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Taking Two Cards in Online Draw Poker

Knowing what a two-card draw means in the online draw poker games will improve your win rate. Since you can’t see the players, you have to figure out the meaning by inference and interpolation—basedMichael 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 your opponents’ previous actions.

This is where notes are handy. The ability to keep notes on players is one of the best aspects of online poker. It’s hard to keep notes in a brick-and-mortar cardroom (b&m). I get away with it by telling people I’m working on a column, but even that’s tricky. I carry a small spiral-bound memo pad that fits nicely into a shirt pocket—if I’m wearing a shirt with a pocket. Trouble is, my usual cardroom attire is jeans and t-shirt. No pocket in the t-shirt and the jeans pockets are too tight. And if I’m trying to make a snap decision when someone has raised, I can’t say, “Just a minute. I just had a thought I don’t want to forget for an upcoming column,” and then frantically page through the whole pad looking up the particular player. Since I see different players at different times, the notes are not grouped in any particular order. When someone does something new, the space I allocated might not be sufficient to add new notes. Also, it’s tough to sit at a table, take and read notes, play, and try to pick up tells and playing patterns. And a player might sit down and look vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember the player’s name, so, even if I had notes on her, I can’t find them.

All those problem disappear when I’m playing online. I can continually update notes about a specific player. I don’t have to organize them in any special way; the software sees to that. When a particular player appears in my game, I can see right away if I already have notes on that player, and, if not, start a new entry. If I have played with the person before, my notes might be enough to influence a decision without having first to observe the player for several rounds of play.

One of the important aspects of a player’s play I keep track of is when that player draws two cards. Some players routinely try to disguise their hands, and, without realizing it, usually give away their holdings. For example, about CuteTrix I have:

Limp-opens with shorts. Raise-opens with kings or better. Might raise a raise-open with aces. Often keeps kicker to one pair, particularly if raised or raise-opened. Always takes one to trips. Usually bets two pair after the draw.

Rooty22 limped in early position. What did I have on Rooty22?

Weak-tight. Straightforward. Calling station. Limps with all pairs, on the come, and small two pair. Raise-opens with about queens up, sometimes smaller two pair on button. Raise-opens any two pair on little blind. Calls raise when already in with two pair.

CuteTrix raised from the little blind. My big blind. I had two pair, jacks and deuces, with an ace kicker. I reraised. Rooty22 added two more bets to the pot and CuteTrix called the reraise. CuteTrix drew two cards, I drew one, and Rooty22 took one.

On the draw, I caught another ace.

CuteTrix checked. Since he usually bets two pair, a check meant he hadn’t hit his kicker nor had he made trips. I bet. Yes, Rooty22 might have been drawing to a come hand, and wouldn’t call or raise if he missed, so I was taking a chance. But I also knew that he would have played two small pair the same and I wanted him to call with that. If Rooty22 made a complete hand, he’d raise and I could fold. Rooty22 called. CuteTrix folded.

I showed my J-J-2-2-A and the software awarded me the pot. When I checked the hand history, I saw that Rooty22 had had 9-9-4-4-A.

Sometimes I draw one card when I have trips, and sometimes I draw two. Drawing two cards to trips is sort of a sneaky play because so many players feel they have to disguise their trips that they never draw two when they have trips. For this reason, if I draw two cards, my opponents think to themselves, He can’t possibly have trips. He’d draw one card to disguise his hand if he really had trips. The last two times he had trips he drew one card. And they convince themselves to call, often with just one pair, always with two pair.

I also have in my notes those players who usually do straightforwardly draw two cards when they have trips. Some of these players are both tight and tricky. They limp with trips and take two cards. This does get me to call some of them, because they also limp and take two cards to a pair with a kicker or a cathop. (A cathop is a two-card draw to a straight flush, or sometimes just to a straight or flush. Drawing to 6s 7s 8s is a cathop. So is Ah 9h 4h or Tc Jh Qd.) I can often tell what they start with, though, based on the action. If I raise-open on the button with a pair of aces, JoeTrips calls on the little blind, takes two cards, and then bets, I know he wasn’t drawing to a cathop and he likely didn’t start with J-J-A. JoeTrips is labeled supertight in my notes. He doesn’t come in cold to a raised pot with less than aces, and then he takes three cards. If he takes one, he has two pair. If he takes two, he has trips.

Other players also take two cards to trips, but they reraise or cap before the draw first, so, again, I know what they have based on the predraw action.

Players take two cards in two other situations that are related to each other. Both are attempts to disguise their hands and also attempts to improve.

I raise-opened on the button with a pair of aces. CuteTrix called on the big blind. CuteTrix took two cards and I three. CuteTrix checked. I did not improve, but still bet without hesitation. Since CuteTrix usually bets two pair after the draw, particularly against a three-card draw, I knew he didn’t have two pair. He probably had a small pair, didn’t hit his kicker, and would thus fold. But he was suspicious of my play and often called my bet after the draw with as little as two tens, so I always bet in this situation. CuteTrix called and I won. The hand history showed he called with two queens.

TAJim1 raise-opened on the button. Rooty22 called on the big blind. Rooty22 drew three and TAJim1 two. Rooty22 checked and so did TAJim1. Rooty22 showed a pair of sevens, and TAJim1 showed A-A-T-6-4. I’ve given up asking myself “What kind of play is that? Why did he take two cards?” I know the answer. TAJim1 always keeps a kicker when he raises on aces or kings because he doesn’t want the other player to bet two pair to him and have to call with just one pair. But he’s wasting his time trying this trick on Rooty22, because Rooty22 wouldn’t bet two pair even if TAJim1 did take three cards. Rooty22 would bet only with trips or better. He has a better chance of improving one pair by taking three cards than two, so why not give himself his best chance of making three aces? Then if Rooty22 bets, TAJim1 can raise and be guaranteed a call. If he draws two cards, his most likely improvement is to two pair, and he will definitely call Rooty22—even if he silently says to himself, “I know I’m beat, but I made two pair so I have to call.” If he was in a b&m, he would probably say that out loud.

Say TAJim1 raise-opens on my big blind. Since I know he raise-opens on the button with a pair of tens or better (hmm—did he read my strategy articles?), I call here with kings or better. Why not queens? With queens, half the pairs he would raise-open with are lower and half higher. Or he could have queens himself. I don’t like queens because he also raise-opens with any better hand than aces. If you include all the two pair hands and higher, a pair of queens is no longer right in the middle of the range of hands he might have. Also, whenever we both start with one pair, both improve, and my starting pair was worse, I lose one or more big bets after the draw. These factors do not offset the slight overlay I get from the abandoned small blind. Thus, kings are my cutoff. Now, if he takes two cards, I bet those kings, whether I improve or not. If I don’t improve and I check, he would just show down unless he improves, and the better hand takes the pot. Even if he started with aces, he’ll always take two cards, even if he has to keep a six as a kicker. He thinks he’s slowed me down, but he hasn’t. He’ll call me with just one pair when I bet. He won’t raise with two pair. Since three of the pairs he could have started with are worse than mine and only one better, I win three-fourths of those bets when he doesn’t improve. And he, seeing me bet just one pair, keeps calling. Yes, I lose the times he improves and I don’t. But since he improves less than a third of the time, I would lose out on all those calls that I would have got two-thirds of the time.

Do I take two cards sometimes and not have trips? Yes. Do I do so to disguise my hand? Yes, but only rarely. Once in awhile I raise open with a big pair and no matter what the others do, I keep an ace kicker if I have one. This is extremely rare, and it is only for the purpose of persuading the others that if I take two cards I, like the rest of them, can’t possibly have trips. The only other time I take two cards when I don’t have trips is not for the purpose of disguising my hand but for giving myself the best chance of improvement. Specifically, a lot of players on the big blind just call with most two pair when someone raise-opens. They then usually check and call after the draw. Against such a player, if have raise-opened with a big pair and I have an ace to keep, I do. If I catch another ace, I bet. Otherwise I just show down. Sometimes they were drawing to a come hand and I win anyway, but often they started with two pair. If I know that all I need to win is two pair, then the best way to make precisely the hand that beats two pair is to keep an ace kicker and try for aces up.

If I have to beat two pair smaller than aces up, drawing two is better than drawing three by about 3 percent. Many players call with two pair on the big blind but reraise with trips. They always take one card, however. Well, I know what they have by whether they reraised. If they reraised, I would never take two cards. I would call the reraise and draw three cards, not because I was a favorite, but because doing so was +EV (positive expected value). It’s a bit less than 7-to-1 against making trips or better when I draw three cards. However, I’m getting better than 9-to-1. Immediate pot odds are 5.5-to-1. My opponent will bet, I will raise, and he will call. That’s four small bets after the draw. Yes, some of those times I lose, but those times are offset by the times that I win three or four bets by beating three aces or a full house.

The bottom line of all this is that most players take two cards incorrectly in online draw poker. That’s something that hasn’t changed from when there was a lot of draw in b&ms.

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

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