FLHE Advanced: Draws

This article will explain how to play draws. Flush and straight draws are particularly valuable hands as they usually give us the best hand in case we hit our draw. In order to maximize profit, we have to apply various tactics depending on the situation. Sometimes it is better to play a draw passively, sometimes it should be played aggressively.

Flush draws

If we have various cards of a single suit, we will flop a flush draw in about 11% of cases, which arrives in 35% of cases up to the river. With such a draw we will almost always have the right odds on the flop to continue playing.
How to play a draw depends on how strong it is as well as on our position, the structure of the board, the number of players and their playing styles. As always in poker: It depends.
First of all we take a look at situations in which we only have a blank flush draw and no additional outs resulting from overcards, pairs or straight draws.

Strength of the draw
  • Nut draw: on a flop of
  • Presumed nut draw: on a flop of
  • Medium flush draw: on a flop of
  • Dubious draws: on a flop of against a lot of opponents
  • If we only use one of our hole cards for the draw, then we should only draw if we have a chance to get one of the two best flushes. So can be played on a flop of , shouldn't be played on the same flop.
  • In general we want to keep as many opponents as possible in the hand if we just have a flush draw in order to improve our odds. If we don't have to protect our hand (against overcards, pairs etc.), we gain no advantage by forcing some of our opponents out of the pot. Thus, we should usually check with these hands in early position because when we bet, it could cause some of our opponents to fold. It is even worse if we bet and a player behind us raises, because then it is very likely that the other opponents will fold. This is not want we want when we are holding a speculative hand.
  • As soon as we are up against several opponents, we can also raise for value when we are in position. See the section on "Raise for value"
  • Even against one or two opponents it may make sense to raise on the flop when in position so that we can see a free turn card.
  • In late position we also have a lot more options available when it comes to adjusting to our opponent.

If we have, besides the flush outs, further options of improving our hand, the draw is of course stronger. With on a board of , we could have e.g. up to six more outs due to the overcards in addition to the nine we already have for the flush draw. The best-possible draws are thus open-ended straight flush draws with overcards. on a flop of has up to 21 outs (nine hearts, six outs to a straight and three kings and queens). As we have already 14 outs on the flop and are therefore a favourite up to the river (rule of thumb (14 x 4) - 1 = 55%), it soon becomes clear how strong such combined draws really are.

So with these strong draws we should try and get as much money into the pot as possible, i.e. we should play the flop aggressively by betting or raising. An exception to this is if our aggression scares away a lot of players and prevents the pot from increasing in size. In pots that are already big, the risk of this happening is much smaller.
In some cases it may even make sense to force opponents out of the pot. This may be because we want to protect our overcards or scare away opponents who also have a draw. With good draws this is of less importance than with weaker draws.

Straight draws 

Straight draws are also usually strong hands with which we will often go to the river. This applies in particular to open-ended straight draws (OESD), i.e. hands such as on a flop of . Here we have eight outs and the draw will arrive up to the river in approx. 32% of cases.

Compared to flush draws, straight draws have to be treated a little bit differently since we have less outs (only eight compared to nine of a flush draw), meaning that we would have a weaker hand if we indeed hit our hand. This means that a flush would beat a straight and the hand can be counterfeited easier than a flush as a result of a unfortunate turn and/or river card. The turn card can e.g. bring us a backdoor flush draw or one of our hole cards, which would drastically change the value of our hand as the opponent could draw to a better straight.

  • Let's look at the previous example again:
    We're holding on a flop of . If the turn card is the , then we have a pair but a pair that is still behind against an , meaning that we now have to fear (which would be the nut straight) as well. This means that we may also be up against a flush draw and can even lose with two pair if a comes on the river and our opponent has a .

One advantage over flush draws is however that the straight draw is not as obvious and can win additional bets much easier.
Good straight draws, such as OESDs on rainbow flops with eight or more outs as a result of other draws can in principle be played in the same way as flush draws, meaning that the same concepts can be deployed.

This is not the case with weaker straight draws such as gutshot straight draws (we have for example and the flop is ) or OESDs where only one of the hole cards is used (we have for example and the flop is ). With gutshot straight draws we have four outs and usually get only the right odds needed to see the turn when up against a lot of opponents and in pots raised pre-flop. Depending on the type of gutshot straight draw, we can however get good implied odds as a hand such as on a board of is well disguised and it is difficult for the opponents to put us on this hand. Hands such as on a flop of have far less implied odds. Here the straight is very obvious if a or a appears.

OESDs with just a single hole card should only usually be played if we have the upper end of the straight - Draws with a are much better than draws with a on a flop of .
Hardly any straight draws can usually be played on monotone flops. And this applies in particular against a lot of opponents. 

Other draws

Besides the flush and OESD draws there are other draws that can be played in the right situation. These include overcards and combinations of small pairs. on a flop of is a good example of this. Here it is important to correctly count our outs and to play according to the odds. See the "Counting outs" section for more information.

Often it is correct to see the turn card with backdoor draws, especially if the pot is very big and we have the opportunity to see a cheap turn card. A backdoor draw alone is worth approx. 1.5 outs, and thus rare enough to be able to continue playing the hand. If our hand has more potential such as an overcard, the backdoor draw can bring sufficient additional value to be able to call a flop bet.

Raise for value

If we have a bare flush draw on the flop it will arrive up to the river in about 35% of cases. Our pot equity is therefore also 35%, provided that we win the hand every time that we actually hit our draw. Our equity drops on paired flops or if we are play against sets or two-pair hands. If we are playing against two opponents and know that our draw arrives in approx. one third of cases, it "does not matter" whether we call or raise. Provided that both opponents call our bets and our bets don't have any influence on the opponents' decision to fold the hand on the turn or river.

  • Example:
    We raise with on the button, and both blinds call. The flop is and gives us the nut flush draw. The small blind makes a bet and the big blind calls. We assume that both opponents have a hand such as and will always go to the showdown. In this situation it has no influence on the expected value of our hand whether we call or raise. Since we own a third of every bet that goes into the pot on the flop and we have to pay exactly this third against two opponents. This means that on average we also win a third of the money already in the pot.

Even if we are up against three or more people, the probability that we make our hand up to the river is still 35%. However, we don't need to pay more than 33% of the pot as we only have to pay a quarter (25%) against three opponents, a fifth (20%) against four opponents etc. So we pay less into the pot than we are entitled to from an equity point of view. Thus, in these situations our expected value increases when money goes into the pot on the flop.

Free card

Anyone who bets or raises shows strength and people will often check to a player who raised in the previous betting round, regardless whether to check-raise him or because we are afraid of his pre-flop raise.
We can often take advantage of this situation by raising on the flop when in position and then checking on the turn if everyone else checks to us. If we have a draw on the flop with which we want to see both the turn and the river card, it would normally cost us three small bets: One on the flop and two (= one big bet) on the turn. Given that we only have to call a single bet.

  • Example:
    A player in early position limps, we limp with in late position, and the big blind checks. On a flop of the big blind bets, the player in the early position calls and we think that both opponents have a hand such as a pair of kings or queens, so we don't think that they will fold or re-raise. We have an OESD and there are 5.5 small bets in the pot, so we could call. Alternatively, we can also raise and therefore see the river card for just two small bets, which would save us a small bet if our draw doesn't arrive on the turn.

This tactic works very well against passive players who almost always check after being raised. We can almost always use the free card play against such opponents if we have a draw with which we can see another card for a small bet. If it is profitable to see a card for a small bet, then it's almost always worth seeing two cards for two small bets.

If the player who bet in front of us is an aggressive type, we should use the free card play more cautiously. In this case we would run a higher risk of having to pay four small bets rather than two or three if our opponent raises again and also bets on the turn. This tactic should only be used against aggressive opponents if we can cope with a re-raise – i.e. with strong draws.

There are also situations in which we shouldn't take a free card. This applies if we have the opportunity of winning the pot with a turn bet. However, this only works against a small number of opponents whom we suspect of having weak hands. This means that we always have to weigh up the benefits of the free draw against the fold equity built up by showing strength.

Counting outs

The most difficult part of playing a draw is to correctly count outs. We have already discussed this topic is in more detail in the article and video on "Odds, outs and probabilities". Besides obvious outs such as nut outs, there are often other outs that can help us to win the hand.

  • Examples:
    Depending on the opponent's hand, a hand such as on a flop of can either have a lot or very few outs. The worst case scenario is when the opponent has and the three kings and three eights are our only outs to win the hand. But if the opponent has only hit a pair of nines with a hand such as , any queen and any ten will also give us the best hand, besides the eight obvious outs to a straight.
    on a flop of has between zero (the opponent has an eight or better) and nine outs (the opponent has a pocket pair smaller than ). 

These examples show that the number of outs we have depends heavily on the opponent's hand. We therefore always need to include the opponent's potential hands as well as our own hand and the board in order to perform calculations. This applies in particular to draws to weaker hands such as overcards.