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If you play long enough, you see everything. That’s just as true for cardroom play as it is for online. Some of what I’ve seen in the online draw games may provide insight into good strategy.
__OnlineMichael 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 a great game for low rollers, particularly if you want a change from __hold'em__ and __7-stud__. The stakes are small, you have to make only two decisions per round, and what your hand is is much more clearly defined than in the other games. That is, you can see all of your hand—as it is—at once, and can see the potential. And then you draw, and again you get to see all of it at once. You either have potential before the draw or you don’t. You either end up with something or you don’t. It’s not like hold’em, where, at least in the lowest-limit games, any two cards have a reasonable chance of winning. Draw has two rounds, and most confrontations are lopsidedly in favor of the leading hand. Typical confrontations are anywhere from 3-to-1 to 12-to-1 in favor of the better hand. Your wins will be as much due to proper play on your part as to mistakes on the parts of your opponents.
The following regularly happens. A player limps with a pair of queens or kings. Now right away, there is a mistake. In either the five- or eight-handed game, you never limp with that hand. In the eight-handed game, you dump queens in the first four positions after the blinds, and in the five-handed game, you dump queens in the first position after the blinds. With kings, it’s dump in the first three positions after the blinds in the eight-handed game. In any other position, you raise-open. That is, in any position in the five-handed game, you raise-open with kings and in the cutoff, button, or little blind, with queens. In the eight-handed game, you raise-open with kings from two to the right of the button through the little blind, and, with queens, from the cutoff through the little blind.
Then someone in one of the blinds raises. Say it’s the little blind. Say the big blind calls. Everyone takes three cards. The first two players check, and now the opener bets his unimproved pair. What most often happens is that one of the two blinds started with aces and reluctantly calls, hoping that the opener is bluffing. What less often happens is that one of the two blinds has made two pair and checked. Again the player calls. What sometimes, very rarely, happens, is that one of the blinds is a total idiot and calls the bet with worse than kings or queens and the opener wins. This might happen if the little blind has the aces and thinks that surely the opener improved, and folds, and then the big blind calls with a smaller pair. A bet from the opener makes sense only if he has a small pair that he failed to improve and thinks he can bluff out both the blinds. But if he bets a pair of kings or queens and gets called, he will lose probably 90% of the time. A bluff is a bet from a hand that cannot win in a showdown. The opener likely is not intentional bluffing. He thinks he is betting for value, but there is no value in betting a hand that can usually only lose if it is called but that might conceivably win in a showdown. But even the true bluff (that is, betting with a small pair) is not successful often enough to try to run it, though, because a player who is capable of raising with one pair is also smart—or curious—enough to be suspicious of a bet from a player who limped and then bets when checked to.
Betting When You’ll Almost Certainly Get Called
That last point provides a highly successful play, by the way. Very many players who raise with aces or kings and are first to draw bet into a player who takes three cards when they improve and check and call when they do not. How players handle this situation needs to be in your notes, too, of course. For example, on your button, everyone passes to you. You raise open with a pair of tens. If you get a play by the blind and the blind has one pair, one of two things happens. If it’s a tight player, he calls. If it’s an action player, he raises. If there is a raise, you call. You are behind at this point, but your immediate __pot odds__ are 5-to-1, and your implied odds are at least 7-to-1, and you’re not that much of an underdog to anything except trips higher than yours or a pat hand. And if it’s an action player, he is subject to reraise on anything from about queens on up. Now, if it’s a tight player, don’t worry if he draws two cards. Many tight players draw two to a pair of aces, keeping a high kicker in a vain attempt to convince you they have trips. Even tight players usually reraise with trips, so it’s wasted effort. Some players keep any kicker to a pair of aces, not even necessarily a high one, and this is a play I do not understand. I think it is because they want to slow down the betting after the draw. But why would they want to slow down the betting when they have the best of it? Tight players are afraid the opener has two pair and they don’t want to have to call a bet if they don’t improve, so they make a vain attempt to convince the opener they have trips. And if they are currently beat, they should give themselves the best chance of improving. A three-card draw is always better than a two-card draw except when you are positive the other player has exactly two pair, but that’s something you can’t know if you’re first to draw. Also, they sometimes keep an ace kicker to a pair of jacks or higher. (Not I. When I’m first to draw and I don’t know how many cards the button will take, I almost always take three to a pair.) And the action player might also sometimes keep a kicker. It doesn’t matter. You take three, even if you have an ace to keep. There are two reasons for this. One is that it’s likely (or at least likelier) your opponent has two aces, thus lessening your chances of catching one. The other is you want to improve your chances of improving your hand. Now, if the action player bets, he may not have improved, but it doesn’t matter—he probably had you beat to begin with. But if he checks, he almost certainly did not improve. The tight player may or may not have improved, but the odds are against it. In either case, if you improve, which means catch a second pair or make three tens, you must bet. You will get called almost 100% of the time. Against the action player, you will probably win 95% of the time; against the tight player, maybe 80% of the time. This is because he will improve maybe a third of the time, but would bet most of those hands to a three-card draw. If the tight player called with queens, jacks, or kings, and made two pair, he may pass to try to trap you. But he will almost always call with just one pair. On the other hand, though, if you do not improve your hand, give it up. Do not bluff. You will get called too often to make that worthwhile. The only time the action player won’t call you, you’ll have him beat anyway. Just show your hand down and realize that most of the time you will lose, but you will have saved that big bet after the draw. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised sometimes by even the tight players who call a raise-open on the big blind with worse than a pair of tens, and you win a pot that you had given up on. But do bet when you improve. I see players make this mistake all the time. They correctly raise-open on the button with a pair of jacks or so. The tight player calls on the big blind and takes three. The button takes three. The tight player checks, and the button just shows down his two pair. Big mistake. He took the worst of it and drew out, so he should now bet his probable winner.
What Are They Thinking
Sometimes I wonder if thought processes go on at all in their heads. I know in brick-and-mortar cardrooms, it’s easy for players to get caught up in their own hands and think only about their own cards, but at an online table, the whole layout is right there on your screen. You are almost forced to think about the other players.
In the five-handed $3-$6 game, KluLes open-raises under the gun. I have an 8-high straight in the cutoff position, and reraise. Befuddled1 caps on the button. The blinds fold. KluLes calls, and of course I call. KluLes draws one card. I stand pat, and say to myself, “I hope he doesn’t have a pat hand.” Befuddled1 doesn’t hesitate for even a moment, and also stands pat. Oops. It is now my intention to check after the draw and call one bet. I’m sure KluLes will check also, because he has two pat hands behind him. This is a standard play in the draw game, because if a player has a big hand, he wants a chance to check-raise. With two pat hands, it might be two bets by the time it gets back to him. But if he bets, two sensible players are likely only to call if all they have is small pat hands. Nothing daunted, KluLes bets. Now I think that if it were just me alone with KluLes, I’d call in a moment, because KluLes is prone to try impossible bluffs. But if I just call here, Befuddled1 will raise with a good hand. Anyway, an 8-high straight cannot possibly be the best hand of someone who is willing to bet into two pat hands and someone who unhesitatingly stood pat behind my pat hand. Befuddled1 cannot be bluffing here. Not many players are capable of capping cold with a pure bluff. Sometimes players stand pat on two pair, but he wouldn’t do that against someone who had already stood pat. He would try to hit the 12-to-1 full house shot. If Befuddled1 really has a pat hand, the odds are more than 6-to-1 it has my hand beat. I will have to fold when Befuddled1 raises, particularly if KluLes reraises, which he would undoubtedly do with a full house, which seems his most likely hand. Similarly, if I raise, I risk possibly four large bets with probably the worst of three hands. Accordingly, I fold. Befuddled1 raises, and I congratulate myself for the fold. KluLes calls, and the hands are shown. Befuddled1 shows his wheel and KluLes obligingly turns over two pair, jacks and tens, so I don’t have to request a hand history. I folded the best hand. (That’s okay. There’s a cardroom saying that you can’t be a winning player if you don’t sometimes fold the best hand.)
What were they thinking? Ninety-nine times out of 100 my decision would be correct in this situation. If KluLes thinks we’re both bluffing, which is highly unlikely, all he has to do is check and call. If either Befuddled1 or I really has a pat hand, one of us will undoubtedly call his bet—and if it’s a big hand, raise. When KluLes bet into two pat hands, KluLes did not know I would fold, so Befuddled1 has to think KluLes has better than a straight. Raising with a 5-high straight that should lose if called seems to make no sense, particularly since it is likely to be reraised if KluLes really has what he should. I suppose KluLes made his final call because the pot had got too big. I wondered what would have happened if I had called KluLes’s bet. Would Befuddled1 still have raised? Had KluLes checked, I would have checked. I wondered if Befuddled1 would have bet then. Probably, but after KluLes called. I would have called, given that the pot was offering at that point more than 8-to-1.
What were they thinking? The permutations of what each thought the others had made me dizzy. A friend who plays a good game of draw had been watching me play while waiting for a seat. He fired off an email that said only “Tightass.” He was teasing, of course, because he, too, would have folded in this exact set of circumstances.
Betting into a Pat Hand
Having said that, though, I have to report on a regular phenomenon. This is another instance in which it helps to have good notes on the players. I regularly see someone bet trips into a pat hand in a raised pot. This, again, makes no sense, but I regularly take advantage of it. Back in the old Gardena Days, if I stood pat in a raised pot and a three-card draw bet into me, I would never raise with less than a good full house, because almost 100% of the time the player would have made a miracle draw and would reraise. I might call, if the player was capable of bluffing into a pat hand, but I wouldn’t raise. But in the online draw games I almost always raise and reraise when a three-card draw bets into my pat hand in a raised pot. I think what usually happens is the player is totally oblivious to the draw, and just bets on the strength of his own hand. Trips is a strong hand after the draw, and wins probably 75% of the time, but it rarely wins against a pat hand. Perhaps I should make that “pat hand,” because a lot of players play pat with two pair. The only way betting into a pat hand can be successful is if the holder of the pat hand is bluffing—in which case he’s likely just to fold—or has stood pat on two pair. In either of those cases, the holder of trips can check and call. Betting is silly, because if the player legitimately holds a straight or better, he will invariably raise. Against all but the tightest players, if I make a full house or better on a three-card draw, I sometimes bet out, knowing they will raise and I can reraise, whereas if I check-raised I might get only two bets. So one of the good things to keep track of in your opponents is what they do with a pat hand when bet into, and whether they routinely bet two pair or trips into a pat hand and then call a raise. Of course, if they do this regularly, they will cost you extra bets when they do happen to make a three-card miracle. But with any pat hand, you are at least a 70-to-1 favorite against a three-card draw. Some players actually bet trips into a pat hand, and reraise when raised. Against players like that, I always cap the betting after the draw.
This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine. © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg