Playing a Made Hand Against a Draw

by Abdul Jalib (Mike Hall) from

Often times a draw is going to hang on no matter what you do. Here all you can do is try to maximize the money going in when you have the edge and minimize the money going in when you have the the worst of it. I will address Hold'em here, though the concepts can be generalized to other poker games.

One common situation against a draw occurs when you and another apparent made hand have a draw trapped in the middle. For example, suppose someone limps in, you raise with QQ or KK, and a tight player 3-bets, and you both call. The flop comes rags with two of a suit and the limper checks and cold calls two back, twice. Suppose you're absolutely sure the limper has a flush draw and the other player has a big pocket pair. In order to jam (i.e., repeatedly raise) again on the turn, how confident must you be that you have the current best hand? The answer ranges from 40% to 47%, depending on whether you have one of the suit and whether the draw has an overcard out. So, when you slightly suspect you're beat by the other made hand, you can still jam in theory versus a flush draw on the turn.

In practice, you have reasons to be more conservative. You usually have to worry a bit that the apparent draw might in fact be a set or other hand that already beats you. Also, even if you are facing a draw, it could be a very strong draw with more outs than I assumed here. Another problem with raising is that the other made hand might tend to reraise only when he has you beat, backing off when you have the best hand. So unless you are putting in the last raise for the cap, you often need to be better than 50% sure you have the best hand in order to raise here.

What about back on the flop? Then you would have to be roughly 48% to 66% confident you have the best hand (ignoring reraising etc.), mostly dependent on whether the draw has an overcard out. This points to one basic tactic against draws: you should often wait until a draw has become weaker on the turn before trying to make the draw pay.

If there are several players in the pot, sometimes it's correct for both your made hand and a draw to jam. Neither of you may have close to a 50% chance of winning the hand, but if both of you will win the pot slightly more than your fair share of the time, then you can both profit by raising. Of course, with a vulnerable made hand you would often prefer that some players fold to your raises, since you effectively pick up some outs when live draws fold, whereas the strong draw would prefer everyone stays in since likely most of its outs are good against everyone.

Is it always best to jam it up against a draw when you have the best of it on money going in at the moment? No. You should maximize the money you get against the average of all the possible situations.

One example is of a local sacrifice is where you pass up a raise on the flop in exchange for getting some leverage on the turn, springing your raise then. This way, you might drive out more players, thus increasing your chance of winning the pot. This play is best reserved for fairly desperate situations.

Sometimes maximizing your money can mean giving a cheap or free card against a draw. For example, suppose an opponent bets the turn, and you are pretty sure he has a draw. If you raise here, then there's a good chance he will back off and then check-fold the river if he misses. If you just call, he likely will fire again on the river regardless of whether or not he hits his draw. If that is the case, then you'll make close to 1/5 of a big bet more on average by playing passively, assuming you are not quite certain he has a draw so you will still have to pay off if the draw gets there. If you think your opponent has either a draw or a superior made hand and you won't get a solid read on him based on whether he 3-bets you, then passivity becomes the clear path. If your opponent checks the turn rather than betting, the math in favor of passivity still holds, and by giving a free card you likely have an even better chance of inducing a bluff on the river.

Here's an additional tip for inducing bluffs from missed draws. When you're heads up and first to act on the river, consider checking your made hand if the following conditions all hold:

1) Your opponent is prone to bluff.
2) You suspect your opponent had a draw and missed.
3) You haven't played the hand so strongly as to discourage a bluff.
4) You suspect your opponent has no high card strength (no ace or pair.)

The last condition is something that many overlook. Think especially about your opponent's actions preflop. If he defended his big blind, then he may not have high card strength. If he raised, especially early, then he likely does have high card strength. If you check to a player who is likely to have 10 high, he's likely to bluff bet. If you check to a player who is likely to have ace high, he's unlikely to bluff bet. And conversely, if you value bet, the 10-high won't call but the ace high might. So, check when your opponent has likely low cards and value-bet when your opponent likely has high cards.

If you check and he bets, then do you (check-)raise? You have to be somewhere between 50% and 66 2/3% sure you have the best hand for the cases he pays you off (or reraises.) Most poker authors ascribe zero value to check-raising when your opponent was bluffing, but I regard this differently. If you might check-raise bluff with a nothing hand, then check-raising with a made hand will add value to your check-raise bluffs.

Through the eyes of a simple desert nomad, playing versus a draw has some interesting twists. I say, sometimes you should raise 3-way on the turn when you would be willing to make a side bet that you have the second best made hand (even if you know no one will fold.) I say, sometimes you should slow-play on the flop with the probable best made hand, because you would rather get the raises in when the suspected draw is weaker on the turn. Although in general I advocate aggression and thin value bets, against a suspected draw I say passivity and bluff-inducing checks are often the better course, especially when you think your opponent holds either a draw or a monster. After a long trek across the desert, I even see value where others see none - I see value when raising with a made hand versus a bluff bet that will fold.

Good variance.