Strong Draws – Introduction

The fundamental strong draw is the nut flush draw. This is the \”Generation M\” draw – M for Ed Miller, author of Small Stakes Hold ’em – where people seem to go overboard and bet, raise, 3-bet and even cap the betting with any flush draw. It’s true that raising with a draw on the flop is a powerful move, and most definitely +EV in the right circumstances, but not always and it’s definitely not always what gives the highest expectation, even when it’s positive.

The idea behind raising a flush draw on the flop is one that is rooted in equity. Because flush draws hit so often – about a third of the time when there are two cards to come – and because flushes almost always win, it’s usually safe to think of a flush draw on the flop as 33% to win. If you have two or more opponents in the pot with you, any bet that is made will be matched with at least two more bets so therefore you’re at the very least neutral about putting in any amount of money on the flop. Did that make sense? Let me rephrase.

Ignore the cards for now, and just focus on the pot. The pot is a pile of money, and when you say that you have 33% equity, what you mean is that when all is said and done, you get to keep one third of the money in that pile. So in order to make money, you just need to put in less than one third of the pile to come out ahead; if the share that you put in is less than the share that you take out, you win money. Isn’t that obvious? You know that the share that you take out is 33% – because that’s what your chance of winning is – so all you need to do is make sure that the share you put in is less than 33% and you’re solid. Since everyone puts in as much in hold ’em (barring the event where someone goes all-in) you know that if you have two opponents you will put in a third of the money, and you will essentially be break-even on the flop, as far as betting and raising goes. And if you have more than two opponents, you should be happy to put in any amount of money because your share to take out is still one third, but your share to put in shrinks for every player that’s in the pot with you; with one opponent you’re putting in 50%, with two opponents you put in 33%, with three you put in 25%, etc.

Now back to the cards. Our conclusion is that with a flush draw on the flop, you should be happy to put in lots of money with a flush draw when you have three or more opponents, and at least neutral about putting in money with two opponents.

But there are so many of the players at my tables who will not only bet and raise with a flush draw, but also 3-bet and cap when it’s just them and me! So if they need to hit their flush draw to win, they’re putting in half the money but will only take out 33% of it. Why are they raising? I’m certain it is because they read somewhere that it’s +EV. But what’s worse is that they do this betting and raising only with (strong) draws. It’s extremely predictable with some players: They slow play monsters (sets, etc.), they bet/call or raise with decent hands, and they bet/raise/re-raise/cap only with draws. I’m not sure if they realize how transparent that makes them. Let me put it like this: If I’m holding AK on a K-7-2 board, two hearts, and my opponent who fits the above pattern caps the betting, he may as well play the rest of the hand with his cards face-up. And that’s bad for him because he won’t get paid off when he hits his flush, and I’m going to force him to put in as much money as I can on the turn as well.

Make Money

But it doesn’t have to be that extreme for it to be a less than optimum move. Let’s say that you’re playing with two opponents who are decent but don’t know you at all. You’re on the button. One player limps, and you raise with AJ of spades. The tight big blind makes it three bets, and you and the limper call. The flop comes K-8-5, two spades, and the big blind leads out, the limper calls and you…

… raise? It’s doable. Given that you have the nut flush draw, you’re probably at worst break even when you raise here since it’s likely that both your opponents will call when the action gets back to them. But it’s only \”likely,\” not certain. Two bad things can happen:

  1. The big blind makes it three bets to go and the limper folds. All of a sudden, you’re not putting in \”one third\” of the money anymore, but half of it. What before was a profitable call has now deteriorated into putting in two bets too much.
  2. Both call, and you hit your flush on the turn, and they both check to you. It seems reasonable that they would check to you since that’s what people like to do. And instead of you getting to trap big bets on the turn, they’re now just checking and waiting to see what you’re going to do. You’ve lowered your implied odds.

Sometimes people will cite other reasons for why raising in this situation is good. Stuff like \”for information\” or \”to stay aggressive\” and \”take control of the hand.\” But if a reason for making a play doesn’t at least attempt to explain how you make more money off of it, it’s possible that it’s not the best reason. What information do you get from raising, and how are you going to use that information to play the hand any differently?

\”Staying aggressive\” is the tool, not the goal. Playing an aggressive style is recommended because it generally wins the most money, but the formula \”aggressive = win most money\” is not automatically true.

But taking control of the pot may be a good reason. It can be good, if we decide to check behind on the turn when we miss our flush. Unfortunately, such a move tends to make our hands very obvious to all but the blindest hand readers, but that may still be okay. So if we’re somewhat certain that the big blind won’t make it three bets and then lead the turn, raising the flop may be good – if we’re also happy to check behind on the turn when we miss.

Example 1: Nut Flush Draw, Out of Position

PokerStars 3/6 Hold’em (6 handed)

Preflop: Hero is UTG with 9♠, A♠. 
Hero raises, MP 3-bets, 4 folds, Hero calls.

Flop: (7.33 SB) 8♠, 6♠, 2♦ (2 players)
Hero…

This is about the best flop we could hope for. When MP made it three bets before the flop, it’s clear – against all but the most aggressive or tricky opponents – that we’re behind his range. Very few will make it three bets with less than A-J. Of course, an ace would perhaps have given us the best hand – he may have a big pocket pair – but we wouldn’t feel too comfortable playing such a hand since a lot of his range includes aces with bigger aces than ours. So here we are, with overcards on a ragged flop and the nut flush draw. What should we do?

Let’s establish something before we look at our options: We are not in bad shape, here. If we think he has a pocket pair 77 or larger, or AJ or better, at the minimum, we are just slightly worse than 50/50 to win this pot. Poker Stove says 45%. There is no (reasonable) set of hands that our villain will go 3 bets with preflop that we can currently beat, however. Now let’s look at our options.

Betting

Given that we have an average equity of 45%, betting and raising on this flop won’t cost us much. We only \”lose\” 5 cents of every dollar that we put in, which is fairly cheap if we can reap some other rewards, such as deception or fold equity (fold equity comes from our opponent folding a hand that has some chance of beating ours). However, we have no direct fold equity on this flop. There’s absolutely no hand that an opponent will 3-bet with preflop and then fold to a rag flop donkbet. I know, I know, you should never say never, but realistically speaking, our opponent will virtually never give up right here on this flop. Of course, he may just call now and fold on the turn but we can’t really know that yet. If he just calls the flop, it may be as a slowplay with a big pocket pair, where he plans on raising us on the turn. So if it’s fold equity we’re after, we need to bet both the flop and the turn – and possibly even the river. While we’re in great shape on this flop (again, about 45% to win) this is not the case if the turn is not a spade. All of a sudden we’re reduced to 20% equity, and now putting in big bets is going to be expensive.

Being out of position, fold equity is not going to come cheap in this hand. For betting to be correct, we need some other benefit to make up for the 5 cent loss. What about deception? Deception can make us a lot of money if our opponent will make big mistakes later on in this hand because he doesn’t suspect a flush (when we hit). For instance, if we lead out on this flop and he decides to slowplay a hand like AA or KK, and then raises us on the turn, he will almost certainly pay us off dearly the times we hit our flush. That would certainly be worth the 5 cent loss right here, right now.

Here’s the problem with deception, though: It requires that we’re actually as sneaky as we think we are. Consider this: What kind of hand is our opponent going to put us on when we decide to donk a ragged flop with two spades on it? In my experience, people tend to do this with (almost only) two kinds of hands: small/medium pocket pairs, and strong draws. If we fit this pattern, a thinking opponent with AA/KK is going to be able to play very well against us. So if we are to bet out here with our nut flush draw, we should do it often with other hands as well. Perhaps hands like A8, sometimes as \”bluffs\” with KQs, etc. An action isn’t deceiving if it fits a pattern.