Protecting Draws and Buying Outs

When the pot is big, you should similarly "protect" your strong drawing hands, especially when you hold a flush or straight draw with overcards to the board. You want to win if you spike a pair. Your pair is much more likely to win on the river if you force weak draws to fold on the flop.

For example, you have

in middle position. Two players limp to you, and you limp. One player limps behind you, and the button raises. The big blind and all the limpers call (12.5 small bets). The flop is

giving you the nut flush draw and two overcards. The big blind checks, the first limper bets, and the second limper calls (14.5 small bets). You should raise.

Your raise is for value if two or more opponents call. With two overcards and a flush draw, you have fifteen outs to improve to top pair or a flush. Against two opponents you will win well over one-third of the time, so you make money on the extra bet when your opponents call.

Though you do not mind callers, since the pot is large you prefer that your opponents fold. If a nine comes on the turn, you will be glad that you thinned the field. With top pair you will often have the best hand. Your pair of nines will be very vulnerable, though. It is more likely to survive fifth street against a smaller field.

If an ace comes instead, you are less likely to be outdrawn on the river. But you are also less likely to have the best hand, especially if you had not thinned the field. Someone could hold a bigger ace (the pre flop raiser could easily have one) or make aces up with ace-deuce or ace-four. You would like all of those hands to fold. For example, if your flop raise forces the preflop raiser with ace-king to fold, you will have "bought" two outs (the remaining aces). When the pot is large, invest an extra bet if it might buy a few more outs.

This concept is very important. Many players encourage their opponents to remain in the hand no matter the circumstances while they are still drawing. They figure that doing so maximizes their payoff if they make their hand. (They do not want to "lose any customers.") They are correct that if they make the nut flush, they would prefer many opponents. But they forget that they will often miss their flush, but improve to one or two pair. With such a hand you will win far more often with fewer opponents.

You should also sometimes raise when your draw is not as strong. Even if your raise is not for value, in a large pot improving your winning chances by just a few percent can make your raise profitable. For example, you have KVQV on the button. Three players limp, and you raise. Both blinds and the three limpcrs call (12 small bets). The flop is TV944* giving you two overcards, a gutshot draw to the nuts, and a backdoor flush draw. Everyone checks to the player on your right who bets (13 small bets). Again, you should raise. You have four outs to the nuts, six outs to top pair, and a backdoor flush draw. While a raise may not be for value, your three weak draws together give you a decent chance to improve to the best hand, especially if you can play heads-up. Since the pot is large, you should protect your overcard draw with a raise.

When you have a draw to a big hand (e.g., the nut straight or flush), the pot size determines how you should play it. If the pot is small, you should usually avoid eliminating players. You get more value from players paying you off with second-best hands than from winning what is already in the pot. In a large pot improving your chance to win is more valuable. Protect vulnerable outs in large pots.

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