Big drawing hands can be tricky to play out of position. So, I’m using a real-life example to break it down. I’ll express and explain what I was thinking throughout to use as a teaching aid.

Let’s dissect a hand I played last year at 2-5 at Maryland Live! in Baltimore. You may not agree with the way I played this hand, nor with my reasoning. 

But that is the beauty of poker.

Table of Contents

Different Analyses from Different Angles

There are different ways to analyse the same situation. More than one of them can be correct, although some are flat out wrong. 

Reasonable minds will disagree. And that’s what makes it interesting.

It’s a 2-5 game, and my stack is $800. The table has been aggressive with some very strong players. I know three of them as local pros

The Villain (V) in this hand has me covered. He is a full-time grinder who loves to steal pots and likes to intimidate his opponents with his play. 

I’m in the big blind with big blind

JTs Preflop Action Analysis

The action folds to V in middle-position

  • V raises to $15. 
  • Two players call.
  • And now, it is my turn. 

There is $62 in the pot, and I’m already in for $5. 

With only $10 to call, my pot odds are 6-1. 

I would call with any decent hand in this spot, and TJ suited is obviously strong enough. Before I make an automatic play, though, I like to consider my options. 

What about raising?

I think a raise would be a mistake here. A hefty raise, a squeeze, in this case, would possibly take down a small pot. 

But there are two other possible outcomes. 

  1. I might get one or more callers, effectively bloating the pot out of position without a very strong hand. 
  2. Or, worse, someone could re-raise me and knock me out of a hand that can flop well. A hand where I had decent implied odds!

So, I believe a call is in order and is, in fact, the only good play.

I call, and the pot is now $71, accounting for a $5 rake and $1 to the bad beat jackpot. 

The action is closed, and we see the following flop:

Flop

JTs Postflop Action Analysis

That’s a beautiful looking flop for my hand. I have flopped an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. I am first to act, and I weigh my choice of leading out or checking. 

Betting is not a crazy play because I want to build a pot. If I hit one of my draws, I win a big one. But I am not a fan of the donk bet (betting out into a pre-flop raiser) here.

Out of Position
Executing the Donk(key) Bet

Given what I know about this player, he is highly likely to continuation bet (cbet). Also, I don’t have a hand yet. 

So, if everyone checks, I get to see another card. An 8 or a K on the turn is unlikely to set off too many alarm bells. 

I might even make a disguised monster.

Sure enough, V bets $65, and the action folds to me. With a likely 14 outs, I can rule out folding. 

Before I decide what to do, I like to think about what my opponent can have – 

  • He bet almost the pot into four other players. 
  • I don’t think that’s a good time to bluff
  • He could have AQ, Q9, an overpair such as AA or KK. 
  • He may even have a different flush draw, which would probably be better than mine. 
  • There’s also a chance he flopped a set.

Next, I like to look at pot odds

It costs me $65 to win $135, so I’m getting approximately 2-1. 

My remaining stack is $785.

JTs Postflop- Crunching the Numbers

Let me consider my equity against his possible holdings. I use poker cruncher on the iPhone for these calculations – 

  • AQ (not both spades): I have 56% equity, so I’m the favourite.
  • Q9: I have 48% equity. I have pot odds to call, getting 2-1.
  • KK, AA: Close to even money and pot odds to call, KK takes away two of my outs. And, if he has a spade, I’m a little worse, but still within a few points of even. So, I have pot odds to call regardless.
  • A set of 5s, Qs or 9s: He is 60% to win, and even with 40% odds to win, I have express odds to call.
  • Bigger spade draw, such as A♠K♠:He is 64% to win, so getting 2-1 it’s a wash.
  • JT: I am freerolling against this holding, as only I have a flush draw.

These calculations can be misleading. While I may have express odds to call, the poker cruncher percentages assume that I will see two cards

In fact, my likelihood of hitting on the turn is half of the equity that I get from the app. If I call the turn and miss, and he shoves, I will not have the odds to call another bet.

Poker Equity
JTs Postflop - Crunching the Numbers

But my implied odds are tremendous. The stronger Villain’s hand, the higher my implied odds. With almost six times the pot in my stack, I’m hoping he has two pair or a set. 

Even though I’m behind right now, if I hit my hand (and he does not improve to a boat or quads), I should win massively.

JTs Postflop – Making the Right Decision

Okay, so I’ve ruled out folding. Yeah, that was kind of obvious. 

But do I call or raise? 

Well, I am out of position, and if I call, I will miss my draw 70% of the time. If Villain has a made hand, he will bet the turn on such a wet board. So,  I may not get the odds I need to call. I also know he’s capable of a two-street bluff. So, I don’t want to give him that chance. 

Clearly, raising is a better play here. 

So, the question is, how much to raise?

  • A textbook “standard” raise is 3x his bet, or $195. This amount is about a pot-sized raise (his bet plus the pot).
     
  • If I raise to $195, there will be $395 in the pot, and I will have $590 left. I should have a plan if V ships it on me.

In that case, I would have to call $590 to win $1,375, so I would get 2.3 – 1 odds. I’m most likely a slight favourite or even odds. So that would be an easy call. 

What about if I raise it  to $195 and he calls? This decision is a tough one.

  • If I miss the turn, what do I do? On a blank turn, he will probably be way ahead. If V bets big, it will be a mistake for me to call.
     
  • I don’t think bluffing the turn would be a good play on my part. I believe V probably has something since he led into four players and then called my raise on the flop.
     
  • If I raise 3x, I’m hoping he just folds.

What about a smaller raise such as 2x?

If you run through the maths, it plays out about the same. But I think Villain might find a fold with a Q to the 3x bet and not the 2x bet.

What if I shove the flop?

I’d be putting in $720 into a pot of $265. That’s too much of an overbet. I would not be realising the value that I have in the hand.

My friend and cash game specialist Ari Eiblum suggests raising more. In fact, a standard 3x raise makes sense in position. 

  • But out of position, having to act first on the turn, it’s better to go bigger, like $240. This way, I can easily call if he jams, and I am applying significantly more pressure.
     
  • A good player does not want to lose $800 with one pair, and my action would indicate that I might be ready to go all the way.

So, his decision might be for the amount of all my remaining chips. He could even fold top pair top kicker (TPTK) to a 4.5x raise.

Poker pro and Poker PowHer instructor Amanda Botfeld adds a good argument for check-raising here. The cards that make my hand are mostly scare cards, the king and the spades.

So, by taking the betting lead, I don’t have to worry about those cards killing my action. And, if we end up all-in, at least I’m getting paid in full.

Check-raising this big draw also balances my play for the times that I do flop a set or two pair.

At the time, I decided to raise to $165 (between 2x and 3x). Villain  called, and the pot was$465.

I had $620 left.

Drawing Hands and The Power of Position

Drawing Hands and The Power of PositionDrawing Hands and The Power of Position

At this moment, I could feel the power of position. I was extremely uncomfortable knowing that unless I hit my draw on the turn, this hand was going to be extremely challenging to play. This thought was especially poignant when up against a strong, aggressive opponent. 

While I’m over 50% to hit my draw by the end, I’m only 28% to hit it on the next card. Also, even if I hit a spade, it’s not the nuts. 

I’ll go broke if he has a bigger flush.

Turn:
Turn

That is an ugly card! My options are check, bet small, bet big, shove. 

Let’s examine each one.

  • Checking
    If I check, he might bet big and deny me the odds to call. That would suck because I have already put a significant portion of my stack into the pot. Also,  I have a good amount of equity. Could he check back? I don’t think so. 

    Checking on my part shows great weakness after raising the flop. Villain knows that if he was ahead on the flop, he’s still ahead. Since I’m out of position, I have no new information about his hand. So, my view of his possible holdings hasn’t changed. 

    I don’t like to check here. I’m basically giving up on the hand. 

    Most likely, he’ll bet, and I’ll fold. Yuck.
     
  • Betting Small
    I could bet small, say $175, as a blocking bet, hoping he’ll just call with a made hand on the weaker side of his range. If I do that, and he shoves, then what? At that point, calling a bet of $445 with $1,260 in the pot would give me pot odds of 2.8 – 1. 

    Odds against hitting my straight or flush are 3.2 – 1, so I would have to fold. Furthermore, what if V has a bigger flush draw, say, with a queen? 

    So, I would fold - bad result.
     
  • Betting Big
    What if I bet $400? If he shoves now, I’m getting a price to snap call. The pot will be $1,265, and I would have to pay only $220 to call. With pot odds of 5.75 – 1, I never have to consider folding.
     
    • In this case, 28% of the time, I’ll hit and probably win.
    • 72% of the time, I’ll miss and lose. 
    • And, of course, sometimes he’ll fold a better hand to my $400 bet.
       
  • Moving All-in (Shoving)
    What if I go all-in? That move will apply maximum pressure. Villain could even fold AQ. He would undoubtedly fold all naked draws where he might be ahead - such as A5 with the A of spades.

    If he calls, I still have 28% to hit my draw and probably win.

So, what is the best play?

  • Check?
  • Bet $175?
  • Bet $400?
  • Shove for $620?

In hindsight, I like the $400 bet. It applies pressure and gets some better hands to fold. It keeps me in the hand if he shoves, and saves me $220 if he calls, and I miss the river. 

Bet Sizing Draws on the TurnBet Sizing Draws on the Turn

But I did not have the luxury of all this planning during the heat of the battle.

And so, I bet $175. He called.

River:
River

JTs River Action Analysis

Now what? Is there a chance my pair of jacks is good? I don’t think so. Can I bluff him off the hand? There is $815 in the pot, and I have $445 left.

I showed some weakness with my small turn bet. I think he’s pot committed and unlikely to fold a better hand. 

If I check and he bets, I suppose I have to fold.

I don’t see what I could be beating that would bet the river behind me. If V has a lone 9, he’ll check behind. Many of his queens will also check behind. If he bets, 

I’m fairly sure I’m beat.

So, I checked. Villain goes into the tank, and I believe it’s an act, and he’s going to shove with a set or two pair. I plan to fold and be grateful I still have $445 in my stack. 

But, to my surprise, he checks. I show my hand kind of sheepishly,

To my amazement, he says, “nice hand”, and mucks his cards.

JTs Post-River – Breaking It Down

I spent hours going over this hand with friends and thinking about it. I concluded that he probably had AK of spades. Any queen beat me, and no other combo-draw make sense, given my cards. 

AK of spades fits every street. 

Raise preflop>>>bet on the flop>>> and call a raise with the nut flush draw and two overcards. 

On the turn, Villain called my smallish bet to see a cheap river. And he checked back the river when he missed, knowing he was no good there. But he probably did not imagine that I made my hand on the river that way. 

He undoubtedly missed a bet, but it would have been a seriously tough play to try to bluff me there. Given my small turn bet and river check, he might have considered it, 

But he also might have felt his high cards had a little bit of showdown value.

Drawing OOP - Lessons Learnt

This hand shows just how many decisions there can be in a poker game with somewhat deep stacks. I got lucky this time. But I undoubtedly misplayed the turn and bet too small on the flop.

I could have easily had this pot stolen from me.

Villain did not play that well either. If we look at the hand from his perspective, I made a small raise on the flop and a down bet on the turn. 

Villain should have thought about me as his opponent and concluded: 

  • Would I do that with two pair or stronger? 
  • On that wet board, wouldn’t I have had it all in by the turn? 
  • And if I didn’t have a hand at least as good as two pair, then Villain should have applied maximum pressure to me on the turn and shoved. 

Given my plan to make a blocking bet and then fold to a raise, it would have worked. And even if I had a one-pair hand, I probably fold to a shove there. 

My actions told precisely the story that was true. 

I did not have a strong, made hand, and I did not play like I did. 

Lucky for me, he was not as good as I initially thought he was, and he let me off easy

I could tell he realised it when he saw my hand.

That’s poker!
 

About the Author
By

Dr. Avi Rubin is a professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a wildly popular poker course, and founder of the CyberSecurity company Harbor Labs.

He has been studying the theory and math of poker for over 15 years. He has been a regular player at the World Series of Poker tournaments in Las Vegas since 2014, but he enjoys the cash games there even more.  When not working or playing poker, he loves spending time with his family on his boat, River Bet.

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