If you’ve been playing poker for a reasonable amount of time, you’ve probably run into countless situations where you had to decide what to do with a flush draw. Flush draws can be tricky to play, but understanding and implementing these 5 tips will help you to start learning and mastering these spots. Let’s dive into it!
Tip #1: Think in Terms of Equity
All good poker players think in terms of equity. One of the most common mistakes people make when starting out in poker is overvaluing or undervaluing their hand because they aren’t taking into account their equity vs their opponent(s). For example, say the Button raises and you have pocket nines in the Big Blind. You have a pretty great hand all by itself, but in this situation you also have extremely good equity vs your opponent’s Button raising range. Now, imagine that the player Under The Gun raises, the player in the Lojack 3-bets, the player on the Button 4-bets, and you have those same pocket nines in the Big Blind. The situation is a little more dicey, because your equity against these player’s ranges is significantly worse than in the first situation, although your hand remains the same. The same thing is true for flush draws, the way you play them is determined highly by how much equity you have in the hand.
Not all flush draws are created equal. In some situations you’ll have 10% equity, in some you’ll have 80%. A lot of players seem to fall into the trap of playing all flush draws the same, just because it’s a flush draw. Steer away from simply labeling your hand as a flush draw and firing away because “it’s a good bluffing hand.” Start thinking about your situation as a whole. Is the board paired? Is your opponent’s range strong or weak? How often can your opponent have a bigger flush draw? Am I protecting my checking range enough here? What value hands am I representing? How much equity does my hand have against my opponent’s range? All of these questions will help you to realize the first important fact about flush draws: they aren’t all the same. Now that we’ve addressed this common mindset mistake, let’s take a look at how we can start implementing this knowledge into our game.
Tip #2: Raise Your Strongest Draws More Frequently
So often you will see players way overplaying weaker flush draws, check-raising and barreling off like crazy, but then checking their nut flush draw way too much! Look, raising a flush draw is never really going to be a massive mistake, you probably always have decent equity. The main problem that you will run into occurs when people play back at you aggressively, forcing you into dicey situations with weaker draws.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should play all your non-nut flush draws passively, you definitely shouldn’t always be playing passive. First, separate your flush draws into two basic categories. Your strongest draws are your ace high and king high draws, along with draws where both of your cards are over-cards to the board (Q♠ 8♠ on a flop of 7♠ 3♠ 2♥ for example). Your weaker draws are everything else.
Now that we’ve defined our strongest draws, start raising them at a much higher frequency than your weaker draws. This won’t apply to every situation and every hand, but it’s still a good general rule. When you raise a big draw and face a 3-bet, you are much more confident in the situation than if you have a weak flush draw that can be dominated by some of your opponent’s bluffing range. Think situationally and approach every spot on its own, but when choosing between draws start raising some of your strong draws more frequently, and calling/folding some of your weaker ones more often.
Tip #3: Bluff Weaker Draws on the River
When you completely miss your flush draw on the river, you have to decide whether or not to bluff. When picking which draws you want to bluff with, you typically want to go with your weaker draws, as opposed to your ace high and king high ones. This is due to a couple reasons. First of all, your Ax and Kx flush draws actually might still have some showdown value. If your opponent has a weaker draw that missed, you may still be able to win when the cards are tabled. This is another spot where Tip #1 really comes into play, you have to look at your hand’s equity vs your opponent’s range. The second reason you may not want to bluff your strongest draws is that they block a lot of your opponent’s bluffing range. We can’t get them off of their ace high flush draw if we have the ace high flush draw!
With your weakest draws however, it’s easy. You have basically no equity with 9 high on the river. If you have value bets in your range you will also need to have bluffs to balance your bets, and these weaker flush draws are great candidates for that. River bets tend to be a little more polarized, so we’ll be betting our strong value hands and our weakest missed draws. As a general rule of thumb, if you have one of the worst possible hands you can possibly have in your range, you should be looking to bluff the river.
Tip #4: Check Back Weaker Flush Draws When Short Stacked (<30bb)
As you get shorter stacked, poker basically turns into a different game. You start to think more about protection and equity denial than trying to build massive pots. Your opponents can put you to a decision for all of your chips very easily, so it’s important to dial back your c-betting and barreling with draws, and worry more about pot control and protection.
When you have a weak draw that can be easily dominated by stronger draws and made hands, you should generally be looking to protect your equity in the hand by checking, as opposed to firing away at the pot only to get shoved on by your opponent. This will also help you by protecting your checking range, so that you can have flushes later on in the hand after checking flop/turn.
Simplifying your game plan can be one of the best ways to start realizing your equity better in poker. As a general rule when you have 30bb or less, look to check back your weaker draws on the flop/turn, and bet your strongest draws that can continue vs raises and shoves from your opponent(s).
Tip #5: Don’t Mindlessly Chase Draws
Math may not have been your favorite topic in school (or maybe it was) but it certainly is important when it comes to playing draws in poker. If you aren’t getting the right price to continue you’d better hope you can make your opponent fold, because you’ll be throwing away money otherwise. When facing a bet with a draw, you must always start by considering the pot odds you are being offered, and your raw equity in the hand. If you need a quick refresher on pot odds, outs and equity, check out Bencb’s in-depth video explanation of these topics by clicking here.
The simple fact is, you will make a ton of serious mistakes in poker if you don’t have pot odds down. The amount that your opponent bets often determines whether you can continue with your draw. Sure, raising them is always an option, but it can often be -EV to do so given their range. Besides, many players are much more likely to mindlessly chase their draws by calling, not even considering trying to raise their opponent out of the pot. Understanding whether you are being given direct odds to draw will instantly tell you whether you will make or lose money by calling.
Whenever you have a naked flush draw without an overcard to the board (T♠ 7♠ on Q♦ 4♠ 2♠ for example) , and you face a betsize that is larger than 2/3 pot, it’s not profitable for you to call. The same is true if your opponent raises more than 3 times your bet, you simply are not being given direct odds to continue. Especially when you are short stacked, this is a huge sign that you should muck your draw, because you don’t have much in the way of implied odds even when you hit your hand (because you can’t win as many chips after). Now, if you have overcards that may make the best hand if hit, that can give you more equity. But as a general rule, if you aren’t getting the right price to draw you need to be looking to either raise or fold your hand.