By Rolf Slotboom
Most of the time, if you've got a made hand in poker (for example, JT in hold'em and the flop comes JT3), you will bet your hand. If you're drawing (let's say you have Q9 against the same board), you may very well decide to check. In fact, checking and calling is the natural thing to do when you have a drawing hand. However, this isn't always automatic. In limit poker, you're going to have to bet your draws as well as your made hands sometimes to avoid becoming too predictable. Betting a draw on the flop (or even the turn) is sometimes referred to as semi-bluffing. That is: you would like everybody to fold since you don't have anything yet, but if you get called you might win the pot anyway by making your hand.
Some people (especially rocks or weak-tight players) don't like it when players bet their draws aggressively. They will make remarks like: "Why did you bet? You had nothing yet". In the game I like best (pot-limit Omaha) you will never hear comments like this. In this game, the big draw is often king; draws are often favorite over made hands on the flop. Drawing hands can and should therefore often be played aggressively. Now, let's take a look at how to play drawing hands in three of the most popular poker games: limit hold'em, limit stud and pot-limit Omaha.
Draws in limit hold'em.
You may have heard limit hold'em is no drawing game. This is true to a large degree, because it's harder to draw out in hold'em than in any other game. Most of all, this means hold'em is a kicker game: if you've got AK, there's an ace on the board and your opponent is playing a bad ace, you figure to make a lot of money (he has to hit his kicker to win). It doesn't mean straight or flush draws shouldn't be played.
In fact, drawing hands can be very profitable in hold'em, especially if the game is loose (lots of preflop callers) and passive (not a lot of raising). Your implied odds in games like this can be very good, since it doesn't cost you much to draw to your hand and if you make it, you will probably get paid off. In games like this volume hands like small suited connectors and suited aces can be played for profit, sometimes even from early position.
However, in position these hands do better: you will make more money if you make your hand, and lose less if you don't. If the game is tighter and more aggressive (like most hold'em games at the levels $10-20 and up) you're not going to play these hands, and if you do you're going to raise with them (rather than call) from late position to try to win the blinds. If you flop a good draw at the higher limits, how you play your hand depends upon the opposition. How many players are in, what kind of hands do you think they hold, do they respect your play, can you win the pot against them by semi-bluffing etc.
Let's say you're in the big blind with 98 and the flop comes 652. If you're up against one or two tight players who figure to hold big cards only, you might become aggressive with this hand from the flop on, even though all you have is a gutshot and two overcards. If, on the other hand, you're in the big blind with Q9 against the same players and the flop comes JT2, don't be too thrilled about your hand; in fact, I would recommend checking and folding here. If they hold AK, AQ or KQ, it's hard to get them out of the pot (if they have flopped top pair it's going to be even harder), and the only card that gives you a sure winner is an eight. Drawing hands in position can sometimes be profitable hands in hold'em, especially in loose / passive games where the free card play might work. Against tougher opposition, the made hands are king. If there are only two players left on the flop in hold'em, it's hard for the draw to be the favorite over the made hand, even if the hand to beat is just top pair / top kicker.
Draws in 7 Card Stud.
In seven stud you're not going to start with hands like 987 or J98 to try to make a straight. You do play suited cards (if none or only one of your suit are out). If you get another suited card on fourth street, you have a powerful hand (depending of course on what the opposition has). On fourth or fifth street you might become aggressive with your four-flush in one of the following situations: a) you're in the hand with three or four opponents who won't bet but will call with their hands and don't figure to hold super-hands. In this case you are betting for value (that is, a bet here has positive expectation even though you don't have anything yet) or b) you're in the hand on against a single opponent who you figure to be rather weak, yet has a stronger hand than you at the moment.
In this case, you are semi-bluffing to try to make him lay down his hand on fifth street (in stud, whenever someone calls your bet on fifth street, he will most likely go all the way to seventh street). Most of the time, things are rather clear-cut in seven stud: the big pair (or the most dangerous-looking board) bets and the draw calls. Still, in stud it's a lot harder to protect your one- or two-pair hands than in hold'em and playing (quality) draws can be very profitable here. Just remember you're going to have to make your hand. It's almost impossible to bluff your opponent out on the end (like you can occasionally do in hold'em, by representing something you don't have). Since the pots are so big and the last card is dealt face down, the one- or two-pair hand will just grit his teeth and pay off your bet.
Draws in pot-limit Omaha.
Pot-limit Omaha is the ultimate drawing game. If the flop is Kh 9h 2d, you have Ah Qd Jd Th and your opponent, holding K9, knows you've got this hand, he is going to fold his hand without a shred of doubt. That's right: he has got top two pair, you have ace-high only and still he's going to pass. In Omaha, the draw is king. On the flop, the drawing hand can be the favorite over the temporary nuts, even when the nuts is as strong as top set or a made straight. Draws can and should often be played aggressively, especially if you suspect there is no set out there.
Still, don't over-estimate the power of the straight draw, because they sometimes look better than they really are: someone may have the same straight draw you have (so you might make your hand and have to split the pot) or a flush may be completed on the turn or river (so you make your hand but still lose). Pot-limit Omaha is a game of implied odds. You've got to know exactly where you're at in the hand, you've got to know exactly what you have to beat since this will decide which strategy is best (push or pull).
If you're relatively new to the game, be very careful about drawing hands that may be second best if you make them. The king-high flush is a hand that can in fact be very profitable, if you know how to play it; if the novice player gets any action when holding this hand, he will most likely lose his entire stack.
Two more things. First, in Omaha it's important to know exactly how many outs you have (for example, if your opponent has a set and you've got the nut-flush draw, you've got seven outs, not nine). Only if you are able to calculate your outs quickly and without mistakes, and of course if you are able to read your opponent's hand well, is it possible to know for sure if you belong in the pot or not. Second, make sure you've got good computer software available to you, so you can simulate interesting hands that have occurred, are able to calculate your drawing odds in Omaha better, and in time will play a better game overall. Take care, guys, and good luck playing your draws.