Learn, Play, Beat Five Card Draw Poker (5cd)
Grinderschool Free Poker Strategy Articles
Introduction and Bio:
I have been asked to write an article for this site in relation to five card draw. Of course your first question reading this should be, who am I and why should you even listen to me. So I will start with a brief introduction and history of myself and then we will get to what I have to offer.
My name is Jason. I am 38 years old and I have been playing draw for about four years, the last two years as a part time income. I play fixed, pot and no limit at various stakes up to and including $10/$20.
I learned early on that most players playing draw were recreational players not pros and with very little educational content on the game this was not going to change. This meant that a knowledgeable player would have a distinct advantage at the tables. I started at low limits with a $200 bankroll and only had to re-deposit once during my learning curve.
There are things I can teach you, and things I cannot. Let's be clear about this.
I can teach you how to beat low fixed limit draw games. By that I mean fixed limit up to and including $1/$2.I can also teach you what it will take to go higher than that. What I cannot do is make you follow my advice. Also I cannot teach you to beat pot/no limit games as this requires a great deal of skill and knowledge of the game which is only attainable with experience.
This brings me to point number one or rule number one call it what you want:
"Stay away from pot and no limit games while you are beginning PERIOD."
If you post here saying that you lost this or that in a pot or no limit game while learning, you will receive no sympathy from me. Those types of games are for the experienced players and gamblers (when you do eventually play these games make sure you are the former not the latter. How will you know when your ready for these games? Simple you will no longer be following the basic strategy I am about to teach you).
So without further ado let's get started, beginning with common mistakes.
BIGGEST MISTAKES MADE BY DRAW PLAYERS:
The five biggest mistakes most of the players make are:
- Playing shorts out of position (pairs smaller than jacks)
- Drawing to straights and flushes
- Calling when clearly beat
- Trying to beat a hand to which they're usually between a 4-to-1 and a 12-to-1 dog (this isn't hold'em people)
These are the things you should try to avoid while learning the game. They are also the mostly likely causes if you find that you are doing poorly over a reasonable sample size. With that out of the way, let's move on to the nuts-and-bolts of 5CD strategy, beginning with hand selection.
OPENING HANDS BY SEAT POSITION:
When I say "open" I mean "raise", there are few times when its correct to limp, I will address in this article the times when it is correct(if you never limp while learning it is not a huge mistake). In a six handed game (like at PokerStars), assuming no one else has entered the pot:
- UTG -- A pair of aces or better
- UTG+1 -- A pair of kings or better
- BUTTON -- A pair of tens or better, or a pair of nines as long as you also have two cards higher than 9 in your hand or an ace. That is, with 9-9-K-Q-7 or 9-9-J-10-3, you play; with 9-9-A-5-4, you play; with 9-9-K-8-4 or 9-9-7-6-5, you do not. Of course, in any of these positions, you can come in with better.
- Cutoff -- A pair of jacks or better
- SB -- The small blind gets a little tricky. How you play depends on what you know about the player in the big blind. Lacking that information, limp with A-Q to a pair of sixes. This is one of the few times that you can limp. Open-raise with anything better. This means, come in for a raise with sevens or better. If the big blind raises, call and draw three cards straightforwardly. No, you won't win most of these, but the odds against winning are anywhere from about 3.5-1 (when the big blind has a higher pair than yours) to about 6.5-1 against you (two pair). You're getting 5-1, but your implied odds are higher at about 7-1. Sure, sometimes your opponent has trips higher than your pair or a pat hand, and then you're really going uphill, but that's how it is in gambling.
- BB -- Play your big blind depending on the opener's position and whether he came in for a raise. If two or more players limp in, raise with a pair of kings or anything better. With two or three players already in for a raise, call with about a pair of tens or higher, any come draw, and any two pair. Re-raise with about jacks up (two pair with jacks as the larger pair) or better, and of course trips or better.
- In a five handed game (as on the Ongame network), just remove the first position from that range as UTG+1 will now be UTG.
That's the basics about what you need to know regarding starting hands. The only other thing you need to know is if/when to adjust based on how people are playing, and that brings us to our next point: note-taking and building reads.
Note-taking is quite simply what will make or break you as a draw player. I cannot stress enough the importance of note taking. Draw players are creatures of habit. If a player draws one card or two to trips, it should be in your notes. Did they raise or limp two small pair? Again this should go in your notes. This is not hold'em. There is no "board" to help you evaluate a hand; only your notes.
A good lesson for yourself if you are just starting out in draw is to watch a table without playing it. Take notes of what you see players doing. Before you know it you will be putting these players on hands before the show down.
Now let's talk about some ways you can use your notes.
Whether you raise with a particular hand, or sometimes even whether you call with it, depends on what you know about those who are already in the pot. If among those in the pot before you are one or more extremely tight players, those who are listed in your notes as "limps on two pair or worse and rarely raises with these hands," don't play with less than aces. But if your notes for those in the pot are "limps on any pair" and "limps or calls with come draws," what you do depends on the number of players at the table. That is, in the five-handed game, if you are in the cutoff where your position calls for you to open-raise with a pair of jacks or better, raise if two limpers are in.
Why do you raise in these spots? The main reasons are that you don't want to give the small blind a cheap chance to beat you, you don't want to give the big blind a free chance to beat you, and you want to make the first players pay extra for playing substandard hands. Particularly if they are drawing to straights and flushes, you don't want to make it correct for them to have played by inviting the blinds in. You want them to put in maximum money and not get correct pot odds (or even implied odds). This is not hold'em, where a player gets two chances to make a drawing hand that he flopped. Also, if you don't raise, the big blind may draw four cards to a lone ace and beat your pair of kings. If you do raise, and the big blind still calls to take four cards - and they often do - you've made him pay extra to take far the worst of it.
What about with a more powerful hand? When you want to entice more players to enter the pot? The extra amount you get from the blinds is not as much as you get from what the first players have to put in to continue in the pot. When you have a good hand, you want to build a pot. Also, the blinds may play anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised by how many players come in cold for two or more bets to draw to small straights and flushes, even inside straights, and, of course, shorts. They would have been happy to play for one bet or free, but darned if they're going to let you steal their pot.
Whether you put in the third bet before the draw depends on what you know about the player. Again, those wonderful notes that online sites enable you to make about individual players help here. If the pot is raised before it gets to you, and you know the player open-raises on any pair jacks or better, you should reraise with any hand aces or better. This of course includes any two pair, probably the trickiest hand in draw poker. If the player is one of those tight players, you should call with aces through about tens up, and reraise with jacks up or better.
Two pair is the trickiest hand in draw. How you play two pair may make the difference between winning and losing. This is because most other hands are pretty straightforward to play.
Pairs are straightforward. You never call with shorts, and you open with them only from the small blind. You almost always play aces or kings for one or two bets. If it's three bets to you, don't come in cold with less than two pair.
Trips are straightforward, too. You are always willing to cap the betting with trips. Since there are only four bets, and since many pots start with two bets already, you can't get too badly hurt when trips get beat, and they win far more pots than they lose.
Any better hand, of course, should be played as strongly as you can - with one major exception. You don't want to cap the betting after the draw with a wheel against another pat hand. In fact, you probably don't want to do it very often against almost any draw.
But with two pair, you have to tread cautiously. If the pot has been open-raised by a tight player, call with two pair up to tens up and reraise with jacks up or better. This is because of all the two pair hands, approximately half are jacks up or better. If one of those tight players has reraised an open-raise or reraised a limp and a raise, just dump anything worse than jacks up. Against most players, be willing to put in the third bet with any two pair. Why is this? Because if the pot is open-raised, the most likely hand the player has is one pair. You're about a 3-to-1 favorite to have the better hand. If it's three bets to you, dump tens up or lower, and cap with jacks up or better. Playing this way increases your variance considerably, but it also increases your win rate. Oftentimes you will freeze out the original player, and two pair is not a hand you want to play against multiple players. If the other player has a smaller two pair - and half the time he should - you are now better than a 12-to-1 favorite. If he has one pair, your advantage ranges from a bit less than 3-to-1 (when his one pair is higher than either of your pairs) to about 8-to-1 (when both of your pairs are higher than his one pair). That's the nice thing about draw poker. You can often get maximum money into the pot when you are a huge favorite.
You'll see many players who just call two bets with aces up and then check to the other one-card draw. They cost themselves several bets every time they do it, plus increase their chances of losing the pot by enticing other players in and giving them get correct odds to play. Don't make that mistake. Sure, you'll cost yourself four bets or more instead of two in the pots you lose, but that's more than made up for in those that you win.
DRAWING TO STRAIGHTS AND FLUSHES (AKA COME HANDS):
If I said never draw to straights and flushes, I wouldn't be far wrong. Don't ever open with a come hand (unless it's a straight-flush draw). If three players are already in, call. This means that in the six-handed game, you rarely play come hands, and in the five-handed game, almost never. You need to be in the small blind with at least two limpers, where you're already getting better than 4-1, or in the big blind, where you get to draw for free. Let the others draw to straights and flushes when they're not getting proper odds; their doing so adds to your profit.
You see players in with these draws all the time, and that's a huge mistake. SillySally limps in UTG with her 5-6-7-8. Jimmy immediately raises UTG+1 with his pair of kings. No one else plays. SillySally calls. She takes one card, and Jimmy takes three, quite straightforwardly, because he knows SillySally rarely bluffs. SillySally misses, and checks. Jimmy shows his unimproved pair and takes the pot. In the $3-$6 game, SillySally put in $6 to win a possible $10. That's a return of 1.6-to-1 with odds against her of approximately 4.9-to-1. Jimmy would not have called if he did not improve his hand. But let's be charitable, and say that he would call every time she made her hand. She's still getting only $16 for her $6 investment. That's still only 2.7-to-1. And Jimmy might have better than just a pair of kings, and he might make his hand when she makes hers. That will cost her at least two big bets after the draw - and three or even four if she gets frisky and check-raises. Don't draw to straights and flushes.
If you have the big blind and it's free to draw, of course you always draw to a come hand, but this doesn't come up that often. If two players are in for a raise, again, you always play, because you're getting 5-to-1 before even considering implied odds. Remember the 4.9-to-1 Sally was getting? If you're getting 5-to-1, then playing like Sally isn't so silly.
That covers most pre-draw scenarios you will see. Now let's discuss the draw itself.
HOW TO DRAW:
Generally, draw straightforwardly. Almost always draw three to a pair. The exception is if you're convinced a player has two pair and you have an ace kicker to keep. Don't do what most players do, which is always keep a kicker in a vain attempt to convince others they have trips. They don't have trips: If they did, they'd draw one card.
And that's another thing, disguising trips. If you're sure your opponent has two pair and will pay you off if you draw one, do so. But don't do that all the time. Keep them guessing. Draw two maybe a third of the time. You double your chances of improving by taking two cards. If all you've done is open-raise, taking two cards is natural because that's what everyone else often does with one pair. If you've reraised, the holder of two pair will likely pay you off anyway. Depending on the player, if he raises, you reraise, and he just calls and takes one card, almost all the time that means he has two pair. Most players cap with trips. (But do watch out for the tight players who don't and take one to trips. This is when your notes are very important.) That three-bet situation is the best time to take one to trips. Your opponent checks after the draw, you bet, he calls, you win. Or, he bets and you call. Usually. Sometimes he check-raises. That is, he hit the 12-1 shot. Usually you can fold for the reraise, but watch out for tricky players. Some reraise on a bluff. Others just call the third bet, take one to trips, and then check-raise. You have to call in both situations. I rarely try to disguise trips in a capped pot. I want to do one of two things by taking two cards. I may want to slow down another player if I have small trips, because another player with trips may just check to me, and I can show down small trips. Or, I may want to encourage him if I have high trips. And, by the way, in a capped pot, when the other player stands pat and bets into your two-card draw, he's rarely bluffing.
Here's how to draw for "free" in the big blind. Free means no one raised and you don't have to pay extra to draw, effectively giving you infinite pot odds. Always take three to any pair. Usually don't keep a kicker here, because if you do, you have practically told the others what you have. If you bet, you probably caught an ace for aces up, and they feel safe in raising with trips. But since some players raise after the draw with two pair, oblivious to the draw, you often have to call. It's better not to get into that situation by just taking three cards to a pair. If you have an ace or king, take four. Don't draw to inside straights and don't draw to a cathop. That, according to the Official Dictionary of Poker, is, among other things, three cards to a straight flush. The only cathop to which to draw two cards is when you have three to a royal flush, in which case you could pair one of the cards you hold and win. With anything else, draw five cards for free.
BETTING POST DRAW:
In an unraised pot, against one opponent you should usually bet any two pair or better, particularly if you are last to bet. Against multiple opponents, bet tens up or better. If you drew three from the big blind and made two small pair, generally do not bet, but check and call one bettor. If there is a bet and a call, don't overcall.
In a raised pot, against one opponent you should have approximately jacks up or better to bet. Against several, probably kings up. Don't bet two pair or trips into an obvious come hand, particularly someone who regularly bluffs. How do you know if the other player is drawing on the come? You have in your notes that the player usually open-raises with two pair, but he limped in this pot and drew one card. Now, if you did the raising and you have two or more opponents, and one of them you are sure is on the come, you should still bet. Realize that if the one-card draw raises, he has probably made his hand, and you can fold. That happens only about one time in five, though, and your bet is to get a call from one of the other players. If one of them raises, usually your two pair hand is beat, and you can fold. Not many players raise with worse than two pair when they have a one-card draw behind them.
ADVICE ON GAME SELECTION:
If you find you are at a table where your raises are rarely if ever being called, try showing down a couple of bluffs. If this does not get them calling you, leave the table. Winning at fixed limit relies on being called by worse hands. Otherwise you run the risk of the rake being the only winner.
ADVANCED PLAYS AND BLUFFS:
Players are using all the tricks in the book, as if they'd discovered something new: pat-hand bluffs, standing pat on two pair, keeping a kicker - any kicker - with a pair or trips. This guide isn't about those. They are out there, and once you have mastered the basics you can work them in to increase your profit. This guide is about helping you master the basics in the first place. I'll talk about some of those another time. I'll also talk about advanced plays, including bluffing situations that almost always work.