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Back to the Drawing Board
Perry Friedman
October 17, 2005

You are in the big blind with Ts-8s against a player who smooth-called pre-flop. The flop comes K-X-X with two spades. What do you do?

You would like to make your flush, and you don't want to pay too much to get there. Instinctively, you think checking is the best way to get a free card, and you're right.

In fact, checking is the only way to get a free card, but it may not give you the best opportunity to make your hand, nor will it pay you maximum value when you make the flush.

Suppose your opponent bets the pot. Now you're getting 2-1 to call for a 4-1 chance of making your hand. You don't even get to see the turn card. You've been priced out.

What happens if you lead out with a small bet? If you're against a player who likes to slow play or a player who will bluff you out with a big bet, a small bet gives you the best chance of seeing the turn.

How small is a small bet? Try betting between 1/3 and 1/4 of the pot. If there is $300 in the pot and you bet $100, you are now getting the right price to make your flush. If you bet $75, you are now getting better than pot odds, and this doesn't account for your implied odds, which take into account the amount of money your opponent will bet or call on the turn and river. If you make your flush on the turn, and your opponent is willing to call your $400 bet, you are getting implied odds of $300 (current pot size on the flop) + $400 (expected amount your opponent will call on the turn) = $700 to $100 (your bet on the flop), or 7-1.

This is an even better play when your drawing hand is less obvious. Suppose the flop is Q-9-6. Now you are drawing to the double gut shot straight, where a 7 or a J makes your hand. While an 8 or a K is an obvious scare card, a 7 looks like a card unlikely to have helped anyone. (The risk factor here is that the J might give you the "idiot end" of the straight against an opponent holding K-J, and your 1/4 pot bet is exactly the right price for him to call.)

In a tournament, this type of drawing strategy can become a riskier and less profitable play, especially early on. Because you start with a limited number of chips in tournament play, your odds need to be closer to 5-1 or even 6-1 before you should consider risking them on a draw, and potentially leaving yourself short stacked.

The important thing when drawing is to be the aggressor. Losing initiative leaves you vulnerable to being priced out of the pot, whether it's by a made hand or a bluff. If you want to see another card at the right price, your best bet is to be the bettor.

Perry Friedman
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