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The Independent Culture
A SITUATION that often occurs in hold'em is as follows. One player raises before the flop; another calls or re-raises; the original bettor calls and the pair are heads up - just two players left in the hand.

Either of them could hold more or less anything in their down cards - a medium to high pair, two high cards either of the same suit or not, or even medium-suited connectors such as 72-82.

When the dealer puts out the flop, the three common cards they both use to make their hands, it falls into the "scary" category.

There are several types of scary flop: three cards of the same suit that make a flush an immediate possibility; three cards in sequence that could produce a straight; or a big pair with a rag - say Q2-Q!-74.

What separates the better players from the not so good is an appreciation of the fact that if a flop looks "scary" to one participant, it can look just as frightening to the other.

Consider the maths of the situation. The odds against a player being dealt two pocket cards of the same suit are 3.25 to one against. It is therefore more than four times as unlikely that he has two of the suit of which three have flopped on the table. It is 2 to 1 against a player making on pair on the flop (matching one of his pocket cards with one on the table). To make three of a kind with either pocket card is more than 70 to 1 against.

So the chances of either player's hidden cards having much relationship to the flop are quite remote. The truth is, though, that many players do not see it that way.

For example, the holder of a pair of pocket jacks may groan inwardly when a scary flop of which he has no part appears. The more adventurous devotees of the green baize will, however, go ahead and bet - sometimes with absolutely nothing.

Position in these situations is not that important. Often it is a question of who bets first. In limit poker, a bet might even be met with a raise. If this happens, it is make-your-mind-up-time for the original bettor. Has the raiser actually hit the flop or is it a bluff?

The answer to this is whether or not the player in question is capable of trying a coup of this nature. What an average player might see as a threat, another, more skilled, player might view rather differently - as an opportunity.