No-Limit Strategy: Position and Drawing Hands

Erica Schoenberg

In No-Limit Hold'em, playing drawing hands well is critical to your overall profitability.

Most of the time, playing aggressively is best. But knowing exactly when to jam the pot and when to call is tricky and usually depends on whether the pot is heads-up or multi-way.

Playing drawing hands aggressively does three important things:

  1. Forces your opponent(s) to lay down marginal hands
  2. Creates doubt about the true strength of your hand (and helps disguise strong hands)
  3. Gets you bigger pots when your draw hits

In this article, we'll discuss how position affects drawing hands in a heads-up pot.

General Rule:

When you're heads-up, drawing hands should be played aggressively - independently of your position. Because you only have one opponent to beat, taking an aggressive approach will often win you the pot without going to a showdown.

In Position

When you're in position heads-up, you simply have more options. Typically, if I'm in position and flop any reasonable draw (flush, straight or even a gut-shot straight draw with two overcards), I'm going to play the hand fast.

If my opponent bets the flop, I'll raise; if he checks, I'll bet. In this sense, position doesn't have a huge impact on the flop. Whether you're first or last to act, you'll be the aggressor.

But things can get tricky if your opponent has a strong hand. If he bets, you raise and he re-raises all-in on the flop, or he checks to you and then makes a large check-raise when you bet, it's decision time.

In either situation, you simply have to go with a little bit of math and your gut feeling. Depending on how deep the stacks are, if you do the math, you'll probably find calling (or moving all in against the check-raise) is never as bad a play as it might intuitively seem.

Sometimes it's better to make a (slightly) negative EV play (for example, moving all-in) if it results in your opponents making fewer moves (bluffs) at you in the future. As an added bonus, once they've seen you're capable of moving all-in on the come, you'll also tend to get more action on your big made hands.

Playing the Turn

In heads-up action, the play of drawing hands on the flop is not influenced tremendously by position - you're simply going to play your hand aggressively. It's really on the turn where position most comes into play.

Let's assume you've missed your draw and one player, who's called your bet (or raise) on the flop, checks to you on the turn. If you're in position, you have a couple of options:

One, you can keep representing strength and fire a second barrel. This puts your opponent, who's out of position, in a tough spot as he'll have to fear another bet on the river.

Two, you can simply check behind and see the river card for free (an option you don't have if you're out of position).

Checking behind may seem weak at first, but if your opponent has ever seen you bet the flop, check the turn and then bet the river with a strong hand such as top pair, top kicker or a big over pair, then a bet-check-bet pattern can be effective.

Using this betting pattern will make your drawing hands and your strong made hands look exactly the same, and that can only benefit you.

Another profitable situation that can pop up is if your opponent flops a strong hand but waits until the turn to make his move. If you're playing aggressively (which, after you've read this article, you will be) and fire a second barrel on the turn (after missing your draw) and your opponent raises, his raise will very often be too small.

Case in point: Imagine on the turn you've bet $80 into a $100 pot. An opponent with a strong hand (but not a lock) will often only raise to $200. So you're now getting 3.2-1 pot odds. If both of you have money behind, you'll have an easy call based on the implied odds.

This kind of betting error is amazingly common, and it's an especially profitable opportunity if you're in position. Your opponent has to act first on the river and will usually end up paying you off if you hit your hand. He simply won't be able to convince himself you were on the draw.

Playing Drawing Hands Out of Position

Simply put: Playing drawing hands out of position gives you fewer options and can get you into awkward spots if you miss (both on the turn and on the river). So generally it tends to be less profitable. But, despite this, it's still critical to play aggressively.

The primary reason it's less profitable is if you miss your draw on the turn, you don't have the option of checking behind and taking a free card. If you check and your opponent senses weakness and bets the turn, you'll usually have to give up the hand and miss the extra shot at the pot on the river.

To make matters worse, if you bet, a large raise may shut you out and again cost you an opportunity to make your hand (and presumably win the pot) on the river.

When you're out of position and flop a draw, you should still bet. You also can try and win the pot right then with a large check-raise, but although this will often win the pot, if it doesn't and you miss on the turn, you'll again be in an awkward spot.

Anytime your opponent calls a bet on the flop and you miss on the turn, you'll have a decision to make. Lots of players weakly check their drawing hands and then fold (to a bet). But if you find yourself playing this way, you're costing yourself a lot of money.

To plug this leak, you have to do two things: increase the percentage of times you fire a second barrel, and be more selective pre-flop (play fewer drawing hands) when you're out of position.

Remember, if you want to maximize profit on drawing hands, position and aggression are the key elements of success. In heads-up play, any reasonable draw should be played aggressively. The number of outs you have may vary depending on the draw, but the way you should play the hand doesn't change that much.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we'll discuss how position impacts drawing hands in multi-way pots.

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