Quick on the Draw (Part I)

By Tony Bee (a.k.a. ‘Tony’ on the Low Limit Poker Forum).


Okay, let’s start with a question.  You are on the button in a limit Hold’em game holding T9 of spades.  A middle position player limps in front and you call, as does the small blind.  The big blind checks and 4 players see a rainbow flop of K76.  It’s checked to you and you also check with your gutshot draw.

The turn card is a blank and there are still no flush draws available.  The small blind bets out, the middle position player calls and it’s folded to you.  There are no other draws on the board and you suspect the passive, predictable SB player has a king, probably with a weak kicker since he didn’t bet the flop.  He may even have a king with a strong kicker and was looking to check-raise the flop.

The middle position player just called, so he could have a weak king, or maybe a lower pocket pair.  Either way, it is clear you are behind at this point and will need to improve your hand to a straight to win.

The pot contains 4 big bets and it will cost you 1 big bet to see the river.

Do you call?

Situations such as this arise frequently, and if you couldn’t answer this question (or you answered in the affirmative) then it’s likely you are making some expensive mistakes.  To be a winning limit player it is crucial that you know when to pay for your draws.  Fortunately, this is not as difficult as many people seem to think.

This is the first of two articles for beginning players that will equip you with the necessary tools to answer questions like this with confidence.  This first article will explain the basics of drawing, and the second will go into more detail.  If concepts such as ‘outs’, ‘pot odds’ and ‘implied odds’ are a mystery to you, keep reading.

Outs and Pot Odds

For the purposes of this article I’m going to define an ‘out’ as a card that is likely to give you the winning hand, assuming you think you are currently behind.  (Be aware that some texts define outs slightly differently.)

Let’s consider the example in the introduction above.  How many outs do we have?

Well, how many cards are likely to give us the probable winning hand?  You should be able to see that any of the four remaining eights will give us the nut straight 6789T.  Therefore we have four outs.  (This process is not always so straightforward, but don’t worry we’ll consider some more complicated cases later.)

So, what are the odds against us improving on the river card? Well, there are 46 unseen cards, four of which will give us the probable winning hand.  This means that 42 of them will NOT.  One way of saying this is to state that the odds against improving are 42 to 4, written as the ratio 42:4.

If we divide both sides of this ratio by the smaller number (in this case by 4), this gives odds of 10.5:1 against.  For ease of explanation I’m going to round this off to 11:1.  As you’ll see later, complete accuracy is not required.

So the odds against us improving to the probable best hand on the next card are about 11:1.  This means that approximately every 12 times we have this scenario, we’ll catch one of our cards 1 time out of 12, and we will miss 11 times.  So if we are to call correctly, the pot must be large enough when we win to cover the cost of calling when we don’t win.

Hopefully you can see that the final pot therefore must be at least 11 times the size of the bet you have to call if we are to call profitably.  If you call when the pot is smaller than this, then you are losing money EVEN IF YOU WIN this particular pot.  This is because the size of the pot when you win will not be large enough to make up for the bets lost when you lose.

Some players don’t understand this, and think that the fact they won the pot MUST mean that their call was correct.  They are deluding themselves.  Remember this when you are considering calling in a similar situation because you ‘might get lucky’.  Even if you do ‘get lucky’, you are throwing your money away.

In our example we are considering calling for 1 big bet on the turn and the pot contains 4 big bets.  Poker players say that the pot is laying us 4:1.  This is the same as saying that the prize if we are successful with our draw is 4 times the amount we are paying to see the next card.

But we require the prize to be at least 11 times the size of the call, so we can’t call.  It’s not even close.  (Notice that even if we make our hand and our opponent calls a raise on the river, the final amount we would win would still be too small to make calling profitable.)  If we call we are making a mistake, regardless of the outcome of the hand.  So we should fold.

Get the idea?

A Useful Chart

I’m sure some of you will be thinking “Hold on, you mean I have to do all that calculation in my head?  Are you kidding me?”

Well, luckily that won’t be required.  Most players prefer to simply learn the required pot odds for the corresponding number of outs.  This isn’t as difficult as it may sound.

Firstly, if you have 8 outs or more you will almost always have good enough pot odds to draw in limit Hold’em.  The occasions where you will be making a mistake are few and far between.  This means that we don’t really need to consider outs greater than 7.

Secondly, even in the loosest of games it’s unlikely the pot will ever be large enough to draw to only 1 out, so we can disregard it.

This means that we really only need to consider 2 to 7 outs.  The following chart gives the relevant details.  All pot odds values are rounded off to one decimal place:

Outs Pot odds required to break even
On flop On turn
2 22.5 22.0
3 14.7 14.3
4 10.8 10.5
5 8.4 8.2
6 6.8 6.7
7 5.7 5.6

You will notice that the pot odds for the flop and turn are different, but not by very much.  Most players just learn the values for the turn, and also round off to the nearest whole number.  If we do this we get the following simplified chart:


Pot odds required to break even

2 22
3 14
4 11
5 8
6 7
7 6

You should commit this chart to memory, which won’t take too long if you play regularly.  If you play online exclusively you can simply stick it next to your monitor.

Notice that the question we asked at the beginning of this article now becomes very easy.  We have 4 outs so our table tells us we need 11:1 from the pot to call.  We are only getting 4 to 1, so we should fold.  No calculation required!

Implied Odds

Let’s return to our gutshot draw.  What if the pot was larger, but not quite large enough?  Should we ever call if the decision is close?

The answer is, as usual, it depends.

Let’s assume that in our original example we are thinking of drawing to our gutshot, but the pot instead contains 10 big bets on the turn.  According to our chart we shouldn’t call for 1 big bet, since the pot needs to contain 11 big bets to make calling profitable.

However, if we are confident that our opponent will call a bet on the river if we DO make our hand (either she checks and calls our bet, or she bets and we raise), then the EXPECTED pot size will be at least 11 big bets.

Even though the pot is laying us 10:1, we say our IMPLIED ODDS are at least 11:1.  In other words although our immediate pot odds are insufficient to call, we expect the final amount we will win to be large enough to make calling profitable.

Estimating implied odds is of course open to error, and a good knowledge of your opponents is very helpful in making the correct decision.  However, if you ignore implied odds completely you will fold too often.

Estimating implied odds is easier on the turn, when you have only one street left to bet.  It is sensible to err on the side of caution when it comes to implied odds, particularly on the flop.  If you overdo it you will call too often.

I would advise that on the flop you don’t go further than the turn when estimating the extra bets you may win.  If you try to think through the hand all the way to the river your estimates are likely to be inaccurate, particularly if the pot is multiway.  We’ll look at more examples of implied odds in part II of this article.

One other thing.  You will come across many players at the lower limits who will justify some VERY dodgy draws with the claim “I called because of the implied odds”, when in fact no such implied odds existed.  They just didn’t have the emotional maturity to resist calling.  These people are called losers.  Make sure you are not one of them.

Position is Important

One other factor that we have not yet discussed is position.  In our original example we had the best possible position on the flop – the button.  When we were faced with a call we were closing the betting, meaning we were last to act.  This is important, since it wasn’t possible that someone could raise behind us.

Why does this matter?

Because if you make what you think is a correct call when drawing, but someone unexpectedly raises behind you, this will reduce your pot odds.  In other words you may actually be making a bad call, even though it appears you have the pot odds to call.

For example, let’s assume you hold KQ in early position and decide to limp and see a flop.  A middle position player raises, both blinds call and 4 people see a rainbow flop AT3.  The SB bets out and the BB folds.

You look at your hand and decide you are probably behind but have 4 outs to the nut straight.  At this point the pot contains 9 small bets, and it will cost you 1 small bet to call.  In fact you suspect that the middle position player will call behind you, giving pot odds of 10:1.  You also suspect that if you make your hand you will get at least one call on the turn, so you estimate your implied odds to be at least 12:1.

You consult your chart and see that to call with 4 outs we need to be getting 11:1 from the pot.  Great, so you can call, which you do.

However, the player to your left (who raised before the flop remember) decides to RAISE.  Can you see what has happened here?

You THOUGHT you were paying 1 bet to win (at least) 11 bets.  However, if the SB calls the raise and you also call, you have in fact paid 2 bets to win a possible 12 bets.  In other words the pot is actually laying you only 6:1.  Even taking implied odds into account you’re only likely to be getting 7:1 at best.

It’s even worse if the SB makes it three bets of course, which is somewhat less likely but not out of the question.

Now you might think I’m being a little unfair here.  After all you’re a poker player, not a clairvoyant.  How are you supposed to know that the player to your left would raise and the blinds would fold?

Well of course, you don’t.  You don’t KNOW for sure.  But since the player raised before the flop and the flop contains an ace, it’s certainly a possibility that he has hit the flop and would want to get maximum value from his hand by raising.

It’s also quite likely that if he does raise then anyone without an ace or better will fold.  If they have better than an ace, such as two pairs or a set, they may even reraise.  So although you can’t be certain of this, a thinking player will take this possibility into account and play accordingly.

In other words, if you have a close decision between calling and folding, and there is a possibility of a raise (or raises) behind you, then you should consider folding.

Notice that this decision is difficult because of your poor position on the flop.  In our initial example we didn’t have this problem since we were last to act.  This is another reason why drawing hands, and in particular small, speculative hands such as 87s are much easier to play (and for most players are therefore more profitable) from late position.  POSITION MATTERS.


This article has highlighted the most important factors that must be considered when deciding whether to continue with a draw.  These are OUTS, POT ODDS, IMPLIED ODDS and POSITION.

We should count our outs, and recall the corresponding break-even pot odds.  We then count the pot and compare our pot odds with the break-even pot odds we require.  If our pot odds are sufficient we can call.

If our pot odds are not sufficient but are close, we can estimate our implied odds and see if these turn the decision to a call.

We should also take into account our position and the possibility of a raise behind since this may lower our pot odds, particularly if someone who raised on an earlier street is yet to act behind us.  If our implied odds are close but there is a possibility of a raise behind, we should consider folding.

In part II of this article I will look in more detail at drawing from the point of view of expected value, and describe an alternative approach to drawing based on this perspective.

I will also explore more closely the concept of outs, since in most cases it will be unlikely that we can be so certain of exactly how many outs we have.  Often we will have to DISCOUNT our outs according to the conditions.  I’ll also consider the extra value that backdoor draws can add to our hand.

Finally, I’ll discuss a few more complicated drawing examples to fully prepare us for battle.

Until then, good decisions at the tables.