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Playing Draws, part 2

29/11/2018 by Steve Blay

In my previous article I talked about playing draws aggressively on the flop. We decided that we should size our bets and raises so that we can maximize our fold equity. Or in other words, WE want to be the one to make the all-in bet, if it comes to that. If you didn’t read that yet, you should probably refer back to that article first: Playing Draws, part 1

Let’s back up a step and ask ourselves this question first: Should I be playing this draw aggressively in the first place?

As a poker coach, most players I’ve worked with are way too one-dimensional with draws. Some players always semi-bluff raise and check-raise with their draws – every time. Some players always check-call with them. They want to make their draw before “spending” any money unnecessarily.

There are also some players that jump back and forth between the two approaches, just based on how they are feeling at the moment.

The correct idea is that some draws are meant to be played aggressively, and some draws are meant to be played passively. But your personality, or how you are “feeling at the moment”, should not be the main factors that dictate how you play your draws!

So which draws are meant to be played aggressively, and which are meant to be played passively? Now we’re really getting to the good part! Let’s begin by talking about playing draws from out of position.

The rule of thumb is this: You want to be semi-bluff check-raising your draws on the flop when they DON’T have a lot of showdown value.

Example #1: Suppose you flop something like a middle pair with a flush draw. This is a great hand, there’s no question about that. It has good equity against anything your opponent could be holding, except a set. The majority of players would check-raise with it, but this is a big mistake in my opinion. This is absolutely a check-calling hand. It has too much showdown value to waste on a semi-bluff. Even if you’re behind on the flop, it has outs to make two-pair or trips on the turn to win, etc. In the long run, you’ll do much better by check-calling the flop, and then re-evaluating your options on the turn.

Example #2: Even if you don’t have a pair on the flop, you still generally want to check-call with your Ace-high draws, because even they have some showdown value. Suppose you have A9s and flop the nut flush draw, but no pair. This is also most valuable as a check-calling hand. It does have some showdown value – Ace-high occasionally wins. And regardless of the flop, you have an overcard, so an Ace on the turn can also make you the best hand.

So, we’ve looked at two examples of quality draws that surprisingly, should be played rather passively. So then what hands do you play aggressively with? Here are two good examples of those:

Example #3: Suppose you play 87 and flop a straight flush draw, with no pair. Let’s say the flop is AT9. You obviously don’t mind all the chips going in (you are at worst a coin flip against anything but a set). And (here’s the important part) you don’t have any showdown value yet. Not only can you not show this hand down, but you have no chance of winning the showdown without making your draw. Note that in Examples 1 and 2, that was not the case. They both had chances to win the showdown even if they missed their draw.

Example #4: Suppose you have 87 again, but this time you just flop a flush draw, not a straight-flush draw. Say, QT3. You want to check-raise with this one too. Because again, you have no showdown value, no pair, no overcards, and no chance to win without making your draw.

About check-raise sizing: In Example #4, you might even size your check-raise a little larger, because you ideally want to end the hand right there (and avoid having to make your draw). That factor is not as compelling with the straight-flush draw in Example #3, because you have good equity regardless of what your opponent has. You still ideally want to win the hand right then, but you don’t really mind if he wants to play for stacks.

So there you have it. Play more passively with your draws that have showdown potential (even when they miss). Play more aggressively with your draws that have no showdown value without completing the draw. By the way, this approach has its roots in game theory. If time permits I’ll go into that in a future article.

In my next article we’ll look at an exception to the rule, what I call a “Mega-Monster” draw. We’ll also take a high-level look at proper range balancing on the flop, as it applies to semi-bluffing.