Playing draws on the flop

June 5, 2012 Change100 Poker psychology

As adrenaline-pumping as it is to flop a huge made hand like a set or a straight, it unfortunately won’t happen that often. Another type of hand you’ll continue with on the flop is a drawing hand. While made hands are already complete on the flop, a drawing hand must improve on the turn or river. Although in certain situations, a drawing hand can actually be a mathematical favorite over a made hand, you’ll almost always be evaluating the strength of your draw in terms of how many outs you have in the deck to improve to the best hand.

Strong draws vs. weak draws

The strongest draw you can flop is a combined flush and straight draw, often called a combo draw. Let’s say you’re dealt [8d][9d] and hit a [Td][Jc][5d] flop. To improve your hand, you need to hit one of the nine diamonds left in the deck for a flush or any of the six non-diamond sevens or queens to make a straight. The [8d][9d] has 15 outs to improve to a straight or better on the river, making it a powerful hand, especially against one pair. Up against [Ah][Js] (top pair, top kicker) [8d][9d] is actually a 55.4% favorite to win. It’s a coinflip against two pair, and even facing a set, the combo draw has a 40% chance of winning.

Flush draws and open-ended straight draws are also strong drawing hands by themselves. If you’re looking down at [Kh][Qh] and the flop lands [Ah][8c][5h], you have nine outs to a flush. That still gives you a 38% chance of winning against top pair. If you held [6d][7d] on the same flop, you’d have eight outs to a straight and about a 35% shot at cracking top pair.

Straight or flush draws are even stronger if you have overcards to go with them. With [Ac][Qc] on a [3c][7h][Tc] flop, you can not only make your hand by hitting a flush with one of the nine remaining clubs, but you can improve to top pair with one of the three aces or three queens left in the deck for a total of 15 outs.

Weak draws include bare overcards and gutshot straight draws. Say the flop falls [9d][7c][2s], completely missing your [Ah][Jh]. In this case, your hand has only six outs to improve—the three aces and three jacks. You’re a 3 to 1 dog or worse to improve against any pair, even bottom pair. While in limit hold’em you’ll occasionally run into situations where you’re getting the right pot odds to call with unimproved overcards on the flop, it is rarely correct in a full ring no-limit game. Gutshot or “inside” straight draws are even weaker holdings, with only four outs. With two cards to come, your odds are rarely ever better than 5 to 1 to improve by the river. Save your chips and wait for a better spot.

Hidden draws

Not all draws are created equal and not all draws are quite so obvious. By themselves, overcards and gutshot straight draws are weak holdings, but when combined they can have some surprisingly good equity. For example, if you’re holding [Ad][Ks] on a [Jd][Th][2s] flop, you potentially have ten outs to improve—three aces, three kings and four queens. Against a top pair hand like [Kh][Jc], the [Ad][Ks] has about a 30% chance of improving by the river.

Double-gutshot straight draws are the most difficult to spot. Holding [Js][9h] on a [Kh][Td][7s] board, it might look like you flopped a whole lot of nothing at first. Think again. You actually have eight outs to improve to a very well-disguised straight. An eight makes you a jack-high straight while a queen makes you a king-high straight.

Semi-bluffing 101

Betting or check-raising the flop with a drawing hand is often referred to as a semi-bluff. Although you technically have nothing at the moment, a bet wouldn’t entirely be a bluff, since you have outs (hopefully 8 or more) to the best hand. There are a few things to think about when deciding what to do with a draw on the flop. First, think back to the pre-flop action. If you opened the pot for a raise and hit a strong draw, maintain your aggression and make a continuation bet for about half to two-thirds of the pot. Say you raised from the cutoff with [Js][Ts], the button called and the flop fell [Qh][8d][3s]. Against most opponents, your best move would be to lead out and bet, since it gives you more than one way to win. You’ll not only win if your opponent folds; even if he calls, you can still win by hitting one of your eight outs.

When deciding whether or not to bet a drawing hand, take note of how many players are in the pot. Against a lone opponent, like in the previous example, you are far less likely to be up against a hand that caught a piece of the flop than in the following example, where there are multiple callers. After opening [Qh][Th] from the button, let’s say you were called by both blinds and saw a [Ad][Jc][9c] flop. The small blind checks and the big blind leads out. A call might be your best play here. Your hand is too strong to fold but not quite strong enough to raise, especially with another player left to act. And should the small blind call behind you, you’ve built a nice pot for yourself if you do end up hitting one of your outs. If the small blind folds, you get to play the rest of the pot heads-up from position. And if the small blind check-raises, well, you’re probably in trouble.

If you’re in a multi-way pot and flop a combo draw from position, raising on the flop is a good play for three reasons: (1) even against made hands, you still have a good chance to win the pot, (2) a raise can narrow the field and (3) you have the potential to pick up a free card if your opponents check to you on the turn. With [Ks][Js] on a [Ts][9h][3s] flop, raising from position could not only fold out some weaker made hands like Q-9, T-8, or A-3, but cause your opponents to check to you on the turn. If you hit one of your outs on the turn, you can bet for value and if you miss, you have two options—firing another bullet and continuing to build the pot or checking behind and taking a free card.

Adding the semi-bluff to your arsenal is a huge key to progressing to the next level in no-limit hold’em. When played correctly, a drawing hand can often be just as powerful as a made hand. A lead bet with the nut flush draw can send nits with middle pair running for the hills and move ace-highs straight into the muck. Fire up Texas Poker and start experimenting. And when those draws come in? Well, there’s that adrenaline again.

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