A few people have asked me down the years which are the most important betting rounds in no limit Texas hold’em poker. Each betting round has its own peculiar characteristics and many say that it is the pre-flop betting round because if you constantly enter the pot with sub-standard hands then eventually you will get found out. This is true but then again some people say that the flop is the most important betting round because you will have seen five sevenths of your total possible hand.
Then others spout on about the importance of the later betting rounds based on pot escalation. The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to ascertain which is the most important betting round because different players play differently. If you are playing very badly pre-flop then the pre-flop betting round is where you should be focusing your efforts. If you have made a $100 error on the river then this is a costly error. However if you are making $20 errors on the flop with ten times as much frequency then the flop is where you need to be concentrating.
The truth is that each street has its own unique characteristics and is equally important in its own right. Mistakes on the river can be huge mistakes but because they happen on the river then they happen infrequently. If you have problems with pot escalation and you are constantly being dragged into pots with insufficient holdings and spewing money then the turn is a key betting round for you. The pot will not be all that big on the flop and so this is not where you will be making the biggest errors. Some people think that the river is straight forward and it is…….if you play correctly.
I have had various problems with all of the streets in no limit hold’em down the years. This is why I know that the question is a trick one because if you play perfectly post flop but very badly pre-flop then your losses can be almost like “death by a thousand cuts”. Huge losses on the river stand out a mile but are these any worse than more frequent but smaller losses either pre-flop or on the flop? It is my opinion (and it is only an opinion) that the two key rounds in hold’em are pre-flop and the turn.
Pre-flop is where you have to be selective with your hands because the level of equity that you have post flop will be as a result of your pre-flop hand selection. This is also the simplest street to play and to play well. The flop often plays itself but the turn is where pot escalation starts to become an issue. I think very good play pre-flop and on the turn form the foundation of good solid poker play. If you play well on these two streets then the chances are very good that you will be a winning player.