Basic strategy behind beating the classic poker game five-card draw
Five-card draw is a simple game with only two betting rounds. Each player is dealt five cards. There is a round of betting, followed by a draw, then a second round of betting, and a showdown. On the draw, each player can exchange as many cards as they wish for new ones; they can even change all five if they want. If a player declines to draw any cards, they ‘stand pat’ and action moves to the next player.
Draw plays best with two blinds and an ante, and can be played with as many as eight players. The advice here will be based on the structure found in the World Championship Of Online Poker on PokerStars.com. There the game is dealt pot-limit, six-handed, with two blinds and a small ante in the later stages.
When deciding what hands you should enter the pot with you should consider position and the gap concept. Having position in draw games is extremely beneficial, because not only do you get to see what your opponent does on each betting round before you have to act but you also get to see how many cards they draw before you draw yourself. This enables you to make much better decisions than you would if you were first to act.
The gap concept suggests that you need a much stronger hand to call a raise than you do to raise yourself. It’s common to all games but is particularly powerful in five-card draw. The net result of this is that you will enter a great deal of pots for a raise when in late position, whereas in early position you will fold some seemingly strong hands. Because the blinds and antes are quite large, it is usually a mistake to limp in, especially in early position.
To open-raise in early position, you generally want at least a pair of Aces, or two-pair, Kings-up. You should usually fold smaller two-pair hands like Queens-up, and pairs weaker than Aces. As strong as these hands look, the chances that you are beat already, combined with the chances that you will be outdrawn by one of your opponents, makes them an easy fold.
As your position improves, you can start to open with hands as weak as a pair of Jacks or a medium two-pair. You can also add in some one-card draws to open-ended straights and flushes, which have a lot of potential in pot-limit, and the occasional outright steal.
Don’t be tempted to call a raise with weak pair and two-pair hands. They don’t have much chance to improve and will rarely win a big pot when they do. Unless the table is extremely tight, you should not open with two-card flush or gutshot straight draws. These and similar hands should hit the muck.
The first rule is don’t keep a kicker. If you opened with K-K-A-x-x, you should draw three to the Kings and discard the Ace. It’s a common mistake to keep the Ace, and you should only do so occasionally for deception, and to confuse opponents when you draw two to trips. While drawing three does announce your hand as a pair it doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting paid off after the draw. For example, if you draw three to Aces, and make trips, a hand like Kings up or a smaller set of trips may well pay you off.
To two-pair, you should usually draw one. Providing you also open with one-card draws to straights and flushes and bluff often enough, you should be able to get paid off after the draw by weaker two-pair hands. If your two-pair is small and the pot is multi-way, the chances of your hand holding up unimproved are slim. So with two-pair you may consider drawing three to the larger pair and trying to make trips, which is a hand you can be more confident about.
If you have a pair plus an open-ended straight or flush draw, your decision is more difficult. If the pot is multiway or one or more of your opponents has stood-pat, you should consider drawing to the straight or flush instead of the pair, hoping to win a big pot after the draw (or lose a small one). Trips is a more complicated hand, because by drawing two you will usually give away your holding. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to draw only one card to disguise your hand. You actually don’t hurt your chances of improving much by doing so – they drop from 10.36% to 8.51%.
AFTER THE DRAW
After the draw, a good two-pair like Aces-up can occasionally be bet for value, but it’s about the weakest hand with which you can do so. A single pair, no matter how big, or two small-pair, is basically a bluff-catcher with which you’ll hope to pick off busted flush and straight draws.
Be cautious with trips and small straights if your opponent has stood-pat. Depending on how tight your opponent is, these hands may be easy folds if there is a bet. However, in most circumstances you can bet these hands with confidence. Always consider what range of hands your opponent may have, rather than focusing on the strength of your own cards. Draw is a prime example of a game in which you play the player, not the cards and there are many bluffing opportunities to be had after the draw.
PLAYING WITH WILD CARDS
Draw is often played with wild cards. Many players look down on the use of wild cards, but if you can adjust properly, they can make a tight game full of nits suddenly very profitable. Wild cards affect the basic probabilities on which the poker hand rankings are based. Some hands become easier to make than others, and the average hand becomes much stronger.
With wild cards, an entirely new hand rank comes into play – five-of-a-kind, which beats a royal flush. Adding one wild card to the game means that it’s slightly easier to be dealt trips than two pair, and makes it more than four times as likely that somebody will make quads. A single wild card also significantly increases the chances that you will make a flush or straight draw, particularly if your draw includes the wild card itself.
Adding four wild cards to the game means it’s easier to make a pair than no pair, easier to make quads than a flush or a full house, and easier to make five-of-a-kind than a royal flush! In general, the more wild cards in play, the more you should expect to see quads and straight flushes and the more you should shoot for those hands yourself. For example, if there are four wild cards in play and you have two pair, you should almost always discard the lower pair and draw three to quads.