Playing Drawing Hands

Here's a very common situation on fourth street. You have a real hand, and you think it's probably the best hand right now. You think your opponent is on a drawing hand. If he makes the hand he's drawing to, he'll beat you. What should you do? What should he do?

The first point to notice is a simple one: If you suspect that you're up against a drawing hand, you must bet on fourth street, not on fifth street. Checking on fourth street and betting on fifth street is a huge error. By checking, you've given your opponent a free card to beat you, which is one of the worst blunders you can make in poker. But almost as important is the fact that if you wait until fifth street to act, your opponent will know if he made his hand or not. If he didn't make it, he won't call your bet. So you can make money only on fourth street.

Suppose, however, that you are the one with the drawing hand. On fourth street, your opponent bets at you. What pot odds do you need to call?

Let's take the simplest case: You're drawing at a club flush, with two clubs in your hand and two on the board. So far you've seen 6 cards from the deck, with four clubs and two non-clubs. The remaining 46 cards contain the last nine clubs and 37 non-clubs. So the odds against filling your flush on fifth street are 37-to-9 against, or just over 4-to-l.

If you're pretty sure that hitting the flush will win for you (which is usually the case), then as long as you're getting 4-to-l odds you can call the bet on fourth street. Actually, 4-to-l are more odds than you really need, for two reasons.

  1. After you hit the flush, you may win another large bet on fifth street. They are the implied odds that we discussed in Part Four. They can't be estimated precisely, because you don't know if a bet will be called, or how big a bet might be called. But the possibility is clearly worth something.
  2. You may not need to hit the flush to win. Simply pairing another card in your hand might be enough to win, or your opponent may be on a complete bluff (that he abandons on the river) and you may be winning already.

These are imponderables, but they both have some effect on reducing the odds you really need. Obviously 4-to-l odds are sufficient. In practice, I tend to call these bets with a little over 3-to-1 odds. But that can change depending on my assessment of how much I can make my opponent call if I bet.

For the odds of hitting other common drawing hands, refer back to our table of outs in Part Six.

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