Big draws are not only valuable because they have a great potential to make big hands. Much of the inherent value of a big draw is found in the situations where it is able to force folds and put pressure on opponents. The best and most profitable play with a flush draw is almost always to get your opponents to simply give up.
It may not be as exciting to take down a pot without seeing another card fall, but it is certainly the safest way to go about handling your draws. If you are anything short of experienced in cash games, though, you might not even have a clue what maximizing equity means. Extracting equity value from big draws is very much a foreign concept to most poker players. Learning what equity is can greatly improve your awareness, but only real experience and game play will allow you to actually implement the moves necessary for success. Making plays based on equity in poker is one of the more advanced moves in the game, but it can provide an absolutely massive boost to your win rate.
Before the Flop
Every hand takes its shape before the flop with pre-flop play. You may be involved in a limped pot, a raised pot, or even a re-raised pot, and each one is going to be played in a slightly different manner. Approaching a big flush draw in a limped pot is not at all the same thing as playing a flush draw in a re-raised pre-flop pot. Many players fail to consider this, however, and are punished for it as a result. The exact action pre-flop will be the best indicator of just how much fold equity you are working with. For example, you are more prone to find folds if you were the pre-flop aggressor than if you were catering to someone else’s play. Using the pre-flop information available to you is one way to ensure that your plays are made with reasonable expectations.
Playing the Flop
Having a draw on a flop can mean one of many different things. For the sake of this article, you should be holding at least an open ended straight draw or better. Anything worse than this is just fishing for trouble. There is an opportunity to play hands like gut shot straight draws or back door flush draws, but these are not the type of hands that typically carry a whole lot of fold equity. Instead, you should be looking for the types of hands that you will have a good shot of winning with even if the hand goes to showdown. Yes, ideally you will take down the pot before it even gets to showdown, but you should also be working with something that your opponent will not have crushed.
Straight draws and flush draws are two very different things, regardless of how similar they might seem at face value. Yes, both will be drawing to about the same number of outs, both can still be beaten by better hands, but they play very differently in the eyes of your opponents. It is much more difficult to put someone on a made straight than it is to put them on a flush. As a result, it is often times best to slow down and work towards a straight with pot control than it is to go all out with big plays and raises. A flush draw is ok for big moves because it is very transparent when you end up hitting it, but straights are usually very well concealed, barring that there are four cards to a straight on the board. As such, don’t get wild and out of line with straights. You will have a lot of outs if the money gets in the middle, but you are definitely sacrificing a lot of easy money. Straights are best played as made hands, whereas flushes work well when they are still on a draw.
Finding Fold Equity
The pre-flop play, board, position, opponents, stack sizes, history and your exact hand will all be important when determining whether or not you have a significant amount of fold equity. Needless to say, it is impossible to break down each of these factors one by one. The only way to figure out whether you have real fold equity is to calculate all of these factors as part of one lengthy equation. This is the reason why fold equity is a more complex subject and is not well understood by less experienced players. Making plays for fold equity with big draws is very profitable, but no one said it was going to be easy.
Pretend that you are in position with a big flush draw after the flop. The board is unpaired and there are two players ahead of you. If the first player leads out with a bet and the second player calls, your ideal play is to simply come along for the ride. This is not a situation where you will typically have a lot of fold equity. By raising in this spot, you may be forcing out weaker draws, committing made hands to bigger pots, or be putting yourself in a difficult position. Even if you are drawing to the nuts, the better play in this spot is to wait to make your hand. In this example, position and the number of players in the hand are the most important factors.
Using a different example, lets pretend that you are out of position with a combo draw (flush draw and straight draw). The pot was raised pre-flop by a middle position player, and there are a number of people involved in the hand. You decide to check in early position after the flop delivers a monster draw. At this point, you should be happy with it either checking around or a bet being made. The only tricky spot would be if a bet was made an a player re-raised. If this happened, you would have no choice but to make a big play and go all in, but this certainly isn’t a spot where you could reasonably expect to find folds. If, however, one bet is made and a few players call, check raising could work very well. The trick to making this play work, like most plays, is knowing what you will do after you make your initial move. If you check raise and get flat called, the turn is going to be difficult to play if you miss your hand. A check raise is best here if you are expecting for your opponent to come back over the top or fold. If you think they are going to flat call a good portion of the time, you should reconsider your play.
The most common situation where big draws can easily find maximum fold equity is in a re-raised, heads up pot. Say that you open raise, get re-raised, and see a flop. If you were the re-raiser, this play would still hold true in most situations. Now the pot is heads up as you go to the flop. If you hit a big draw, you will want to be all in or force a fold. Passiveness will suck your hand dry of its value. The best play with a hand like Ah Kh on a flop of 8h 6h Js is to check raise big and get the money in. If you are last to act, re-raise your opponents lead bet. Given this example, you have over cards, a big flush draw, and the image of a strong hand.
When you have tons of outs and can also expect that your opponent will fold a fair majority of the time, your fold equity is going to be through the roof. These are the two main factors in spotting a situation with lots of fold equity: many outs if you are all in and a solid likelihood of your opponent folding when you make a big play. If these two variables are positives, you shouldn’t be afraid to make a big play. You will lose when you miss your draw, but you will win when you hit your draw or force a fold. Forcing a fold or hitting your draw gives you two chances to win, whereas missing your draw only gives you one chance to lose. Whenever you give yourself more chances to win than lose, you are setting yourself up for long term profitability.