How to Play Draws in Live Poker
Playing draws in live poker is one of the biggest problem areas for many players. On one hand, you could play passively but risk not getting paid off. On the other hand, you could play aggressively but risk running into a better hand or not making your draw at all. There are many different ways to play your draws and each and every one of them is going to be very situation dependent. It would be incorrect to say that playing draws one way or another is "correct" as a bad play in one spot might be great in another. Adjustments are crucial in poker and draws are one of the best illustrations of when this comes into play.
Before you look at how to play draws, you should first realize that one type of draw is unlikely to be equivalent to another. You could have the nut flush draw on a flop with three spades or you could have an open ended straight draw on a board that appears safe to your opponent. Both of these hands will be valuable, but they will also need to be played in different ways. Deception is one of the most valuable weapons in poker. Your goal when playing draws is to lower your exposure as much as possible while also doing your best to ensure that you make money off of your big hands. There's no arguing that this is much easier said than done, but it would be erroneous to say that it's something that can't be learned with a little bit of practice.
The board is almost always going to be the most obvious and most important dynamic involved in any draw; after all, you can't have a draw without the board. You should always have an understanding of the ever changing value of your hand. For example, a flop of Js 8s 2d would be huge for a hand like As Ks, but it would only be decent if you were holding 9d Td. With As Ks, you should be more than willing to get all of the money in on the flop, but 9 T really needs to see another card first.
Using the example above, pretend that the flop only had one spade. Now, the value of A K drops significantly, because it's more reliant on hitting a pair, whereas the straight draw is much safer. The original flop was dangerous with a straight draw because even if you hit your hand, there's a chance that you'll be drawing dead. Beyond this, making your hand on this board doesn't necessarily mean you'll get paid off. If you hit the 7s on the turn and your opponent doesn't have spades, they are more likely to consider the chance that you have it. If you hit the 7s on the turn and there was only one spade on the flop, however, you are in prime position to get paid off. Think not only about the chances of you hitting your hand, but also about how deceptive it will be.
Your opponent will often times allow you to determine whether a draw is worth chasing. If there's a player who is a massive calling station at your table, you are going to be able to pay a much higher price when chasing your draws. Since you know that this player is likely to pay you off, the times where you hit your hand will have a much increased value. The opposite end of the spectrum is where you'll find tight and apprehensive players. These are the people who you don't even get excited about hitting a draw against. If the draw isn't going to make you much money, there isn't much incentive to go after it.
How someone plays won't only determine the likelihood of them paying you off, but it will also aid in finding the most optimal way to play your hand. For example, if a player is aggressive and unlikely to fold, you wouldn't want to raise their bets. The reason for raising or shoving over a bet with a draw is because there's a chance that you'll be able to force a fold and take the pot down without a showdown. If the player you are up against hates folding, this possibility should be greatly discounted. Now, if you are facing a tighter player, raising with draws becomes more viable. You'll force folds on occasion, you'll slow down the action in other spots, and you'll create an opportunity to take the pot down later on with even more aggression. Use your opponents' strengths and weaknesses to your advantage when playing any draw.
Stack sizes seem to be something that a lot of live poker players totally disregard, be it when they are playing draws or otherwise. Stack sizes matter because they will determine how a hand is going to play out. If you only have a relatively small amount of chips, shoving earlier on is going to make more sense than chasing. You have a small chance at forcing a fold when you shove, but you have no chance if you bleed yourself dry with calls.
Stack sizes should also determine how and when you are aggressive. If a player has a ton of chips, you are going to need to make more raises and moves than if they only have an average amount. Sometimes you'll be in a position where a player just keeps firing out. In this case, you can sit back and let them do all the work since raising is unlikely to do anything other than intimidate them.
The amount of chips that someone has will also help you to calculate whether it's worth chasing a draw at all. If you are contemplating whether or not to play suited connectors and see that your opponent only has 20 big blinds, it will be much easier to lay down your hand. Draws are usually in hands where they make minimal investments for an opportunity to hit big hands and get paid off. If you are making minimal investments in exchange equally minimal returns, you aren't exactly creating room for profitability. Always keep stack sizes in mind before you make your decisions, because otherwise you might put yourself in an unnecessarily difficult spot post-flop.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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