Reading Straights and Straight Draws

Straights are a lot tougher to read than flushes and it can be more difficult to determine if someone has received the card he needs to make his straight. After the River card is on the board, it is simple to determine when a flush is possible. If there are three or more cards of the same suit on the board, then there is always the chance that someone may have a flush. With straights, it is a lot more difficult because it is not nearly as obvious when someone has filled up on their straight draw as opposed to when someone has filled up on their flush draw. A large percentage of boards will have straight possibilities, especially those that do not contain a pair. As with flush draws, it is important to determine the possibility of a player going for a straight by seeing the sequence of the board. Since straights are tougher to read than flushes, this is a little bit more tricky with reading straight draws.

Board #1

With Board #1, there are three different two-card combinations that could make a straight. They are: QT, T8, 86.

This does not mean that these two card holdings are equally likely to be held by any player. Of course, all those two card holdings are just as likely to be initially dealt to any player, but since most players will not view those three combinations as equal in value, it means they will more likely play one hand than another. The hand players will play most out of those three hands is QT, since it is a hand that consists of two relatively high cards, many players are willing to play this hand, especially if it is suited. Some players are more selective and will only play it only in certain situations, other players are not very selective and will play QT in any position. Those same players who are not very selective may also play T8 and 86 as well, but not as often as they will with QT. Even terrible players would understand that high cards are better than lower cards.

It is also important to note the texture and sequence of the board. Even if someone did play T8 and 86 and saw the Flop, it would be the rare player and/or the rare situation that allowed him to continue with the hand and see the Turn. On the Turn he would pick up either an open-ended straight draw (with T8) or an inside straight draw (with 86), and would have more reason to continue to the River. With a Flop like K-J-5, anyone holding QT would likely play the hand out to see the River, but those holding T8 and 86 would have to find a special reason to stay in the hand, and thus would not be in the hand to see their straight completed on the River.

If we change the sequence of the board cards, we can see how those three hands would be played differently.

Board #2

With a flop of K-9-7, both T8 and 86 would have an open-ended straight draw. Players holding these hands will continue with the hand until the River, and probably rightfully so since they will have eight outs to make their straight. If flush cards or the board pairs up and there is strength in betting, it may change the odds a bit, but that would not concern most players. QT would also likely stay in on the Flop as well since QT holds an inside straight draw. A hand like QT can be bullied out of the hand more easily than T8 and 86 since the holder of QT quickly recognizes they only have the four J's to make the straight, whereas the holders of T8 and 86 each have a total of eight cards that can make their straight, twice as many chances as QT. So if there are two bets to the holder of QT, the pot odds may dictate a fold to be in order, even though there is a chance to hit the nut hand. Not everyone will fold this hand of course, but the better players will fold it if the bet size relative to the expected pot size does not hold value.

The key idea to note between the two boards is the sequence of the arrival of the cards. When the board develops in the fashion of Board #2, there are a greater variety of straights that someone could turn over on the showdown than in Board #1, even though the board cards are identical after the river. With Board #2, even with three K's, you cannot be too comfortable given the development of the board. After the Turn or River, you may have to back off and just call if the other player(s) gets aggressive.

Here is another board sequence. The five cards on the board are the same as in Boards #1 & #2, but the sequence is changed again.

Board #3

Now it would be much more surprising to see someone turn over QT on the showdown. On this Flop, there is not nearly as many reasons for a holder of QT to stay in the hand compared to the previous two Flops. It is still possible of course, depending on the player, the betting on the Flop, and how the other players play. Once the holder of QT does get to see the Turn, he will usually see it to the River since he now has eight outs to make the nut straight. As in most cases, there are exceptions. If there is already a flush possibility out on the Turn, there is lots of betting on the Turn and the holder of QT understands that even if he fills up his straight he may lose to a flush, then maybe the holder of QT will fold. With Board #3, if you hold a set of K's against a solid player who was not playing out of the blinds, then you can be sure you have him beat.

One needs to be aware of the texture of the Flop, to see what possible straight cards could fill up someone's straight draw. This does not mean that when one of these cards hits, that you should slow down and hit the brakes. Flops with two relatively high cards could easily have someone chasing the straight draw, because players will play high cards more often, from all positions. Sometimes the texture of the hand and the sequence of the board will tell you whether you need to be concerned about a possible straight, and when you don't need to be concerned at all. Here are two examples, one showing you need not fear a straight, the other showing that you need to be aware of the possibility of a straight.

Example 1: No need to fear a straight

You hold KK in middle position and raise. A solid player in the cutoff seat re-raises you, making it three bets. The big blind, an average player, calls the two bets. You decide to simply call and see the Flop.

Flop: K-5-7 rainbow

The big blind checks, as do you. The solid player bets, the big blind folds and you decide to check-raise. The solid player calls

Turn: 9

You bet out and the solid player calls. River: J

There are no flush possibilities. You bet out again, and now the solid player raises. What should you do? Given the sequence of betting, it should be obvious that you have the best hand. The only hand that can beat your top set of three K's is a straight. A player with 86 would have flopped a straight draw and T8 and QT would have turned a straight draw. However, knowing the solid player as you do, you realize it would be very unusual for him to three bet you pre-Flop with 86, so you can safely rule that hand out. It would also have been unlikely for him to three bet pre-Flop with either T8 or QT as well, but even more unlikely would be the pre-Flop raises combined with calling your check-raise on the flop when the chances of a straight are low, and his cards are not overcards to the board. So it is safe to rule out his hand as T8 or QT.

It should be obvious then that the most likely hand that he has is JJ, with an outside chance of 99 or AA. With JJ, he is worried that you have a K in your hand to make a pair of K's (there is a K on the board). With 99, maybe he was just waiting to spring the surprise on you on the river rather than on the turn. Since you have top set, you should be very comfortable knowing you have the best hand and re-raise the solid player. There is no need to worry about a straight beating your set in this example.

Now lets take a look at the same type of hand, but with a different sequence of cards. Example 2: Possibly up against a straight

You hold KK in middle position and raise. A solid player in the cutoff seat re-raises you, making it three bets. An average player in the big blind calls the two bets. You decide to simply call and see the Flop.

Flop: K-J-5 rainbow

The big blind checks, as do you. The solid player bets, the big blind calls and you decide to check-raise. Both players call your raise. (The difference between Example 1 and Example 2 up to this point is that the big blind has called the Flop bet and raise.)

Turn: 7

The big blind checks, you bet and both the solid player and the big blind calls your bet. River: 9

There are no flush possibilities. The average player in the big blind checks, you bet out again. The solid player folds, but now the big blind check-raises. What should you think and do?

Given the sequence of betting, you need to consider the possibility that the big blind has hit a straight with QT in his hand. It is safe to rule out T8 and 86. Even if the big blind found the courage to call two bets pre-Flop with either of those hands, it would be very unlikely for him to continue with the hand on the Flop when he does not have anything resembling a decent hand. It is possible that he has a hand that your trip K's can beat. He could have a set of 5's and waited until the very end to raise, hoping you had AK. He could have two pair such as K9, hitting his two pair on the River and thinking that he can beat you now. All of those hands you can beat, the only hand you cannot beat is QT, which is the nut hand. The option to re-raise at this point depends on exactly how comfortable you feel about how the big blind played his hand and on your opinion about his actions. It also depends on a pre-planned attack on what to do if he raises you again. It may actually be a very good re-raise since the big blind could easily have gone for a check raise with a lower set or hitting two pair on the river, but it is also important to keep the straight possibility in mind.

The difference between these two hands is the sequence of cards that hits the board. In the first sequence, the big blind would not even have been in the hand past the flop with a hand like QT.

In the second sequence, it is obvious that he should be playing it until the river once he sees the Flop. In the hand in Example 1, you can be very confident of having the better hand. In the hand in Example 2, you are less sure.

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