different factors to take into account, it pays to focus your studying on this particular topic.

Flop Poker Strategy

First, we’ll take a closer look at a light c-bet, before discussing c-betting for value. 

That’s because c-betting for value is relatively simpler to understand: You are betting when your hand is strong enough to be comfortably ahead of your opponent’s calling range, i.e. you’re hoping to get called.

With the light c-bet, on the other hand, you’re trying to get your opponents to fold, i.e. you’re trying to get stronger hands than yours to fold, which is a little trickier. 

Flop Poker Strategy: The Art of the Light C-bet

In no-limit hold’em, hands completely miss the flop 2 out of 3 times. This means that you won’t be able to make a value bet on the flop most the time, so your options will be to either check or make a light c-bet. 

C-bets are usually profitable, so it’s important to know when and when not to make one. 

As a general rule, you should make a c-bet on the flop unless there’s a very specific reason not to.

Learning to make a light c-bet is important because it makes your game balanced, i.e. you’re not leaving your opponents any room to exploit you. 

If you only ever make c-bets with strong value hands, your more observant opponents could easily spot this, and simply never give you any action, unless they have very strong hands themselves. 

They can also simply take the pot away from you every time you check to them on the flop, knowing that you won’t fight back.

For this reason, it’s important to incorporate a light c-bet in your arsenal to constantly keep your opponents guessing. 

Ideally, you want to have a similar number of light c-bets and value c-bets, respectively. 

In other words, you want to have an overall c-bet frequency of about 70% to be perfectly balanced.

If you want to know the c-betting frequencies of both you and your opponents, as well as other useful poker stats, consider investing in a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4.

Important caveat: being balanced in your c-betting frequency is only important if you’re playing against skilled players that are actually paying attention to what you’re doing.

If you’re playing against recreational players, forget all about balance and enter full exploit mode.

For example, if you’re up against a huge calling station who can’t fold a hand to save their life, you shouldn’t have any light c-bets in your range at all (i.e. you shouldn’t bluff them, ever). 

Instead, just wait for a good hand and value bet it relentlessly, no matter how obvious it might seem.

Conversely, if you’re up against a weak, nitty player who folds all but their strongest holdings, you can make light c-bets far more frequently than would be considered “balanced.” 

For more info on how to get the most out of your value bets and how to dominate the nitty players, check out Crushing the Microstakes.

Now, let’s consider which factors make light c-betting more profitable (i.e. more +EV), and which factors make light c-betting less likely to succeed.

How to Play the Flop: Understanding Position and Board Texture

A) Playing in position

Being the last to act in a betting round makes virtually all spots more profitable in no-limit hold’em, and light c-betting is no exception. 

If you are playing in position, your opponents will be more likely to fold to your c-bet, because it’s harder to play a hand with a positional disadvantage. 

B) Dry, uncoordinated boards

The drier the board, the more likely your light c-bet is to succeed, because there’s fewer ways your opponents could have connected with the flop in a meaningful way.

Example of a dry, uncoordinated board:


Example of a wet, coordinated board:


The wetter the board, the more likely it is for your opponent to connect in some way, so you should exercise caution when light c-betting on these boards. 

If other factors work in your favour, you could still make a light c-bet profitably.

C) Your hand equity

When you’re light c-betting, the assumption is that you don’t have a hand that’s strong enough to value bet with. 

Still, you’ll often have drawing hands on the flop, which gives you a bit of hand equity to fall back on if your c-bet gets called. 

The stronger your draw, the more inclined you should be to make a c-bet.

How to Play the Flop

D) Showdown value

Showdown value simply means how often your hand can win at showdown unimproved. 

Hands with showdown value aren’t strong enough to make a value bet with (i.e. you can’t get called by weaker hands), but can often win at showdown. 

In other words, hands with showdown value serve as great bluff catchers.

Examples of hands with showdown value:
  • Pocket pairs
  • Weak two pair hands
  • Second pair and third pair hands etc.
You get the point: you’ll often have hands that have some sort of equity, but aren’t strong enough to value bet with.

If you have a hand with showdown value, you should actually be LESS INCLINED to make a light c-bet. 

This is just one of 7 simple poker tips that will help you start winning right away. 

Remember, the point of a light c-bet is to get your opponents to fold hands that are stronger than yours. 

If your opponents are just going to fold all their junk, and only continue with the hands that beat you, what’s the point of putting additional money into the pot?

Instead, you can skip a c-bet to practice pot control, take a free card and hopefully improve on future streets, or try to catch bluffs from your opponents.

If your hand has no showdown value (i.e. it can’t win at showdown unimproved, you should be more inclined to make a light c-bet, because that’s the only way for you to win the pot. Or you can just give up the hand altogether if you think your opponents won’t fold to your c-bet.

One Important Caveat: showdown value is a RELATIVE TERM. 

While some hands are too weak to value bet with against certain opponents, they can be ok to value bet with against other opponents. 

For example, hands that would otherwise only have showdown value can actually be viable value betting candidates if your opponent is a giant calling station.

This is discussed in much more detail in my brand new 17+ hour advanced poker training program, BlackRain79 Elite Poker University.

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E) Number of opponents

This one is pretty straightforward. The more opponents in the pot, the less likely it is for your c-bet to succeed, because there’s a chance at least one of them connected with the flop in some meaningful way. 

When you’re light c-betting, you’ll ideally want to do it against a single opponent.

How to Play the Flop Cheat Sheet: Player Type and Your Table Image

Poker is all about playing the player.

F) Your opponent’s tendencies

As mentioned before, the frequency with which you want to make your light c-bets will depend widely on the type of opponent(s) you’re up against. 

Against huge calling stations, you should refrain from bluffing of any sort altogether. 

If you’re up against a fit-or-type of players, you can increase your light c-betting frequency dramatically.

A fit-or-fold player will usually play very straightforwardly on the flop, and in general. 

They typically like to see a lot of flops, but give up fairly easily if they connect with it in a meaningful way (which is most of the time).

Against this type of opponent, you can build up a bigger pot preflop, then take it down with a simple flop c-bet most of the time.

Check out my recent article on preflop bet sizing for more info on the topic.

Also, check out Nathan's recent video on how to hand read against different types of poker players.

G) Your table image

This factor should only concern you if you’re up against players who are actually paying attention to your tendencies. 

If you’re up against a bunch of oblivious fish, simply consider other relevant factors (i.e. never light c-bet if they never fold, and throw an occasional light c-bet if they play too fit-or-fold and other factors are working in your favour).

Against more observant opponents, pay attention to the meta-game and the previous history you have with them. 

Consider how your session was going so far. Were you on a heater, involved in a lot of pots and pushing your opponents around, or have you been card dead for a while and can credibly represent a strong value hand?

If it’s the latter, you can get away with light c-betting more often. If it’s the former, ease off the throttle, because you’re more likely to get looked up by your opponents.

As you can see, there are A LOT of factors to consider when deciding on whether or not to make a light c-bet. 

The list may seem a bit daunting at first, but having some sort of mental checklist like this in place can help you make more informed decisions in the limited time you have on the felt.

By the way, I also have a free guide on how to play better poker in 30 days to help you even more. 

But all the great poker players have a similar checklist in place when making nearly all in-game decisions. 

With enough practice, your thinking process will become more streamlined, and you’ll be able to make sound decisions automatically.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to be aware of ALL THE FACTORS at all times, because not every factor is equally important in every spot

Also, this is not an exhaustive list by any means, as there are other factors at play that can influence your decision. 

Instead, this serves as a quick checklist to show you how you can organize your decision making process in order to make the best play possible.

2. Flop C-betting for Value - Bet Big and Bet Often

When you are light c-betting, you do so with the intention of getting your opponents to fold. When you are betting for value, you want your opponents to call you. 

However, this doesn’t mean you can bet for value every time you have a strong hand. You can only bet for value if you have a strong hand AND your opponent is willing to call you with weaker hands. 

If your opponent won’t call your bet because they don’t have any hands in their calling range, you can’t really bet for value then.

Here’s an example to illustrate the point.

How to Play the Flop Example Hand

You are dealt KK UTG (under the gun). You open-raise to 3x.

Villain calls from the BU (button).

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: K33

You flop a full house, which is obviously great news for you. 

But here’s the problem: there’s very few hands your opponent will be willing to call you with. It’s highly unlikely they have a Kx hand, since you heavily block those.

(By the way, a blocker is a card in your hand that reduces the number of potential combinations in your opponent’s range. For example, if you hold an Ace in your hand, it’s less likely your opponent has an Ax hand as well).

It’s also highly unlikely they have a Three in their range. I talk about all this in detail in my free poker cheat sheet by the way.

The only other hands that might give you action are some medium pocket pairs like pocket Sevens, pocket Eights and so on.

So betting in this spot will more than likely result in your opponent folding, and you picking up a measly pot with a monster hand. 

Instead of c-betting here, you may consider other alternatives, like check-calling or check-raising, or making a delayed c-bet on the turn and let your opponent catch up and pick up some hand equity.

Now, all of this is not to say that you shouldn’t c-bet in this spot altogether. If your opponent likes to call a lot, for example, you can still go ahead and make a standard c-bet. 

The point is that value c-betting only works if your opponent is willing to give you action.

If not, you may consider slowplaying to 

a) conceal your hand strength and 

b) let your opponent catch up by picking up some hand equity on future streets.

Slowplaying means playing your hand passively (i.e. checking and calling) instead of aggressively (betting and raising) in order to conceal your hand strength.

It’s worth noting that slowplaying only works if it means you’ll be able to extract more value later on in the hand. Otherwise, it just results in you leaving money at the table. 

This is something Nathan discusses in more detail in his recent video.

You shouldn’t slowplay against passive opponents who won’t build up the pot for you. You can slowplay against aggressive opponents who like to bluff a lot and push their opponents out of pots.

If you’re playing in low stakes poker games, however, your best bet is usually to build up the pot yourself, as a large majority of players in these games tend to play too passively.

If you’ve followed the previous tip on balancing your value bets with light c-bets, your value c-bets are more likely to get called, as your opponents will always have to guess your hand strength.

C-betting for value is more straightforward than light c-betting, because it’s obviously easier to play when you flop something decent. 

Players usually intuitively know when they have a hand that’s strong enough to value bet with. It’s the bet sizing they use that usually gives them pause.

When c-betting for value, you obviously want to extract as much money as possible. This obviously doesn’t mean you should just shove all-in every time you get a strong hand. But betting too small on the flop can lead you to just leave money on the table. 

This has to do with pot geometry. If you make a bigger bet on the previous streets, this will lead to an exponentially bigger pot on later streets. 

So if you have a strong value hand, you should build up a big pot as soon as possible, as this can help you to ship the rest of your stack in the middle more easily later on in the hand.

I won’t get too deep into the bet sizing here. Check out my recent article on flop, turn and river bet sizing for more info on the topic.

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3. Flop Strategy Cheat Sheet - What to Do When You Are NOT the Preflop Aggressor?

If you decide to play a certain hand, your best bet is to raise (and re-raise) it preflop. This way, you get to the flop with the initiative and the range advantage, meaning you have the opportunity to make a c-bet on the flop.

By the way, the player with the range advantage is the one that theoretically has more strong hands in their range, given they are the preflop aggressor.

It’s advised to play most of your hands this way, because being the preflop aggressor is way more profitable than being the preflop caller.

If you’re using a good free HUD like Poker Tracker 4, you can check these stats yourself. 

The difference in money made being the preflop aggressor versus the preflop caller may surprise you.

However, this doesn’t mean you don’t want to have no preflop calling range whatsoever. 

When you see the flop as the preflop caller, you don’t have the opportunity to make a c-bet. Your flop strategy will therefore differ somewhat, depending on if you’re playing in position or out of position.

Let’s start with playing the flop in position first.

How to Play the Flop in Position

If you do call preflop, it’s way better to do it when playing in position. 

Playing in position is just about the biggest advantage you can have in no-limit hold’em, short of  only your opponent not knowing the rules of the game.

That’s because playing in position simply gives you more options. When you face a c-bet from your opponents, you can simply call and exercise pot control, or inflate the pot further with a raise. 

If your opponent checks, on the other hand, you can make a bet to take over the initiative, or simply check back to get a free card.

What you decide to do on the flop will obviously depend on your hand strength and the board texture, but also on your opponent’s tendencies.

If your opponent is very aggressive, for example, you can slowplay your strong hands, because you can count on them to build up the pot for you. There’s no need to tip them off on your hand strength by raising, and let them keep barreling into you with their nonsense hands.

You can also try to bluff catch with your mediocre hands against them. It’s easier to bluff catch in position than out of position. 

Since it’s actually very hard to make a strong hand in no-limit hold’em, learning to bluff catch from time to time can greatly improve your bottom line.

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Now, let’s take a look at playing on the flop out of position.

It’s worth mentioning right off the bat that playing on the flop out of position as the preflop caller is not the best spot to find yourself in. That’s because:

a) you don’t have a positional advantage

b) you don’t have a range advantage

c) you don’t have the initiative, meaning you can’t make a c-bet

Some players make a donk bet in this spot. A donk bet is an out of position bet you make when you are NOT the previous street’s aggressor. 

It’s worth noting that donk bet is not a derogatory term per se, as there are spots where donk betting could be a viable play.

Still, you should probably refrain from donk betting in most cases. You can check out the article I wrote on bad poker strategies you should avoid if you want to know more.

In short, however, there’s a better alternative to donk betting, and that is check-raising. 

Check-raising is a very powerful play to have in your arsenal, because it helps you offset the positional disadvantage. It also takes the initiative away from your opponent.

Check-raising can only be done when playing out of position, and you can use it both as a value bet and as a bluff.

When betting for value, check-raising is preferable to donk-betting because it allows you to get two bets in the pot instead of one. In other words, it allows you to extract more value out of your strong hands.

When check-raising as a bluff, it appears stronger than donk-betting. In other words, it makes your bluff look more believable.

When check-raising as a bluff, it’s always useful to have some sort of hand equity to fall back on if your bluff gets called. To put it another way, semibluffing is preferable than stone-cold bluffing.

When you are semibluffing, you don’t have a made hand yet, but your hand could improve on later streets. When you are stone-cold bluffing, your hand has no chance of improvement, and the only way for you to win the hand is to get your opponent to fold.

Semibluffing works best with drawing hands, such as straight and flush draws. As a general rule, the stronger your draw, the more aggressively you should play it.

This is discussed in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.

The Ultimate How to Play the Flop Cheat Sheet - Summary

When you get to the flop, you want to do so by being the preflop aggressor. This is a much more profitable spot than being the preflop caller because:

a) it gives you the range advantage and 

b) it gives you the opportunity to make a continuation bet.

C-bets are usually profitable, so knowing when and when not to make a c-bet is what makes or breaks your winrate.

As a general rule, you should make a c-bet on the flop unless there’s a very specific reason not to.

When you are c-betting, you can do so either as a value bet or as a bluff (aka a light c-bet).

You can only make a value bet if your opponent can call you with weaker hands. If not, consider other alternatives, like making a delayed c-bet, for example.

Check out Micro Stakes Playbook for more advanced poker strategies.

You should balance your value bets with light c-bets to keep your opponents guessing at your hand strength. Ideally, you want to have the same frequency of light c-bets and value c-bets to be unexploitable.

When you are not the preflop aggressor, you want to play most hands in position to offset playing without a range advantage. 

This gives you more options, as you can float your opponents, raise them with your strong hands, and so on.

When playing out of position as the preflop caller, implement check-raising in your arsenal to take the initiative away from your opponents and keep them on their toes.

The flop play is such a dynamic spot with a bunch of variables to consider, it pays to focus on studying it, regardless of where you are in your poker career.

So keep studying, keep improving your game, and may the flop be with you.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

How to play the flop