Probably the most difficult hands to play in Texas Hold’em poker are the drawing hands. The drawing hands are those where you have four cards to a staight, a flush or a full house and need one more card to give you a likely winning hand. This type of hand entails the highest degree of risk since without a specific sub-set of cards such as an additional spade to fulfill a spade flush draw, you most certainly will loose. These then are the most dangerous hands to play and the biggest gambles. They can make or break your tournament or hurt you the most in a cash game. My goal is to compose three articles specific to drawing hands:
1) How To Play A Flush Draw
2) How To Play A Straight Draw
3) How To Play A Full House Draw
These are the major drawing hands at an average Texas Hold’em poker circle table or tournament table. There are more such as a straight flush draw or quad draw but these are so scarce that I will exclude them at this time. If this analysis is too detailed for your current level of play start at my more general articles on poker such as How Not To Play Texas Hold’em Poker, and my articles about reading players “tells”.
This is part 2, which will analyze the correct way to play a straight draw hand at an average nine player Texas Hold’em poker table. It is much easier to play pocket pairs than drawing hands and I have previously written three articles which explain the tactical play and analysis involved with playing pocket aces, pocket nines and pocket deuces. The reason it is much easier to play pocket pairs is because players tend to get more emotionally involved with drawing hands than pocket pairs, which are easier to fold if the flop doesn’t improve your hand. For example, if you have pocket 9’s and K, A, 9 flop you have a set of nines which very likely will be the winner already and may yet improve even further. If you have pocket King and Q and the flop is 10, 3 and Jack, you have improved to an open ended straight draw. However, while three nines is a made hand (i.e. a hand that can win the game on its own) a four card straight is helpless unless that 5th card to the series falls on the turn or the river. It is not yet a made hand. In fact it may be a hand made for your personal disaster.
Scenario 1 – Your first two cards are A & 2 and you are not the big blind or you are the big blind and someone raises the bet. You should fold. Some people like to play low non-suited connectors. I believe this is a horrible long term strategy and will cost you much more than it is worth. In addition if a 3 and 4 fall in the flop you have only a one ended straight draw. Your odds of pulling the straight on the turn and river combined are only 19%, less than 1 in five, abysmal odds.
Scenario 2 – Your first two cards are 9 10 suited or not and you are not the big blind or you are the big blind and someone raises the bet. You should fold here as well. Many poker professionals like to play suited connectors. My experience is that this is strategically a bad percentage play which should be avoided in the long run. Phil Gordon does not agree with me in this hypothesis.
Scenario 3 – Your first two cards are AKs (s = suited), AQs, AJs, A10s, KQs, KJs, K10s, QJs, and borderline hands Q10s, J10s. These are the playable hands for a straight draw because the cards can lead to a flush as well. If your two cards are not suited I would not play the two borderline hands. They may also lead to top pair with a high kicker. After the flop the scenario will evolve depending on the 3 community cards just turned (see my flush draw article if you pull a four flush). If the flop contains two cards which give you an open ended (i.e. two way straight) you have a legitimate straight draw hand. An even better case scenario is if you flop all three 3 and have a straight on the flop. This is a made hand and your only problem now is to maximize your winnings.
Best Strategies To Play An Open Ended Four Card Straight Draw On The Flop
Unlike high pair strategy, you want to keep as many people in the pot as possible but with only modest betting until you actually make your straight. The reason for this is that a high card straight will usually win the pot. However, unless you make your draw, you are in a relatively very weak position. You have to assume that there are other players around the table with top pair, two pair or even three of a kind. With two exceptions you will be drawing for the probable winner and don’t want to invest very much money until you actually have made your hand. With several players in the pot your modest bet is more highly leveraged. You do not want to be pot committed and wind up with a four card straight. I suggest that with only one or two additional players still active, you should probably fold with a four straight draw if there is a very large bet in front of you. The odds of making an open ended straight draw is only 18% on the turn and then only 18% on the river for a total of 36%. A large bet in front of you may be the end of your tournament or a big cash loss in a circle game. Calling a very large bet is in fact gambling and a skillful player wants to keep the gambling factor to a minimum. NEVER PLAY FOR AN INSIDE STRAIGHT. The odds are totally stacked against you.
What is worse for your straight draw is a pair on the board or three suited cards. Those are the exceptions which I mentioned above. A pair means that someone may have a full house. This is bad news for the straight draw since a full house beats a straight. The same goes for a possible flush draw on board. You can be drawing dead if either are the case. Definitely do not go in against a high bettor if there is a pair showing or if three or four of the same suit are showing on board. Of course if you have made your straight when these hit, you have one hard decision to make. I would recommend that you read my article on “Tells” since your decision will have to be made on your best judgment of whether your opponent is full or just is bluffing or semi-bluffing.
If you have an open ended straight draw try to keep the pot moderate with as many people staying in as possible. Don’t become pot committed before you have a made hand. Play your hand according to what the flop brings. Get out as soon as it looks like you investment of additional money is throwing good money after bad.
Good luck! I hope this helps. Please let me know if you can think of a better strategy because I want to win more money as well.