No-Limit Strategy: Position and Drawing Hands Pt. 2

Michael Vela, Rodney Legendre

In No-Limit Hold'em, drawing hands can often be very profitable.

In part one of this article, we analyzed the play of drawing hands in heads-up situations and concluded an aggressive approach is usually best.

In part two, we'll discuss playing drawing hands in multi-way pots. To play correctly, and thus maximize potential profit, it's critical to understand how position influences optimal strategy.

As a general rule, against exactly three opponents, it's usually correct to play as you would in a heads-up pot - aggressively.

One of the few exceptions to this rule is if you're second to act and the pre-flop raiser has position on you. In this situation, if the first player bets and all you have is a draw, it's generally best to proceed very cautiously - at least until you see how the pre-flop raiser acts.

However, if you're in a pot against more than three players, your position - relative to both the pre-flop raiser and the post-flop bettor (if you're neither) - is an important factor to consider before developing a strategy for the hand.

Consider one of the more common cases:

You're in a standard $2/$4 NL game and are dealt 7 6 in the cut-off. A player in middle position limps in, so you limp too. The button then raises to $18.

Both the big blind and the middle position limper call and so do you. If the flop comes K T 5, how should you play the hand?

If the action is checked to you, it's usually best to check as well. Let the pre-flop raiser (the button) decide what to do before committing more chips to the pot. If he bets, you'll see how the other two players react to the bet before you have to make a decision.

If either player check-raises, you can muck your hand, saving a bet. If both players call the bet, you might also consider folding. This may seem counterintuitive (as you would seem be getting very good odds to try and hit your flush), but with two callers, it's also much more likely you're up against a bigger flush draw.

Of course, if you'd flopped an open-ended straight draw instead of the flush draw, you'd happily call despite drawing to a worse hand (a straight as opposed to a flush), because then you'd be drawing to the nuts. Generally speaking, in multi-way pots, the quality of your draw is much more important than it is in heads-up play.

It's significantly more profitable to be drawing to the nut flush or the top end of the straight draw. There's nothing worse than making your draw and discovering you still have the second-best hand.

Alternatively, if either of the players acting before you bets the flop, you'll have to decide between raising (ill-advised), calling or folding. If you think the button (the pre-flop raiser) is likely to raise, you'll be better off folding. If instead you think he may call or even fold, then calling is perfectly acceptable.

There are several important positional factors to consider before deciding on a particular action (when you've flopped a draw). Successful players, at minimum, will automatically be aware of the following:

  1. Who was the pre-flop raiser, and where is the post-flop action most likely to come from (in relation to you)?
  2. How many people will act after you?
  3. If the pre-flop raiser has position on you, how many people are between you and him and are these players tricky or straightforward?

Assuming you have, at least, considered the above, what should you do with this information?

The basic principle is relatively simple:

With a drawing hand (on the flop), you ideally would prefer one of two outcomes - you successfully steal the pot, or you get the right odds (pot and/or implied) to try and make your hand (this is often easier if there's more than one opponent). Both outcomes are okay.

What you don't want is to end up heads-up against a strong made hand without the correct odds to draw to your hand. Although this may occasionally happen if you're aggressively raising (or re-raising) your draws, it's generally best to try and avoid this situation.

What does this suggest about optimal post-flop strategy? If you're acting immediately before the pre-flop raiser (or the player you believe is intending to bet the flop) and the action is checked to you, you should generally check and re-evaluate when the action gets back to you.

By betting, you tend to reduce your implied odds. If the original raiser has a hand and raises your flop bet, it will usually drive out the other players leaving you heads-up (and out of position) with a drawing hand unlikely to be a favorite.

If you're first to act and the pre-flop raiser is last to act, you have three options:

  1. Bet. In this case, you're hoping to either pick up the pot or that the players in the middle call and build a pot for you. If you get a couple of callers and then the pre-flop raiser raises, you'll have to decide whether to call (and hope the other players do too, giving you the correct odds to make your hand), or re-raise (representing a set or two pair) and try to steal the pot.
  2. Check and call (if he or others bet). Here you're simply trying to make your hand cheaply and hope to get the correct odds to do so.
  3. Check (with the intention of making a large check-raise to try and take down the pot immediately). A problem with this strategy is if you're up against a real hand. If your opponent moves all-in, you may have to call, depending on the stack sizes and the pot odds. Or if he simply calls, you'll have to act first on the turn and if you miss your draw, you'll be in an awkward spot.

Alternatively, if you're last to act and the pre-flop raiser is immediately before you, it may be best to call (rather than raise) if he bets. Your intention in this case is to try and bring along some of the other players (who checked to the raiser on the flop), thus improving both your implied and your pot odds.

Finally, if you're last to act and the original raiser acts first and bets the flop, you once again have some good options. If other players in the middle call, you can either call, trying to hit your hand cheaply then extract value (this is generally the better approach, because the chances of stealing the pot against multiple players are relatively low) or play more aggressively and raise on the semi-bluff.

The main point to remember:

To maximize your profit on your drawing hands, be aware of your relative position and adjust your play accordingly.

Good luck, and good flops.

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