Poker Lesson 41

Pot odds, part VIII: Do you really have the best hand when your draw hits?
So far in this mini-series of lessons, I have assumed that if you hit your draw, you will win the pot. A good poker player however knows from long and painful experience that this is not always the case in real life.

The same card that helps you, may also help your opponent to hit an even better hand. Many, many amateur players have committed the mistake of cheering silently when they hit their draw, only to find – once the smoke clears after the last betting round – that their oh-so-nice finished hand in fact lost to another and better hand; and they did not even realize that the possibility existed.

One specific and not too uncommon situation in hold'em is when you have a draw to a straight. If you are holding the K and Q of clubs in hand, the flop and turn are J of hearts – 10 of diamonds – 3 of hearts – 6 of clubs and the river is the Ace of hearts, then do not stare yourself blind at the fact that you just hit a "Broadway", the highest possible straight. There are now also three heart cards on the board, so at the moment one of your opponents may be holding a finished flush to beat you.

The very existence of a possible flush draw will reduce the value of a straight draw, since 1/4 of the cards that give you the straight may at the same time give another player a flush. If you suspect that you with a straight draw are up against another player with a flush draw, your card odds are sometimes reduced to the point where it may be correct of you to fold instead of to call.

In the above situation, with the river card to come, your card odds for a "pure" straight draw which does not at the same time give another player a flush, are a paltry almost 7 to 1; among the 46 cards remaining in the deck, only 6 will give you a "pure" straight.

If neither the straight nor the flush hits, you must of course evaluate the situation and try to judge whether you can brazenly bet out to win the pot, alternatively win the showdown on higher cards alone if the player who drew to the flush gets suspicious and calls you. She may just have a pair, if for example holding K-10 in hearts in the above example, when the river card misses you both!

Another classic example is when you hit your flush on the last card, but your opponent hits a full house at the same time. Beware of the board pairing on the river!

In hold'em, you must always be observant of the fact that IF there are two possible cards which match the board better than your hole cards do, they MAY at that very moment be sitting in another player's hand. This is not the same as always chickening out and folding if you get raised by the other player – but always ask yourself the question of whether you really do hold the best hand, if and when you hit your draw.