This is the second in a four-part series of articles covering basic strategy for PokerStars’ new game Fusion in a street-by-street manner. If you’d like to start from the beginning, the first article is here. If you’re not sure how Fusion is played, a comprehensive description and review of the game is here.

The flop is the most complicated street in Fusion, as it is in most flop-based games. However, it’s also the most different from either of its parent games, Hold’em and Omaha. If you’ve played something like Crazy Pineapple, you might expect it to be more similar to that, and perhaps it is, but you shouldn’t put too much weight on that expectation, because the fact that there’s still one more hole card to come changes a lot. Fusion is really a game unlike any other, and on the flop particularly so.

The most defining characteristic of Fusion is not the number of hole cards as it is in Hold’em, Pineapple variants and Omaha. Rather, it’s the way they are acquired throughout the hand. This gives the game an information structure unlike any other and creates the opportunity for players to make hands in unexpected ways.

Preflop, players are highly uncertain about their own hands, because they’ve only seen two of the four hole cards they’ll eventually have. By the turn and river, the uncertainty runs the other way. On the later streets, players have as much information about their own hands as they would in Omaha, yet because their earlier decisions were made without the benefit of that information, it’s harder for their opponents to put them on a range. That is, the information conveyed to opponents by players’ betting actions on early streets is of lower quality because those decisions were made on less information.

On the flop, it cuts both ways. Players may already have made hands that they didn’t expect due to having picked up one extra hole card, yet they still have considerable uncertainty regarding their own hands, since there is still a hole card to come as well as the usual two community cards.

Peak Uncertainty

When it comes to flop strategy, the first thing to remember is how wide preflop ranges are, especially for the button and the big blind, and particularly when there was no three- and four-betting preflop. As I said in the previous article, both of these players should be willing to play almost any two cards for a single raise because preflop hand equities run so close: the discount being received by the big blind and the positional advantage of the button mean that these players should be reluctant to fold anything but the very worst hands.

In a single-raised pot, then, it should be assumed that these two players can have almost any two cards. They’ll be holding cards in the 2 through 6 range less often than other cards, of course, but even these can be played in a lot of combos (A2 and 86 are fine starting Fusion hands for these positions, for instance, even offsuit), and there’s always the possibility that a rag could be picked up as the flop hole card.

In other words, while you might discount a Full House as a possibility on a 992 flop in Hold’em and Omaha, you can’t do that in Fusion. The big blind and button will be playing almost all hands containing a 9, since most 9x combos have some sort of connectivity, and it’s not all that unlikely that they could have picked up a 2 to go with it on the flop.

In a lot of hands, then, you’re going to be almost as unsure of your opponents’ holdings on the flop in Fusion as you are preflop in other games. That means that you should be playing more or less as you would preflop in those games, basing your actions on the strength of your own holdings and your position and not worrying too much about what your opponents have until they take an action that allows you to range them better.

It Doesn’t Take Much

That being the case, one of the mistakes to be avoided on the flop in Fusion is to treat the game too much like Omaha and shut down if you haven’t connected very heavily with the board. Your opponents also only have three cards, one is likely to be uncoordinated with the other two, and there’s no guarantee that their cards are going to have hit or missed any particular kind of flop.

Assuming you’re given a chance to make the first bet, then, you’re going to want to do so a decent amount of the time, for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s much easier to have some part of the flop in Fusion than it is in Hold’em, but not nearly as easy to have a monster as it is in Omaha; if you can prevent your opponents from realizing their equity, that’s a good thing.

Secondly, depending on what position you held preflop, your opponents may not have any more information about your range than you have about theirs. That makes it hard for them to make good decisions with a marginal hand when facing a bet, and they’ll have marginal hands frequently.

Finally, the gap concept applies as much to the flop in Fusion as is does preflop in Hold’em. That is, that it takes a stronger hand to call a bet than to make the same bet, since a calling player is relying entirely on his hand’s equity, while a betting or raising player gets the benefit of fold equity. That wasn’t true preflop in Fusion, because equities run so close that it’s almost impossible to take a pot down uncontested on that street, but it’s entirely possible to have good fold equity on the flop.

Every Hand is a Draw

By the flop in Hold’em, you’ve seen five of the seven cards you’ll ever see, including your own hole cards. In Omaha, you’ve seen seven of nine, while in Fusion you’ve only seen five of nine. Clearly, you have less information on the flop in Fusion than in either of the other games.

That way of looking at things is a bit flawed, however, because not all cards are equal. It’s not fair to say you have most of the necessary information about your hand in Omaha because of the requirement that you must use exactly three board cards. Five cards equates to ten possible combinations of three cards, so although you’ve seen 78% of the cards, you’ve only seen 10% of the possible five-card hands you can show down. Furthermore, many Omaha pots are won by straights and better, i.e. hands in which all five cards are crucial, unlike in Hold’em, where if you have top pair, the two cards to come are of relatively lesser importance as your hand might already be good enough on its own.

This is why Omaha is described as a game of draws. It’s only 10% likely that the best hand you can make on the flop is going to be the one that you show down, and it’s also likely that the cards to come will change more than just your kickers. You may have a lot of information about what sorts of hands you’re drawing to, but not about whether you’re going to hit those draws, whereas in Hold’em you can flop a “made hand” like top-pair-top-kicker or two pair, which is likely to be qualitatively unchanged by showdown.

In this regard, on the flop Fusion is perhaps even more Omaha-ish than Omaha. The four hole cards create six possible two-card combos, so on the flop in Omaha, you’ve seen 6 out of the 60 possible five-card hands you’ll be able to make. In Fusion, you’re only looking at two of your six possible hole-card combos, so you’re only seeing 2 out of 60 hands you could have at showdown.

To see how much more “draw nature” Fusion hands have than Omaha, consider the set of hands which are drawing to a nut flush using an Ace of Spades in the hole. In Omaha, on the flop, there are four possibilities:

  1. You’ve already flopped the nut flush with three Spades on the board (100%),
  2. You’ve flopped a direct draw to the nut flush with two Spades on the board (~35%),
  3. You’ve flopped a backdoor draw to the nut flush with one Spade on the board (~4%), or
  4. There are no Spades and you have no chance of making the nut flush.

In Fusion, you have all of those possibilities when you already have a second Spade in the hole to go with your Ace. But when you don’t, there are also the following possibilities:

  1. There are three Spades on board, so you have a single direct draw to the nut flush, but only one chance to hit it, by picking up a second Spade in the hole on the turn (~19%),
  2. There are two Spades on board, so you need a second hole Spade on the turn, plus a third board Spade on either the turn or river (~7%), or
  3. There’s one Spade on board, so you need a second hole Spade on the turn, plus running board Spades on both the turn and river (~1%)

So, aside from the possibilities of a made flush or no draw, there are only two types of flush draw in Omaha and Hold’em, but five different types in Fusion, all with different odds of hitting. For straights, the possibilities are too numerous to list. Consider that in Omaha there are five categories of wraps in addition to the usual open-enders and gutshots, and imagine how much more complex the picture is when you’ve only seen three of your four hole cards.

A Pair is a Draw, Too

Not only are Fusion hands likely to be very draw-heavy on the flop, they’re likely to be draw-heavy in multiple directions. You’re never going to have 16 outs to the nut straight like you will in Omaha, but you will very often have at least a little bit of potential in two or all three of the possible directions of improvement: straights, flushes and “pair type” hands, i.e. all the hands that pairs can improve to, from two pair up to quads.

This last category is important, because the extra hole card on the turn means that it’s much easier for a flopped one-pair hand to improve to something of high value in Fusion than it is in other games. We don’t expect one pair to be good very often in Omaha, nor to we expect it to be good in Fusion. There’s a difference, however, in that a flopped single pair in Omaha needs to improve on both the turn and the river to make a high quality showdown hand, whereas in Fusion, a pair can become a decent value hand or even a monster by the turn.

This is both because there are two chances to improve on the turn and also because it often takes less to win a showdown in Fusion than in Omaha, because players’ hole cards will tend to be less coordinated.

In Omaha, two pair is often just a bluff catcher, and board trips are a problem hand because they’ll often end up losing to a full house but have trouble getting value out of anything they beat. In Fusion, it’s often much more reasonable to go for value with a big two pair or board trips when a lot of draws have missed.

And it’s much, much easier to improve on the turn. In Omaha, the odds of improving one pair to two pair or trips on the turn are about 24%, and as we just said, you won’t be super happy with any of the hands you can make that way. In Fusion, the odds are 46%, nearly even money, and the hands you make are going to have more showdown value, particularly if you were starting with top pair and some overcards.

Furthermore, you can improve to better hands in Fusion than in Omaha. If you make trips on the turn, it’s equally likely to be with the community card or your final hole card. If it’s the latter, what you have is a set rather than board trips, and of course that’s a much better hand. There’s also the chance of improving with both cards, in which case you’ll go directly from having one pair to having a full house or even quads. The odds of this are slim, of course, the equivalent of chasing runner-runner in Omaha, but importantly you only have to see one street to have that chance, rather than needing to take your hand to the river.

That’s not to say that one pair is enough to make it worth continuing past the flop on its own, just that it should be treated as a form of draw and factored in with all the other outs you have. Top pair without much additional equity is still a weak hand, as is a hand with, say, a gutshot and a backdoor draw to the nut flush. On the other hand, if you have all those things together, you have so many avenues for improvement that it becomes hard to miss them all, and now you have a high value hand. Draws to multiple different kinds of hands, even if they’re individually a bit thin, are worth more than the sum of their parts.

Summary

Putting all that together, these are the important points about flop play in Fusion.

  • Don’t assume too much about what your opponents might or might not have flopped, because you have very little information about their preflop ranges. Treat it like you would preflop in Hold’em, playing based on the strength of your own hand initially, then making inferences based on opponents’ betting actions.
  • Be aggressive. It’s generally better to be betting than to be checking and calling.
  • Except for the occasional flopped monster, pretty much every Fusion hand is a draw of some sort on the flop. Your odds of improvement are much more important than your current unimproved showdown equity.
  • One pair, especially top pair, should be seen as a draw. You’re almost even money to improve on the turn, and a favorite to have two pair or better by the river, and there are many ways to improve to even better hands.
  • Different kinds of draws are worth more than the sum of their parts. It’s better to have multiple weak draws to a flush, a straight and a full house than to have a strong draw to only one of those things, as it means you’ll improve on a much wider range of turn textures.

There’s a lot to consider on the flop in Fusion, and this article is far from comprehensive. Because the considerations are so different from either Hold’em or Omaha, however, it’s the street where you can find the greatest edges over inexperienced competition. Studying flop situations is likely going to be the best time investment if you’re looking to improve at Fusion.

Next, we’ll be looking at the turn, where Fusion starts to look a bit more like Omaha. As you’ll see, however, the fact that two cards came at once changes hand reading considerations significantly, relative to that more traditional four-card game.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.