Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Playing Aggressively with Drawing Hands

I've logged a lot of time in the last few months in the Mid/High Stakes forum at 2+2. While there's definitely a lot of dross to wade through, there's also some pretty valuable nuggets to be gleaned. My typical drill is to read the hand history, ponder a bit on what line(s) I might take, then read assorted responses, seeing if my take jives with the general consensus (or at least the consensus of posters that seem to know what the hell they're talking about).

One area I noticed where I seemed to be pretty consistently off target was play with drawing hands in good position, hands like KQs, QJs, J10s, etc. My tendency was to to fold them from early position, limp with them from mid/late position if there were already a few limpers, or open-raise from mid/late position if it was folded to me. If there was already a raise I'd almost always fold them and never cold-call or re-raise.

What I noticed, though, is that a lot of good players were not only playing those hands more often, but they were playing them more aggressively pre-flop, even three-betting or capping, especially when it was multiway action. They were even pumping in pre-flop raises with hands like KQo, even in the face of action, which seemed pretty suicidal, as they had to be behind to at least an A, and more than likely a biggish pair somewhere.

Hmm, my monkey brain thought, that's odd. Yeah, sure, if you hit the flop hard you're in great shape, and that looks like a stroke of genius, but you rarely hit the flop hard and pumping all the money in pre-flop seems like a bad play, given all the times you have to insta-muck on the flop. Plus with so many players in you'll never be able to drive them out via sheer aggressiveness if the flop misses you.

Further pondering and experimentation at the tables, though, slowly brought me around to that way of thinking. If you're a good player and you have good position, you should be looking for reasons to play hands, especially in hands that show the early signs of being big, multiway pots. If you're going to play those hands, you need to play them aggressively, especially if they're drawing hands. While pumping bets into the pot pre-flop with a drawing hand seems counter-intuitive, it serves the dual purpose of building a pot and disguising your hand, as the obvious read on your action would be that you hold a big pair.

Let's look at a couple of example hands.

Example Hand #1: 15/30 Party game, I'm on the button with Qh Jh. Reasonable table, a little loose aggressive, but no outright maniacs or fishies.

Folds to UTG+1 who calls, MP1 calls, MP2 raises, folds to me.

Damnit, this is one of those hands that I want to fold but know I shouldn't, based on recent studyin' and learnin'. I can't cold-call, as that makes baby Jebus weep. If I can't fold or call, that only leaves one option. Damnit.

I raise, SB calls, BB calls, UTG+1 calls, MP1 calls, MP2 calls. 6 players see a flop of Kh 10h 5s.

Me likee.

SB checks, BB checks, UTG+1 checks, MP1 checks, MP2 bets.

I'd have to take my shoes off to count my exact outs here, but it's, umm, a lot. Raisey-raise.

I raise, SB folds, BB calls, UTG+1 folds, MP1 calls, MP2 three-bets.

Hmm. I probably need to actually stop and think now. I'm obviously currently behind in the hand but that was a perfect flop and I have a huge drawing hand. BB and MP1 previously cold-called two bets so they're probably coming along, even if I cap here. MP2 could be drawing to the nut flush, so that might negate some heart outs, but I can't fear monsters, as he could just as easily have a set or two pair, or even getting jiggy with Ah Kx, etc.

I cap, BB calls, MP1 calls, MP2 calls. Turn is 3c, putting Kh 10h 5s 3c on the board.

BB checks, MP1 checks, MP2 bets.

Still not there, and MP2 is still firing. If I thought BB and MP1 would cold-call again I'd still raise, but if I lose them I don't think I have the odds to be playing that aggressively.

I call, BB calls, MP1 calls. Turn is 4s, putting Kh 10h 5s 3c 4s on the board.


BB checks, MP1 checks, MP2 bets. I fold, BB folds, MP1 calls. MP2 wins a ginormous pot with 10 10, MP1 shows Ah Qc.


I obviously bled away a lot of chips there, but the huge draw + multiway action pretty much justified it. If you assign reasonable hands to each unknown hand and factor in what MP1 and MP2 actually had, I'm about 33% to win after the flop, with MP2 about 55% and everyone else trailing badly. Even though I obviously have the worst of it, the cold calls from the largely dominated hands make raising/capping the correct play, even against an obviously made hand of some sort. You could likely argue that I should have raised the turn as well, given the fact that BB and MP1 have already cold-called so much.

The pot ended up being $690, so let's just assume $700 as an average. I invested a total of $165 in the hand. If we run this hand out 100 times, I'll lose a total of $11,055, as I'll lose 67% of the time. I'll also win 33% of the time, raking in a total of $23,100. Subtract my own investment ($165) from each winning hand and that leaves a profit of $17,755. Subract the total lost when I lose ($11,055) from the profit generated when I win ($17,755) and you end up with an overall profit of $6,700, or +$67/hand.

Interesting, that. On the surface, it looks like I'm overplaying pretty much the whole way, except for the turn. But given all the cold-callers that play along, aggressively playing my drawing hand is actually pretty profitable. But on average that play produces $67 in profit, every time I make it in those conditions.

One thing to note about this hand, that's a recurring theme, is that a lot of the value in it is pumping bets in pre-flop with drawing hands but also having the discipline to fold when the flop isn't beneficial. If the flop had instead come Jc 8h 2s, and SB bet, BB called, UTG+1 called, MP1 called, and MP2 raised, I would insta-fold, despite flopping top pair with decent kicker. If you're going to play aggressively with drawing hands, kudos, but you also have to be able to abort the mission based on the action, even when you have top pair.

Example Hand #2: 15/30 Party game, I'm on the button with Kc Qd. Fairly tight table with one obvious maniac.

UTG calls, folds to MP1 who calls, MP2 calls, CO (maniac) raises.

Gah. This is another one of those hands that I'd prefer to fold but should likely raise with. This is sort of an odd case, as I've actually got a decent drawing hand in a big multiway pot but also a decent heads-up hand if I can knock out enough players. The raise from the maniac could mean anything. If I three-bet, I'll likely knock out the blinds and possibly one of the limpers, given how tight the table has been.

I three-bet. SB folds, BB calls, UTG calls, MP1 calls, MP2 calls, CO calls. 6 players see a flop of Jh 10d 4h.

That's a pretty damn good flop, all things considered. Don't like the hearts but if I hit my straight I'll likely get paid off big-time, especially if an A comes.

Checks all the way around to me. I bet. SB calls, UTG folds, MP1 calls, MP2 calls, CO check-raises.

Hmm. Me no likee that, but I've still got a decent draw and all sorts of action in a big pot. It's also not the worst thing in the world if I drive anyone out with a raise, as it could improve my chance of winning with a pair of kings or queens, if CO is aggressively playing something like AJ, which appears to be the case. Remember, stay aggressive, just like all those good players you study who keep firing with draws.

I three bet. SB calls, MP1 folds, MP2 calls, CO caps, everyone calls.

Turn is 6s, putting Jh 10d 4h 6s on the board.

Checks to CO, who bets.

Hmm. Still drawing but the pot is huge. Do I just call or raise? I'd be tempted to raise but with the possible flush I think I have to just call here.

I call, SB folds, MP2 calls.

River is Ad, putting up a board of Jh 10d 4h 6s Ad.

Boo ya.

MP2 bets, CO raises, I three bet. MP2 calls, CO caps, I call, MP2 calls. I win with the straight, CO flips over Ac Jc, MP2 shows Ah 6h.


Playing the assign random reasonable hand game, I was about 20% to win on the flop, with CO (As Jc) at about 32% and MP2 (Ah 6h) at 40%, and everyone else far behind. CO jumps to about a 55% favorite when the turn blanks, but I've still got about 18%, with MP2 at about 24%.

In the actual hand, I won a pot of $960. That includes some pretty heavy river action, though, when we all hit what seemed to be our money card, so let's just say the average pot won would be $800. My investment would be about $225 on average, so the 80 times I lose cost me $18,000. The 20 times I win produce $11,500 in profit. So overall this hand results in -$6,500 for me, or -$65/hand.

But, umm, wait. I won, right? Big pot pushed to me. This looks a lot like that other hand, where you kept betting aggressively on the draw. How can the results be so different?

Unlike the first hand, where I was a dog to only one other opponent, I was a dog to two different opponents, one with top pair and the other with a nut flush draw. That makes a huge difference expectation-wise, as it's only a break-even proposition for me if I'm a dog in the range of 27-30%, and only gets significantly profitable when my odds of winning are over 30%. With that board it became pretty obvious that someone was on a flush draw and someone likely had a J with a big kicker, so I should have bailed on the hand early, instead of firing away aggressively with my draw.

Moral of the Story:

Proper play with drawing hands at first seems counter-intuitive, as far as raising and capping with a drawing hand. If you're going to play these hands, though, that's really the only way to play them. Your overall value in hands like these comes from aggressively raising while you're still on the draw, so you need to avoid the temptation to try to limp along and cheaply see the next card. The reason this play is +EV to begin with stems from aggressive play, even when you know you're behind and need help, as you have to build big pots when you win to compensate for all the busted draws and hands you insta-muck when the flop doesn't help you.

That said, you have to know when to get out of these hands. If the flop doesn't help you, abort the mission. If the flop helps you but leaves you vulnerable in two directions (either to a bigger made hand or a bigger draw or a combination of both), abort the mission. While these hands thrive on multi-way action, that's a double-edged sword, as you can almost be certain that someone is on a flush draw, someone has top pair, etc.

It's pretty self-apparent, but the size and quality of your draw obviously matters. In the first example, the straight/flush draw gives me more than enough outs to justify pumping in as many bets as I can. In the second example, though, I only have the open-ended straight draw, which isn't quite enough with the guy on the nut flush draw in the mix as well.

You also have to pick your spots with these. If you're on the button with J10s and it folds to the CO, who raises, it's very often correct to simply fold. You have no guarantee you'll be getting the multi-way action you need, as everyone else may fold, leaving you heads-up with J high.

Like I mentioned before, you also often have to lay down top pair, even after pumping in bets pre-flop. If people are betting at you after your show of strength pre-flop, you're almost always in bad shape, and likely outkicked/dominated from the get-go.

Don't be afraid to be aggressive with drawing hands pre-flop, as long as you can release them when you need to. Avoid the temptation to cold-call/limp, especially if there are multiple players already in the pot. Yeah, we all wish we could somehow peer into the future and catch a glimpse of the flop, before committing chips to hands like that, but we can't, so the next best thing is to play aggressively when you decide to play them, coming in with a raise or re-raise.


GaryC said...

Wow. I never look at draws in that way, but after reading your post through, I realized that is exactly what I'm seeing day in and day out. Other people are reading those forums too, because everybody plays a draw to the death, it seems. Great insight and great post.
E-mail me regarding your last post as I have a friend that can hook you up.
gcox AT kirby-smith DOT com


Joe Speaker said...

Excellent post, sir.

Since Abdul was one of the first theorists I read, I've always rammed and jammed when flopping big draws in limit, but never to that extent pre-flop, doing the typical limp into a family pot with those hands.

Smart aggression=good.

I will let you know how it works out this weekend in Vegas!

Ignatious said...

excellent post!

Littleacornman said...

Thanks for such an informative post.I've read similar stuff but nothing as clear and as easy to absorb as the way you put it.

Bill said...

Excellent post!!

Beck said...

There's one problem with your EV calculations--you're only considering the post-flop win chances and ignoring the chance that you miss the flop and have to fold. In those cases you lose $30 - $60.

So you have a +67 EV when you flop a monster draw, but what about all the times you miss the flop entirely? Of course, you can still win other ways (catching top pair, two pair, trips, or some such), and I still think this is a net +EV play.

But a lot of players read something like this (excellent) post and take it way too far. They begin ignoring the importance of position, of suitedness, and of high card rank, and begin raising preflop when 4th to act with 8h-9h or 9s-10d or some such.

Overall great post dude.

Shelly said...

i will think of you tomorrow when i am tempted to play a big drawing hand like a wuss. thank you! nice post :)

ScurvyDog said...


Well, yes and no. Given that I'm but a simple math monkey, I don't have the ability to try to factor in all the hands you mention, as far as when you raise it up pre-flop and completely whiff on the flop. You're right in pointing out that happens a lot, and that it affects the overall profitability of playing drawing hands aggressively.

That said, you'll also occasionally flop monster made hands, too, and get tons of action from them, as the pot is already large so many people will hang with lesser draws, thinking they have the odds to do so.

Do the monsters completely offset all the times you whiff and insta-muck? Probably not, but I think it's pretty close, especially if you factor in some scenarios that I didn't, such as someone else being on a lesser flush draw and you both hit it, leading to much larger pots, etc.

So yeah, you're right, only focusing on the times when you flop a big draw would be a mistake, but like you mention, there are other outcomes, too, than just whiffing on the flop or catching a big draw.