In poker, there are so many variables from situation to situation or person to person that it can be hard, if not impossible, to develop definitive rules. Whereas one player may be able to justify a fold in a given situation, another player may be able to justify a raise under nearly identical circumstances — and neither is necessarily wrong. That is because we all bring our different skills and personalities to the game. In a way, it is an art, rather than a science. One artist may be better at technical drawings, akin to a poker player who is very good at the math aspect of the game. Another artist may be better at impressionist painting, akin to the feel player, who can effectively read his opponents or situations to inform him decisions. Give the two artists the same supplies (i.e., cards) and they may do wildly different things; and to make matters more confusing, both may be justifiable.
When I refer to a Preflop Player, I mean a player whose strength is in his or her pre-flop play. These players tend to have better hand selection, and therefore find their advantage from having superior cards to their opponent’s cards. Generally speaking, these are the tighter players, since they wait for quality cards before entering a pot. They are also fairly aggressive with their raises preflop, so as to avoid difficult decisions against multiple opponents in later betting rounds. They would rather face one opponent with a premium hand like AA than five opponents with the same cards.
When I refer to a Postflop Player, I mean a player whose strength is in his or her post-flop play. These players have confidence in their ability to read their opponents and the board. They tend to be looser preflop because of their reliance on postflop play to win pots. They are generally more passive preflop, only insofar as they do not want to build a huge pot with their middling cards. However, postflop, they may be more aggressive and are more likely to bluff, semi-bluff or float if they believe that they can win the pot based on their opponents' demeanor.
Beginning players are better off playing a preflop poker strategy because there are generally less decisions and when there are decisions to be made, stronger starting cards make postflop decision easier.
More experienced players are better off playing a postflop poker strategy because postflop play provides opportunity for more creative players and bigger pots.
Let’s look at an example.
The Preflop player is dealt QTo in middle position. There are two early limpers. The Preflop Player folds. He knows that QTo is not a strong hand, and he rather wait for a stronger hand.
The Postflop player is dealt QTo in middle position. There are two early limpers. The Postflop Player limps into the pot. The button raises to three times the big blind. Both blinds fold. One of the early limpers call. The Postflop Player decides to call as well, because he wants to see what happens on the flop.
The flop comes down JT6, rainbow (i.e., all different suits). The early position player checks. The Postflop Player has to decide what to do. This is not an easy situation.
He analyzes the situation. The early position player is not the type of player to slowplay top pair, and he doubts that the early position player has a hand like JT, since the early position player is too tight to be willing to call a raise out of position with that hand. Plus, the Postflop Player has QT, making it less likely that the early position player has a Ten as well.
The button, meanwhile, likely has some decent cards, but his range is wide. He may have AK, in which case, the Postflop Player is in great shape. However, he may also have a hand like AJ, in which case, the Postflop Player is in trouble. He doubts that the late position player has a premium pocket pair because the preflop raise was small. Overall, the Postflop Player decides that, more likely than not, he has a better hand than either the button or the early position player. Based on his experience playing with the button, the Postflop Player believes that it is highly likely that the button will bet if it is checked to him. As a result, thinking that he has the best hand, the Postflop Player merely checks.
Sure enough, the button takes the cue and bets the pot. The early position player folds. The Postflop Player now has another difficult decision. He decides to check-raise three times the button’s bet. The button pretends that he has a tough decision, but then folds. Despite not showing, since this is my story, let’s say that he has AQ or even 88. The Postflop Player takes down a sweet pot, all because he had a good read on his opponents and the confidence to make a bold check-raise with middle pair.
You can see how the Postflop Player’s decisions are a lot more difficult. If the Preflop Player somehow found himself in the same spot on the flop (QT on a JT6 board), he may have folded to the bet by the button and it would be entirely justifiable. These difficult decisions can also lead to some serious losses if the wrong decision is made. For instance, what if the button had 66 and flopped a set. If that were the case, the button would’ve probably re-raised the flop or trapped on the turn and river. That’s why it takes a certain amount of fortitude, confidence and bankroll to comfortably focus on postflop play. There will be more variance and more risk, but potentially more profit.
Let’s take one more example. The Preflop Player is dealt QQ preflop. A player in early position raises a small amount. The Preflop Player re-raises a lot. The early position raiser calls, but everyone else folds. The flop is QT5, with two hearts. The early position player bets. The Preflop Player moves all-in. The early position raiser calls
We will change the facts a little bit for the Postflop Player analysis. Instead of QQ, the Postflop Player has 55, and he is willing to play it because he wants to see a lot of flops. A player in early position raises. The Postflop Player only calls. Three other players call, and they see a flop of QT5, with two hearts. The original raiser checks. With bottom set, the Postflop Player bets. He gets calls from one player after him. The original raiser than check-raises. Fearing a draw, the Postflop Player decides to push all-in to protect his hand. The late caller calls as does the original early position raiser. The early position raise shows TT for a better set. The late position player shows AJh for a flush draw and a straight draw (and a straight flush draw). The turn is a 3 of hearts and the river is a blank. The late position player wins with AJh.
Do you see the difference? Hand selection, which is the strength of a Preflop Player, can make later decisions a lot easier because you are fighting from a position of strength. Postflop Players may suffer from trying to get fancy or from playing cards that can be dominated by their opponents' holdings.
Next time you play, consider where your strengths are and act accordingly. You can legitimately play a predominantly preflop strategy or a predominantly postflop strategy with lots of success, but finding the one that matches your strength will maximize your success.