Playing Overcards on the Flop

Since Limit Texas Hold'em is a "big card game", you will find yourself in many situations where all you hold on the flop are two overcards.

It is very common for players to draw incorrectly to overcards, and this too could prove to be a substantial leak in your game.

The essential problem with overcards is that you are drawing to a weak hand that might not win the pot, even if you hit your hand. There are many situations where your draw is virtually worthless and will end up costing you more money than it will make you.

The times you hit your hand and win will simply not make up for the times you hit and lose, unless you only draw under perfect conditions.

In other words, you would not be relinquishing any significant positive expected value by never drawing to overcards. It is almost always a marginal decision, and most beginners would do better if they always folded their overcards.

But, then again, you are still not playing perfect poker if you are always folding overcards on the flop. The trick is to know when the conditions justify drawing to overcards and when they do not.

This article aims to help you make the correct decisions. We will not discuss situations were your overcards hold additional value like an open-ended straight draw (this is a strong hand) or a gut-shot straight draw, but simply the situations were you hold six outs at best.

General Guidelines

Most importantly, you must realize that, at best, you have six outs to improve your hand after the flop.

This translates into approximately 7-to-1 against improving on the turn (12.8%), and you are drawing to one pair. This is a relatively weak hand and you will need better odds than these to draw, most of the time.

Compare this to a gut-shot straight draw, which has only four outs but is a draw to a much stronger hand, and you will understand the difference.

Essentially, you need very good pot-odds to draw and, in addition, there must be other circumstances existing in your favor. This is due to a number of factors:

  1. Against sets, two pairs, or overpairs, you are basically drawing dead.
  2. One of your outs may complete an opponent's flush or straight draw.
  3. One of your outs may give an opponent a two-pair; this is especially true when one of your overcards is an ace. More players will play and stay in the pot when they hold an ace as their side-card.
  4. One of your outs may give an opponent the same pair but with a better kicker than yours.
  5. One of your outs may give an opponent a set.
  6. One of your outs may give an opponent a straight or flush draw, which ends up outdrawing you on the river.

On those occasions when you choose to draw, you must be fairly certain that you are drawing to the best hand and that the pot justifies calling a bet.

The situation must be almost perfect for both of these criteria to be met and, as a result, it does not happen often.

The following are important factors to be taken into consideration (when you are considering drawing):

  1. The best flops for overcards are rainbow flops of all rags, like 8-5-2, 9-7-3, 7-3-2, and the like.
  2. Dangerous flops are connected flops, suited flops, flops containing a high pair, and flops consisting entirely of high cards. Unless you do not have a great draw yourself to go with your overcards, you should not play.
  3. You want to be up against few opponents as this decrease the chances of drawing dead, or to second-best hands.
  4. Holding back-door flush or straight potential will slightly increase your odds and can give you a chance of winning the pot on the turn with a semi-bluff, in case you pick up a strong draw.
  5. The pot should be large, though this is seldom true in pots with few opponents (see Number 3).

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