How to Play Drawing Hands

A leak that many beginners have is chasing draws. For example, having a hand like 98s and calling bets on a Q-T-2 rainbow flop trying to catch that jack. That’s drawing to a hand.

However, in trying to draw to a better hand you’re spending chips, tournament equity, and ultimately, real money.

So let me ask you something – when you’re drawing to a hand, be it a pair, straight or flush, are you making money? Are you losing money?

Do you even know?

Most players don’t (or don’t care, which is worse). They chase their hands, slowly bleeding chips alone the way. The worst part is that the few times they do manage to make their hand, they don’t make enough money from the pot to offset their previous losses.

My goal with this article is to teach you how to draw to hands profitably. Follow my advice and you’ll lose less money, maybe even win a few bucks.

Figuring Out Card Odds

The first step to understanding how to draw to hands is to understand card odds. By card odds I mean the likelihood that you’ll catch the cards you need to improve your hand.

This is easy to do, and will become 2nd nature with practice. What you first need to do is determine the cards that will improve your hand. These are referred to as “outs.”

For example, say you have 98o on a Q-T-2 flop. The remaining jacks are your outs. Since we know there are 4 of every card in a deck, we know that we have 4 outs.

Side Note: Never discount or subtract cards unless you’ve actually seen them.

Once you know how many outs you have you will then figure out your odds. To do this compare your outs to the number of cards remaining in the deck. You know there is 3 cards on the flop and 2 in your hand. Disregarding the cards dealt to everyone else, and assuming a full, standard deck of cards, that leaves us with 47 cards.

Now we just do the math. 4 over 47 gives us odds of about 11 to 1 or 9 percent.

That’s card odds. Now to figure out if we can draw profitably we need to figure out our pot odds.

Figuring Out Pot Odds

The approach to pot odds is the same. What we want to do is figure out the odds from what’s in the pot to how much we have to call to win it.

For example, say the pot has 100 chips in it and it’s 40 chips to you to call. This gives us odds of 5 to 2, or 40%.

Can We Draw (Profitably)?

Now that we have our odds we can determine if we’re able to draw profitably. All we do now is compare our card odds to our pot odds.

  • Card Odds – 11:1 or 9%
  • Pot Odds – 5:2 or 40%

Whenever your card odds are higher (better) than your pot odds, you can draw to your hand profitably. The bigger your margins the better.

In this case, with 9% card odds and 40% pot odds, drawing to this gutshot straight draw would be (massively) unprofitable. In fact, drawing to any gutshot straight draw usually is. The only exception are cheap multi-way pots.

Implied Odds – The Exception to the Rule

There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes it will be ok to draw to hands when the odds say otherwise.

In these cases you will use implied odds.

Implied odds are inflated pot odds. Instead of only earning 5:2 on our money, you figure that you can earn more if you hit your hand.

For example, if you think you can stack someone once you make your hand, and the average stack is 600 chips, you could say that you’re calling 40 chips (from my example above) to win 600, as opposed to only 100. This gets your pot odds down to 6%, which in turn makes calling a gutshot draw profitable.

The problem with implied odds is that they’re subjective. There’s no hard or fast rule that you can use. You can only assume how much money you can make on future streets. And to make an accurate assumption you need to have deep (average) stacks, know your ability to get value, your opponent’s range, image, etc. There’s a lot to it.

Unsurprisingly, many (beginner) players don’t use implied odds correctly. Instead, they use it as an excuse to play lots of hands and draws. Little do they know, care and/or realize, they’re making huge mistakes because their opponents won’t pay them off when they hit.

Don’t be one of those players. Start with the advice I outlined above. Then as you get better, and you have a better understanding of stack sizes, ranges and poker math, start to incorporate implied odds into your game to find opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.