The Front-Loaded Nature of Texas Hold’em

By Lou Krieger | January 13, 2010

Unlike many other forms of poker, Texas hold’em is a front-loaded game. That front-loaded structure has a significant impact on playing strategy, although this is a subject that many players don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. Most of the time hold’em hands are formed on the flop, because five of the cards that can be used to make the best poker hand from the seven cards that will available to you are in play at that point.

You get to see five-sevenths, or seventy-one percent of your hand on the flop, and that’s a real bargain compared to any other form of poker. The cost to see 70 percent of your hand is only one round of betting. But there’s another side to this too, and the flip side is that there are three remaining betting rounds but only two additional cards that can be used to complete your hand.

The implications of front-loaded hand development compared with back-loaded costs cannot be ignored when planning how to play a hand, or often more importantly, whether to continue to play after the flop is revealed. Because seven-tenths of your hand is formed by the time you see the flop for the bargain price of only one round of betting, the remainder of the hand becomes quite expensive by comparison.

One obvious consequence of this unbalanced relationship between cost and cards is that players should consider abandoning their quest for the pot unless dealt a big hand that can survive the flop without any help, or the flop helps that player by pairing one or both of his big cards, or offers a straight or a flush draw.

The obvious strategic implication that one can take from all of this is to release hands that cannot survive the flop on their own and are not helped by the flop, unless other compelling reasons to keep playing are apparent. If you aren’t dealt much of a hand but suspect that a bet or raise on the flop or turn will cause your opponent to release his hand, then of course you’d want to keep playing. But absent any poker tells a player might have on his opponent, it’s a case of “fit or fold” on the flop.

The relationship between the cost of the flop and the fact that you will receive five-sevenths of your hand for that price, especially when compared against the high cost of paying for the remaining twenty-nine percent of your hand, makes hold’em the front loaded game that it is.

Weak players have always exhibited an unwillingness to release hands on the flop. They stick around on nothing stronger than hope, which never makes investing in weak hands worthwhile in the long run. Drawing a card is not a bad strategic decision in and of itself; the bad decision is drawing a card at a price that’s won’t be offset by the reward if you get lucky.

The odds against improving your hand when you go from the flop to the turn and the turn to the river generally make buying another card a poor decision. The exception, of course, is when you’ve been dealt a flush draw or a straight draw along with enough opponents to ensure that that the size of the pot you’re hoping to win more than offsets the odds against completing your hand. That’s what implied odds are all about, and what generally determines whether draws are playable or unplayable hands.

The relationship between the size of the pot and the odds against completing your hand exists aside and apart from the front-loaded nature of hold’em. It is always present regardless of the form of poker you’re playing. But the fact that you get to see the majority of your cards early, and for a bargain price too, make the decision to fold or continue on after you’ve seen the flop one of critical importance.

While this concept is important in fixed-limit hold’em, it’s much more critical in pot-limit and no-limit hold’em games. In those games, especially when players are deep- stacked, decisions on the flop are critical. Because big-bet poker is usually a game of implied odds, if you can catch a big hand inexpensively on the flop, you’ve positioned yourself to win each and every one of your opponent’s chips if he’s willing to play with you.

But he has a chance of taking all your chips too, which makes big-bet poker more of a trapping, cat-and-mouse game than fixed-limit poker, where you are really pressing small edges by betting and raising as often as possible whenever you figure to have the best of it.

But when you can see the vast majority of your hand for an inexpensive price, and your opponent flops a good hand while you flop a great one, you can take his entire stack in one, sweet, front-loaded stroke.

The implications of Texas hold’em’s front-loaded nature become more apparent as you think about it. But the most important one is what we’ve discussed here: It’s often costly, and unprofitable on a long-term basis, to play beyond the flop. The simple truth is that the best hold’em hand on the flop is generally the best hand on the river. Because of that, you’ll save lots of money when you release what might have looked like promising holdings but are now long-shots at best, once the majority of your hand has been revealed on the flop.

By Lou Krieger

The author of many best-selling poker books, including “Hold’em Excellence” and “Poker for Dummies”. A true ambassador of the game and one of poker’s greatest ever teachers.

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6 Responses to “The Front-Loaded Nature of Texas Hold’em”

  1. Quesofromage
    January 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Great article! But I hate slowplaying for the very fact that that “the best hold’em hand on the flop is generally” NOT “the best hand on the river”.

  2. Ashley Adams
    January 17, 2010 at 10:40 am

    This site encourages disagreement and discussion between and among its authors — hoping to generate similar disagreement and discussion between and among its readers. In that spirit, let me respectfully challenge some of the premises and conclusions in this interesting article Lou.

    I disagree with much of what you write here Lou. Maybe this is nitpicking of me, but I think that you are creating a misimpression by writing that hold’em is particularly front loaded. Poker in general is front-loaded, I think. But hold’em is no more front-loaded than other forms of the game.

    For example, while the first part of the following sentence is surely correct, the latter half of it is very wrong:

    “You get to see five-sevenths, or seventy-one percent of your hand on the flop, and that’s a real bargain compared to any other form of poker.”

    Is it really a bargain compared to any other form of poker? Let’s have a look.

    It’s not a bargain compared to Omaha — a form of poker played regularly in card rooms and on line today. In Omaha, in all it’s variations, you see seven-ninths of your hand on the flop. For those not particularly inclined let me put that into decimals. Hold’em: .714 Omaha: .777. .777 is bigger than .714. Omaha is a bigger bargain.

    That’s the only flop game that I can think of that’s regularly played today. So what other forms of poker are you thinking about when you write that seeing five-sevenths of your hand on the second of four rounds of betting is front-loaded?

    How about low ball? If you’re playing low ball (it’s original one draw version) and you’re dealt just about any playable hand, you’re dealt four-fifth of your hand on the first round of betting — before you have to call ANY bet. Hold’em .714 Low Ball: .800. Low ball is a bigger bargain.

    If you look at low ball, triple draw, this is even more the case, since you have three more rounds of betting yet to play after you’re dealt your initial hand.

    And what about my favorite game, seven-card stud. At first glance, you might be right about that. You only see four-seventh of your hand by the second round of betting. But that would be a misleading comparison.

    Let’s look at the stud betting structure to see why it is actually MORE front-loaded than hold’em. First of all, stud has five betting rounds. You get to see three-seventh of your hand before deciding to call the first of five bets. In hold’em you get only two-seventh of your information before the first betting round. You don’t see the flop until AFTER your first bet. Is seeing five-sevenths of your hand on your second of four betting rounds really more front loaded than seeing three-sevenths of your hand on your first of five betting rounds? I don’t think so.

    I don’t disagree with the conclusion you draw, however, that in limit hold’em you should fit or fold on the flop. In my opinion, however, it’s incorrect to apply it as you do to no limit hold’em. It’s mistaken, in my view, because in no limit so much is dependent on the size of the bets themselves. If, for example, you have an opponent who fails to make it expensive for you to call on the flop when you are thinly chasing a monster, then it often makes sense for you to draw.

    While you mention implied odds in your article, and try to make the point that they make the front-loadedness of hold’em even more important for no limit, I don’t think you have it right in that regard. In no limit, just as you might take each and every one of your opponent’s chips if the flop hits you right, so too might you take each and every one of your opponent’s chips if the turn hits you right — or if the river hits you right for that matter. And so, even if the flop doesn’t hit you well, and you have something as thin as an inside straight draw to hit, if your opponent doesn’t bet strongly on the flop, it may make sense to call in the hopes of hitting that perfect card on the turn. In other words, in no limit, the fact that poker is front loaded in general is less important than the actual implied odds of the situation — and that is dependendent not on the street of the bet but the size of the bet relative to your and your opponent’s stack size.

    Okay, let the debate begin!

  3. Lou Krieger
    January 19, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Ashley said: Poker in general is front-loaded, I think. But hold’em is no more front-loaded than other forms of the game.

    My Response: You see five out of your seven cards on the flop in hold’em, as compared with three out of seven in stud games, so hold’em is clearly more front loaded!

    Ashley Said: It’s not a bargain compared to Omaha — a form of poker played regularly in card rooms and on line today. In Omaha, in all it’s variations, you see seven-ninths of your hand on the flop. For those not particularly inclined let me put that into decimals. Hold’em: .714 Omaha: .777. .777 is bigger than .714. Omaha is a bigger bargain.

    My response: Yes, .777 is bigger than .714, but Omaha–with its six two-card combinations produces far more draws than hold’em does. So while .777 is bigger than .714, it provides a more open-ended group of conclusions than hold’em. But we’re nitpicking here–Omaha is a front-loaded game too.

    Ashley said: How about low ball? If you’re playing low ball (it’s original one draw version) and you’re dealt just about any playable hand, you’re dealt four-fifth of your hand on the first round of betting — before you have to call ANY bet. Hold’em .714 Low Ball: .800. Low ball is a bigger bargain.

    My response: (tongue very far in cheek) I’ve heard low-ball called many things, but a bargain was never one of them. I didn’t even think of this game because it’s almost never played any more.

    Ashley said: Is seeing five-sevenths of your hand on your second of four betting rounds (in hold’em) really more front loaded than seeing three-sevenths of your hand on your first of five betting rounds (in stud)? I don’t think so. I do…for the price of one bet you get to see 5/7 of your hand in hold’em; for the price of one stud bet you get to see 3/7 of your hand … ’nuff said.

    Ashley said: In my opinion, however, it’s incorrect to apply it as you do to no limit hold’em. It’s mistaken, in my view, because in no limit so much is dependent on the size of the bets themselves. If, for example, you have an opponent who fails to make it expensive for you to call on the flop when you are thinly chasing a monster, then it often makes sense for you to draw.

    My response: He’s correct, of course. Anytime the relationship between the pot odds and the odds against making your hand are in your favor, it’s time to play. And no-limit hold’em is a game of pot odds and implied odds in ways that fixed-limit games never can be.

    ________
    Lou Krieger

  4. Ashley Adams
    January 19, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    A good response, as expected Lou. But with regard to stud, you are mistaken. Read what I wrote about stud and how you responded and you’ll see your error. While it’s true that you see 5/7th of your hand in hold’em AFTER your first bet, you are mistaken when you write you only see 3/7th of your hand in stud AFTER your first bet. You see it BEFORE your first bet. A big difference. Get it?

    And it’s an even bigger difference than that. In hold’em you see 5/7 of your hand revealed 25% through a four step betting process. In stud you see 3/7 of your hand 0% through a five step betting process. In hold’em you have three more bets to call after you get your large piece of information. In stud you have five more betting rounds after you get your large piece of information. Is getting 5/7 of your information with three of four betting rounds to come really more front-loaded than getting 3/7 of your informaiotn with five of five betting rounds to come? I don’t see it my friend.

  5. Lou Krieger
    January 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Ashley Adams Said: While it’s true that you see 5/7th of your hand in hold’em AFTER your first bet, you are mistaken when you write you only see 3/7th of your hand in stud AFTER your first bet. You see it BEFORE your first bet. A big difference. Get it?

    My Response: He’s right … and i do “get it.”

    Ashley Adams Said: And it’s an even bigger difference than that. In hold’em you see 5/7 of your hand revealed 25% through a four step betting process. In stud you see 3/7 of your hand 0% through a five step betting process.

    My Response: He’s Wrong. But he’s not wrong all of the time. Here’s why. While you see 5/7 of your hand through 25 percent of the betting rounds, it is certainly not 25 percent of the betting. In fixed limit games, wagering doubles on the turn, so the flop only cost one out of what you can figure to be at least six bets. In pot-limit and no-limit wagering, preflop wagering can be even more minuscule than that. But–and especially in no-limit games with a capped buy-in–it can be much more than that, since capped no-limit tends to be a game of preflop wagering, while many deep-stack no-limit games seem to revolve around post flop betting.

    I think comments on this article have about run their course … maybe we can debate others.

    ________
    Lou Krieger

  6. Ashley Adams
    January 24, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I agree. What do you think God is? Just kidding. Nicely debated. We’ll figure out something else to talk about soon I’m sure.

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