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Online Draw Poker - What to do When You're Behind

Some interesting situations come up in the online draw poker game. These illustrate some of the principles unique to this game. These examples are all from the $3-$6 game.

When You’re Behind

I wasMichael WiesenbergMichael 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!  on the button. Everyone passed to me. I had a pair of tens, and I opened for a raise. In the strategy I have detailed before, two tens is my approximate minimum opening requirement for the button. There are exceptions, but this is in general.

The little blind folded. SuSuSuzie called in the big blind. She drew three cards and so did I.

SuSuSuzie is a weak-tight player. She would bet after the draw in a raised pot only if she improved to aces up or three of a kind. Any two pair less than aces up she would check. She would call after the draw with some pairs and any two pair. Bluffing did not seem to be part of her strategy. Since I knew how she played, I would not bet my own hand unless I improved. Since she would call my raise-open initially with almost any pair, if I did not improve my pair of tens, I would just show down the hand—and win more than half of the time. A pair of tens is higher than a random pair about two-thirds of the time. Deuces through nines is eight possibilities, jacks through aces four, and tens are 50-50. The smaller pair improves approximately 30% of the time, making the unimproved pair of tens about a 5.6-to-4 favorite.

My edge increased by my knowledge of her play. If she bet, I would not call with two pair smaller than kings up. I would raise with three tens. I knew that she would not then reraise with worse than three aces. (Yes, she would not put a third bet in after the draw with three kings.) So if she reraised, I would know three tens were beaten. Most other regulars in this game, even if their strategies approximated mine, would call with tens up if she bet, but I would not, and, if they raised with trips, call her reraise. Money not lost calling spends just as well as money won.

After the draw, SuSuSuzie checked. I caught a pair of threes for two pair, and bet. I could lose, because she would pass hands better than mine, but here I was better than a 2-to-1 favorite. The 2-to-1 came from the a priori chances of my pair being higher than hers. The odds improved, however, because she would also call a bet after the draw with several hands that did not improve, namely aces, kings, and sometimes worse. Actually, more than sometimes, because she is very suspicious of my play, and thinks that I bluff considerably more than I actually do. In this exact situation, I would never bluff. I would always have at least a pair of tens, and I would always play them as described. Math serves me much better than psychology here.

SuSuSuzie called. I showed my hand, and was awarded the pot. She didn’t have to show her cards, and I could then have requested a hand history if I wanted to know what she had called with. I didn’t need to, though, because she showed her two pair, eights and sixes. She likes to show losing hands, as if she needs to prove to someone that she didn’t make a bad play by calling. Or maybe she wants to demonstrate how bad her luck is, as many players seem to do.

I didn’t care why she showed her cards, but, in fact, she had just demonstrated how poorly she had played. If she was paying the least bit of attention, she would have observed that on her big blind I never came in with less than a pair of tens. (Of course, most players are not observant.) She would know that it was almost certain that her pair was smaller than my opening hand. The very best she could be was about a 3.25-to-1 underdog. That’s a pair of eights against a pair of tens, a comparison I ran with Mike Caro’s Poker Probe. Against higher pairs, her chances decreased. Some percentage of the time I would have two pair or better. Part of the time my two pair would be smaller than her pair—say fours and deuces against her pair of eights—in which case her chances would actually improve to only about 2.75-to-1 against. Part of the time my two pair would be higher than her pair, in which case her chances would drop to somewhere between about 4.5-to-1 and 5.7-to-1. When I had trips or better, her chances would drop significantly. Given that, her overall chances were worse than 3.25-to-1. More like 4-to-1. Also, the times that her good hand would be beat by my better hand would happen more often than the other way round—just because my starting hand was better than hers. The big confrontations when she lost would cost her more in general than her profit in those she won. Her winnings would also be shaved somewhat by her after-the-draw conservatism. I would be far more willing to push a good hand than she. With all that, her overall underdog odds were probably close to 5-to-1. But when I opened for a raise, she was getting only 3-to-1. That made calling a play with considerable negative expectation.

The preceding is a somewhat lengthy detailing of one justification for the truism that playing shorts (small pairs) in draw poker is a losing proposition.

The One-Card Draw

On my button, everyone passed. QueeQueg99had the big blind. I classified him in my player notes as tight-aggressive.

I raise-opened with three tens.

The little blind folded. QueeQueg99 reraised. I knew he would do this with any two pair or better. He would probably only call with one pair of jacks through aces, and would fold anything smaller. My hand would be better than his most of the time. I capped.

He drew one card. QueeQueg99 could not be drawing to a straight or flush. He might call, but would not raise. He could have trips, of course. Like many players, he often drew one card to trips to disguise the hand. But two pair was more likely. So I drew one card also. I knew if I drew two cards, he would check after the draw no matter what he made. He would call with two pair, because most players tend to disbelieve two-card draws. They think that if they always have a kicker when they draw two cards, so must everyone else. And he would check-raise if he made a complete hand, thinking that if I drew two cards and really had trips, I would bet, and if I didn’t—and thus was bluffing—I would still bet. But I didn’t want him to check; I wanted him to bet, because it was my intention to raise.

Yes, he could have me beat already. But, except for quads, only four hands—trip jacks, queens, kings, or aces—had me beat. Combined with the chances of his completing his hand, 1 in 12, I was still nearly a 2-to-1 favorite to end up with the best hand after the draw. Thus I drew one card. I kept my three tens plus a seven. I discarded a queen, making it slightly less likely that I was beat already (since his chances of three queens lessened). I decreased my chances of improving by not taking two cards, but increased my chances of winning two bets versus one after the draw.

I caught a queen, which made me wince slightly, but missing my chance to fill up was only a small downside compared with the value of disguising the hand. And both of us would complete our hands only about one time in 144 that the situation came up.

QueeQueg99 bet. I raised. He called. I showed my hand, and took the pot. QueeQueg99 did not show his cards, but I requested a hand history to see what hand I had actually beat: two pair, aces and kings. I made an extra $6 by playing the hand as I did, since he would have checked had I drawn two. If QueeQueg99 had had a smaller two pair, say tens up or lower, he still would have checked against my one-card draw, and my play would have made no difference. But for those times he had better, yet still not as good as my hand, I had maximized my after-the-draw profit.

The Illogical Check-Raise

I was in the cutoff seat with a pair of jacks. SwinginSammy limped to my right. This was a player I characterized as weak-loose. He would open with any pair and any draw to a straight or flush. Overall my hand was better than a 4-to-1 favorite over his, so I raised. Sure, he might have queens or kings, but probably not aces, because he usually raise-opened with aces. He might sometimes also slow-play a big hand, but the odds were decidedly in my favor. Two jacks was also a favorite over three random hands, and I didn’t want to let the button or the two blinds in cheaply. In particular, I didn’t want to give the big blind infinite odds to beat my hand.

The button and little blind folded.

Few2, the big blind, called. Few2 I characterized as tight but tricky. He would not reraise with most two pair, but would likely check and call after the draw. He would probably reraise with trips, although not always with small trips. He would also call with many pairs, maybe from about sevens on up, plus any straight or flush draw.

SwinginSammy called.

Few2 drew one card. That didn’t tell me anything beyond that he didn’t have precisely one pair.

SwinginSammy took three cards.
I took three.
After the draw, Few2 checked. SwinginSammy checked.

I caught two fives, giving me jacks up. I knew that if Few2 had started with two pair, he would call. If SwinginSammy made two pair, they would likely be smaller than mine and he would overcall if Few2 called, and call otherwise. These all pushed me in the direction of betting as opposed to showing down. You may say, “Duh, of course you bet; you improved.” I certainly agree, but many weak-tight players do not bet two pair in this situation. They’re afraid of being beat in a showdown, or, worse, being check-raised. Of course, those same players do not raise with just a pair of jacks before the draw, either. So I bet.

Now something unexpected happen. Few2 raised. SwinginSammy folded.

I thought about this for a long time. Well, 10 seconds. That’s a long time online.

Here’s what went through my mind. Few2 might check a big hand if I drew one or two cards. Being a tricky player, he was quite capable of that. But what could he have that he would check into two three-card draws? If he completed his hand, he would definitely have bet, because he would be afraid of the hand being checked around. Pure mathematics showed that more than half the time, neither SwinginSammy nor I would improve. Many of the times that SwinginSammy improved, he wouldn’t bet anyway. SwinginSammy rarely bet two medium pair or smaller in a raised pot, and Few2 was observant enough to know that. If Few2 had started with two pair, he would not bet without filling up. So in the case of any completed hand, he would bet in this situation, because he would want to be sure to get one and maybe two calls—maybe even a raise. He knew that SwinginSammy would call with two pair, but if I bet and he check-raised, SwinginSammy would give up. It wasn’t that Few2 was incapable of a check-raise; he had demonstrated that to me many times. It was just that a check-raise in this exact situation made no sense whatever, but a bluff did.

A lot to contemplate, but my call came fairly quickly. Few2 could not muck his hand, even though I am sure he would have liked to, because he was first to show. I was not surprised to see that he had four spades and a diamond. My two pair took a nice pot. I won two more big bets than I would have had I just shown down the hand, all because of an illogical check-raise.

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.  © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.

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