Draw Poker Resurrected
The games I play best are lowball
and draw poker
. Lowball is dying and draw poker is dead. Or so I thought. Draw poker has come back, and not where I would have expected.Michael Wiesenberg made his living playing poker for 10 years before turning to a career as a writer. His books include 'Free Money: How to Win in the Cardrooms of California'; 'The Dictonary of Poker', and 'The Ultimate Casino Guide. Check out his writings on everything online draw poker!
Draw poker is online, only it's not like any game that was ever dealt in any cardroom.
Only Planet Poker and Paradise Poker have online draw poker
, and the games are relatively small. But at 120 hands per hour, the games are like games three times their size in brick-and-mortar cardrooms (B&Ms). Editor's note: Since this article was written other online poker rooms are offering draw poker including PokerStars.com.
Planet Poker has the small draw action, mostly 25c-50c and 50c-$1. That's a great place to start. Paradise has the bigger games. There are usually several $1-$2 games, and I play in one of these while waiting for a bigger game. $3-$6 games are frequent, and sometimes $5-$10 gets spread. Those games can be really interesting. A few high-rolling hold'em players might drop in thinking they know everything about a game that everyone is supposed to know, play very aggressively, and considerably overvalue their hands. I have made some nice scores there. Overall, I make more than five big bets per hour. And this in a game with only two rounds.
Here's a complete strategy for winning at draw poker as played online, and understand that this game is different from anything ever played in a B&M. The limit games of Southern California, best known in Gardena before hold'em and 7 stud came along, were jacks or better to open, and there was a joker in the deck, good for aces straights and flushes. The games usually were played with antes only, and were tough and tight, although a good player could make somewhere between half and one big bet per hour. The online games are played double limit, open on anything, and there is no joker in the deck. Consequently, you'll find a lot of players limping in on small pairs and straight and flush draws. Right away something appears that a good player can exploit.
The five biggest mistakes most of the players make are:
1. Play shorts out of position (pairs smaller than jacks)
3. Draw to straights and flushes
4. Call when clearly beat
5. Try to beat a hand to which they’re usually between a 4-to-1 and a 12-to-1 dog
For convenience, I number the seats starting with the dealer button in position 2. This means two more players remain to act behind him before the draw. The seat one to the right of the button is 3, and so on. In an 8-handed game, then, the first player to come in is in position 7, that is, 7 players remain to act behind him before the draw. After the draw, betting proceeds from the first active player to the left of the dealer button, and numbering positions is not as critical.
- Positions 7, 6, and 5, your minimum opening hand is a pair of aces. And never limp; always come in for a raise.
- Position 4, add kings.
- In position 3, add queens and jacks.
- Position 2, that is, on the button, come in with 10s or a pair of 9s as long as you also have two cards higher than 9 in the hand or an ace. That is, with 99KQ7 or 99JT3, you play; with 99A54 you play; with 99K84 or 99765 you do not. Of course, in any of these positions, you can come in with better.
- The little blind gets a little tricky. How you play depends on what you know about the player in the big blind. Lacking that information, limp with A-Q to a pair of 6s. This is one of the few times that you can limp. Raise-open with anything better. This means come in for a raise with 7s or better. If the big blind raises, call and draw three cards straightforwardly. No, you won’t win most of these, but the odds against winning are anywhere from about 3.5-1 (where the big blind has a higher pair than yours) to about 6.5-1 against you (two pair). You’re getting 5-1, but your implied odds are higher at about 7-1. Sure, sometimes your opponent has trips higher than your pair or a pat hand and then you’re really going uphill, but that’s gambling.
- Play your big blind dependent on the opener’s position and whether she came in for a raise. If two or three limpers—or more!—come in, raise with a pair of kings or aces or anything better. With two or three players already in for a raise, call with about a pair of 10s or higher, any come draw, any two pair. Reraise with about jacks up or better, and of course trips or better.
Whether you raise with a particular hand, or sometimes even whether you call with it, depends on what you know about those who are already in the pot. If among those in the pot before you are one or more extremely tight players, those that are listed in your notes as “limps on two pair or worse and rarely raises with these hands,” don’t play with less than aces. But if your notes for those in the pot are “limps on any pair” and “limps or calls with come draws,” then what you do depends on the number of players at the table. That is, in the five-handed game, if your position calls for you to raise-open with a pair of queens or better (that would be in the cutoff seat), if two limpers are in, raise. In the eight-handed game, play the same as just described if the opener was in position 4 or less. But if the opener was in position 5 or greater, just dump any hand queens or worse and wait for a better spot. No matter your position, raise with kings or better.
So let’s say you’re in the eight-handed game in position 3, position 7 limps, and positions 6 and 5 call. You have a pair of queens. Dump them. You have a pair of kings. Raise. Now you’re in the five-handed game on the button, position 4 limps, and position 5 calls. You have a pair of jacks. This is marginal. Sometimes I call, but I don’t really like calling in this game, so sometimes I just dump them. If my image is good, that is, if I haven’t lost a lot of pots or been caught bluffing a lot, I often raise. You have a pair of kings. Raise.
Why do you raise in these spots? The main reasons are you don’t want to give the little blind a cheap chance to beat you, you don’t want to give the big blind a free chance to beat you, and you want to make the first players pay extra for playing substandard hands. Particularly if they’re drawing to straights and flushes, you don’t want to make it correct for them to have played by inviting the blinds in. You want them to put in maximum money and not get correct pot odds
(or even implied odds). (Some of these oblivious players recognize “pot odds” only as their chance of scoring some weed.) This is not hold’em, where a player gets two chances to make a drawing hand he flopped. Also, if you don’t raise, the big blind may draw four cards to a lone ace and beat your pair of kings. If you do, and the big blind still calls to take four cards—and they often do—you’ve made him pay extra to take way the worst of it.
What about with a more powerful hand, where you want to entice more players to enter the pot? The amount extra you get from the blinds is not as much as you get from what the first players have to put in to continue in the pot. When you have a good hand, you want to build a pot. Also, the blinds may play anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised how many players come in cold for two and more bets to draw to small straights, flushes, even inside straights, and, of course, shorts. They would have been happy to play for one bet or free, but darned if they’re going to let you steal their pot.
Whether you put in the third bet before the draw depends on what you know about the player. Again those wonderful notes most online sites allow you to make about individual players help here. If the pot is raised before it gets to you, and you know the player raise-opens on any pair jacks or higher, then you should reraise with any hand aces or higher. This of course includes any two pair, probably the trickiest hand in draw poker. If the player is one of those tight players, then you should call with aces through about tens up, and reraise with jacks up or better.
Two pair is the trickiest hand in draw. How you play two pair may make the difference between winning and losing.
Pairs are straightforward. You never call with shorts, and you open with them only from the little blind. You almost always play aces or kings for one or two bets. If it’s three bets to you, you don’t come in cold with less than two pair.
Trips are straightforward, too. You are always willing to cap the betting with trips. Since there are only four bets, and since many pots start with two bets already, you can’t get too badly hurt when trips get beat, and they win far more pots than they lose.
Any better hand of course should be played as strongly as you can—with some exceptions. You don’t want to cap the betting after the draw with a wheel against another pat hand. In fact, you probably don’t want to do it very often against almost any draw.
But with two pair you have to tread cautiously. If the pot has been raise-opened by one of those tight players previously mentioned, call with tens up or worse and reraise with jacks up or better. This is because of all the two pair hands, approximately half are jacks up or better. If one of those tight players has raised a raise-open or reraised a limp and a raise, just dump anything worse than jacks up. Against most players, be willing to put in the third bet with any two pair. Why is this? Because if the pot is raise-opened, the most likely hand the player has is one pair. You’re about a 3-to-1 favorite to have the better hand. If it’s three bets to you, dump tens up or lower, and cap with jacks up or better. Playing this way increases your variance considerably, but it also increases your win rate. Often you will freeze out the original player, and two pair is not a hand you want to play against multiple players. If the other player has a smaller two pair—and half the time he should—you are now better than a 12-to-1 favorite. If he has one pair, your advantage ranges from a bit under 3-to1 (when his one pair is higher than either of your pairs) to about 8-to-1 (when both your pairs are higher than his one pair). That’s the nice thing about draw poker. You can often get maximum money into the pot when you are a huge favorite.
You’ll see many players who just call two bets with aces up and then check to the other one-card draw. They cost themselves several bets every time they do it, plus increase their chances of losing the pot by enticing other players in who now get correct odds to play. Don’t make that mistake. Sure, you’ll cost yourself four bets or more instead of two in the pots you lose, but that’s more than made up for in those that you win.
Drawing to Straights and Flushes
If I said never draw to straights and flushes, I wouldn’t be far wrong. Don’t ever open with a come hand (unless a straight flush draw). If three players are already in, call. This means in the 8-handed game, you rarely play come hands and in the 5-handed game, almost never. You need to be in the little blind with at least two limpers, where you’re already getting better than 4-1, or in the big blind, where you get to draw for free. Let the others draw to straights and flushes when they’re not getting proper odds; their doing so adds to your profit.
You see players in with these draws all the time, and that’s a huge mistake. SweetSue limps in position 4 with her 5-6-7-8. Jimmy666 immediately raises in position 3 with his pair of kings. No one else plays. SweetSue calls. She takes one card, and Jimmy666 takes three, quite straightforwardly, because he knows SweetSue rarely bluffs. SweetSue misses, and checks. Jimmy666 shows his unimproved pair and takes the pot. In the $3-$6 game, SweetSue put in $6 to win a possible $10. That’s a return of 1.6-to-1 with odds against her of approximately 4.9-to-1. Jimmy666 would not have called if he did not improve his hand. But let’s be charitable, and say that he would call every time she made her hand. She’s still getting only $16 for her $6 investment. That’s still only 2.7-to-1. And Jimmy666 might have better than just a pair of kings and he might make his hand when she makes hers. That will cost her at least two big bets after the draw. Three or even four if she gets frisky and check-raises. Don’t draw to straights and flushes.
If you have the big blind and it’s free to draw, of course you always draw to a come hand, but this doesn’t come up that often. If two players are in for a raise, again you always play, because you’re getting 5-to-1 before even considering implied odds.
How to Draw
Generally draw straightforwardly. Almost always draw three to a pair. The exception is if you’re convinced a player has two pair and you have an ace kicker to keep. Don’t do what most of them do, which is always keep a kicker in a vain attempt to convince others they have trips. They don’t have trips: if they did, they’d draw one card. And that’s the other thing, disguising trips. If you’re sure your opponent has two pair and will pay you off if you draw one, then do so. But don’t do that all the time. Keep them guessing. Draw two maybe a third of the time. You double your chances of improving by taking two cards. If all you’ve done is raise-open, taking two cards is natural because that’s what everyone else often does with one pair. If you’ve reraised, then the holder of two pair will likely pay you off anyway. Depending on the player, if he raises, you reraise, he just calls and takes one card, almost all the time that means two pair. Most players cap with trips. (But do watch out for the tight players that don’t and take one to trips. This is where your notes are very important.) That three-bet situation is the best time to take one to trips. Your opponent checks after the draw, you bet, he calls, you win. Or, he bets and you call. Usually. Sometimes he check-raises. That is, he hit the 12-1 shot. Usually you can fold for the reraise, but watch out for tricky players. Some reraise on a bluff. Others just call the third bet, take one to trips, and then check-raise. You have to call in both situations. I rarely try to disguise trips in a capped pot. I want to do one of two things by taking two cards. I may want to slow down another player if I have small trips, because another player with trips may just check to you, and you can show down small trips. Or I may want to encourage him if I have high trips. And, by the way, in a capped pot, when the other player stands pat and bets into your two-card draw, he's rarely bluffing.
Here’s how to draw for “free” on the big blind. Free means no one raised and you don’t have to pay extra to draw, effectively giving you infinite pot odds. Always take three to any pair. Usually don’t keep a kicker here, because if you do you have practically told the others what you have. If you bet, you probably caught an ace for aces up, and they feel safe in raising with trips. But since some players raise after the draw with two pair, oblivious to the draw, you often have to call. Better not to get into that situation by just taking three cards to a pair. If you have an ace or king, take four. Don’t draw to inside straights and don’t draw to a cathop. That, according to the Official Dictionary of Poker, is, among other things, three cards to a straight flush. The only cathop to which to draw two cards is when you have three to a royal flush, in which case you could pair one of the cards you hold and win. Anything else, draw five cards for free.
Betting After the Draw
In an unraised pot, against one opponent you should usually bet any two pair or better, particularly if you are last to bet. Against multiple opponents, bet maybe tens up or better. If you drew three on the big blind and made two small pair, generally do not bet, but pass and call one bettor. If there is a bet and call, don’t overcall.
In a raised pot, against one opponent you should have approximately jacks up or better to bet. Against several, probably kings up. Don't bet two pair or trips into an obvious come hand, particularly someone who regularly bluffs. How do you know if the other player is drawing on the come? You have in your notes that the player usually raise-opens with two pair, but he limped in this pot and drew one card. Now, if you did the raising and you have two or more opponents and one of them you are sure is on the come, you should still bet. Realize that if the one-card draw raises, he has probably made his hand, and you can fold. That happens only about one time in five, though, and your bet is to get a call from one of the other players. If one of them raises, usually your two pair hand is beat, and you can fold. Not many players raise with worse than two pair when they have a one-card draw behind them.
Players are using all the tricks that I saw 35 years ago and more, as if they’d discovered something new: pat hand bluffs, standing pat on two pair, keeping a kicker—any kicker—with a pair or trips. I’ll talk about some of those another time. I’ll also talk about advanced plays, including bluffing situations that almost always work.
You can play draw online and win.
This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine. © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg