Best Poker Hands to Play

Best Poker Hands to Play

Playing Texas Hold’em poker involves a number of phases of the game. There’s determining what poker hands to play, pre-flop betting, the flop, the turn and the river. All of these phases can involve distinct poker strategy and plays, and mastering them is the key to becoming a strong poker player.

One of the most important concepts in post-flop poker is that of made hands versus drawing hands. Simply put, a made hand is a hand which has significant value if a showdown were to happen immediately. For example, if you have AK and the flop is KK3, you have a made hand. Three kings with an ace kicker is one of the strongest hands possible on that board. Many of the strongest poker hands to play are ones that quickly can become made hands.

Drawing hands is one of the poker hands to play which has the possibility to make a powerful hand, but is currently weak if the showdown were to happen immediately. For instance, let’s say you have ace of clubs, king of clubs with a flop of jack of clubs, 6 of clubs, four of diamonds. Currently, you have only an ace high, with almost any other poker hand is beating you. But if another club hits the board, you will have an ace high flush, and very likely the best hand possible.

Most drawing hands take the form of either a straight draw or a flush draw, and they can be some of the trickiest poker hands to play. But by the end of this article, we’ll cover the basics of playing drawing hands and some of the calculations that can help give you an idea of whether to fold, call or raise.

Poker Hands to Play: Drawing Hands and the Idea of Poker ‘Outs’

calculate poker outs

When you have a drawing hand, you’re most of the way to a hand that will probably win you a showdown. But you need the board to improve for this to happen. With a drawing hand, the first thing you need to be able to understand is how many chances you have to improve into a made hand.

At the flop, you’ve got two cards in your hand and three cards on the board. In a 52 card deck, that leaves 47 cards remaining. What you need to figure out is how many of those 47 cards can help you.

Figuring Out Your Outs

Let’s take the example of a straight draw and calculate our outs.

Our hand is:

queen of clubsjack of hearts




and the board is:

king of diamondsten of heartstwo of spades




What cards falling on the turn or river would make our straight?

The answer is that either an ace or a 9 will complete the straight.

There are 4 cards of each value in the deck, and as far as we know they’re all in play, four aces plus four 9s. So, there are 8 cards that will make our straight. That means we have 8 outs here.

There are three main kinds of drawing hands: Open ended straight draws, inside (or ‘gutshot’) straight draws, and flush draws. Each type will have a number of outs.

An open ended straight draw is a hand in which two different values will make a straight, like our previous example. You have eight outs with this type of draw.

An inside straight draw is one where only one value of card will make your straight. For instance, a hand of 67 with a board of K 10 9. Only an 8 will make your straight draw. You have four outs with this type of draw.

A flush draw is a hand where you are four cards toward making a flush. You always have 9 outs with this type of draw.

Knowing the number of outs for each of these three types of hands will cover you in most drawing situations. Keep in mind, though, that there can be other, more complicated scenarios too.

One such scenario is one where you have both a straight and a flush draw. This can often happen with suited connector hands like 78 suited or J10 suited. You can frequently end up with both a flush draw and an inside straight draw, which means you have 9 + 4 = 13 outs in total. Some of the most fun and exciting poker hands to play are ones where you have two draws on a single hand.

Or you might have both a flush draw and the possibility of hitting an ace to pair with your own ace for top pair. Any time you’re adding the possibility of making a pair to your outs calculation, you add 3. So, in this case it would be 9 + 3 = 12 outs in total.

Poker Hands to Play: Calculating Your Odds

Once you know how many outs you have, you can now calculate the odds of you making your poker hand.

After the flop, there are two cards coming. That means you will have two chances to make your hand. By the time you hit the turn, you’re down to a single card if you haven’t made your hand yet. As a result, your calculation is different after the flop and after the turn.

After the flop, there are 47 unknown cards, and you’re going to see two of them on the turn and the river.

To calculate your odds of making your poker hand, divide your outs by 47, then multiply by 2 for the two cards you’ll be seeing.

To use an example: Let’s say you’ve got an open ended straight draw, giving you 8 outs.

8 / 47 = about 17.5%, times 2 = about 35%. This means that after the flop, your open ended straight draw is going to hit about 35% of the time.

Poker players often times like to flip the orientation of this calculation and express it in odds rather than a percentage value. To calculate odds, it’s very similar to the above, except instead of using the total 47 card as a denominator, we split the 47 into good and bad outcomes and divide that.

In the above example, we have 8 outs. That means 8 of the 47 total cards are good for us and 39 are bad.

39 / 8 = about 5, divided by 2 = about 2.5. This is then expressed as 5:1 and 2.5:1. Having 5:1 odds means that your hand is going fail to come through 5 times for every 1 time it comes through.

If you want to make a dramatic improvement in your poker skills learn how to determine your number of outs and then calculate your odds of making your draw.

This might seem overly complicated and messy, but the good news is that the same few numbers come up over and over. You can simply learn a few common drawing poker hand odds and you’re covered in most situations.

Open Ended Straight Draw: 2.5:1 odds if seeing two cards; 5:1 odds if seeing one card.

Inside Straight Draw: 5.5:1 odds if seeing two cards; 11:1 odds if seeing one card.

Flush Draw: 2:1 odds if seeing two cards, 4:1 odds if seeing one card.

Calculating Pot Odds

By figuring out your outs and then determining your odds of making a drawing hand, you now have an idea about how likely you are to win a hand. Now, the next question becomes whether you should remain in the poker hand.

In a perfect world, each player would check the turn and river and let you see if you make your hand or not. When you make it, you can bet and win the pot, and if you don’t make the hand you can fold with no extra resources invested. If play usually proceeded like this, drawing hands would be the best poker hands to play.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect world, and you are likely to face bets and raises while holding a drawing hand. How do you figure out whether you’re justified in staying in if someone raises you? You can determine it mathematically by looking at the size of the bet and the amount currently in the pot.

Let’s take an example where you’re holding a flush draw, and someone bets $10 on the flop. There is currently $100 in the pot counting the raise.

In this case, you would be risking $10 of your money (calling the bet) to win $100. We convert the amount to be risked against the money in the pot to create a similar ratio to our previous odds. In this case, 100 / 10 simplifies down to 10:1.

Going back to our odds of winning, we remember that the odds of making a flush on the next card would be 4:1. In other words, out of every 5 times we see the turn, 4 times we will not make the flush and one time we make it.

We compare that 4:1 chance of winning with the 10:1 payout to the money we risk. Those odds substantially favor us – We make money in the long run by taking risks when the pot is big enough vs. the amount we’d need to risk.

The general rule is that if you calculate the pot odds and they’re greater than the odds of making your drawing hand, you should call. Playing by this basic poker rule will cause you to make many smart calls.

Just to quickly give you an example of the converse, here’s a situation where a call isn’t a good play. You’ve got an inside straight draw, and you’re facing a $25 bet into a pot of $100 counting that bet.

Here, your odds of making your inside straight draw on the next card are 11:1, and the pot odds are 100 / 25 = 4:1. 4:1 is clearly lower than 11:1, so the math says your best move is folding.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to calculate pot odds almost effortlessly while playing.

Poker Hands to Play: More Advanced Considerations

Calculating basic pot odds will give you a huge leg up over poker players who are playing by gut instinct. Most players tend to chase too many draws against long odds, while others are too tentative and don’t pursue advantageous pots. By calculating pot odds, you can identify the right places to put your money in and when to give up a hand.

But there are a number of other considerations that can go into knowing whether to continue with a drawing hand or not.

Can You Make Your Draw and Still Lose?

For the previous scenarios, we’ve essentially been saying that making your draw is the same thing as having the best hand. In other words, those 8 outs for our open ended straight draw are assumed to give us the best poker hand when they hit.

This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes, we need to be aware that our hand could come through but still leave us second best.

A very common situation when playing a drawing hand is a pair on the board.
For example, we’re holding:
ace of clubsten of clubs




and the board comes down
jack of clubsjack of spadesthree-of-clubs




We have four clubs to the best possible straight. However, there are a pair of jacks on the board. This means that a hand like 33 has already got us virtually drawing dead, as does a less likely hand like J3.

Anytime a pair is on the board, it’s necessary to carefully consider whether our opponents might be holding a poker hand that can become a full house.

Another fairly common situation is the chance of making a straight or flush but losing to a higher straight or flush. This is especially the case if you play flush draws that don’t make top flush, some of the riskier poker hands to play.

An example of this might be playing a hand like
six of spadesseven of spades




The board comes down
jack of spadesnine of spadesfour-of-hearts




You’ve got a flush draw here, but the flush you make could very easily be defeated by a higher flush. You’re especially vulnerable to people who came into flop with big suited cards, like A♠K♠, A♠Q♠, K♠Q♠, etc., which are very popular poker hands to play.

This type of scenarios is one of the reasons why playing suited connectors and other lower value hands are often times regarded as incredibly dangerous poker hands to play. When you make a drawing hand but don’t end up with the best hand, this tends to be one of the costliest situations in poker. You can easily lose poker tournaments on one such hand alone.

Poker Hands to Play and Implied Odds

Another more advanced concept is the idea of implied odds. A simplified explanation of implied odds is that if you make your hand, you will be able to bet (or call another bet) on a future street and win additional money, while if you don’t make the hand you can fold with no further investment.

Let’s take a scenario where you’ve got an open ended straight draw on the turn, and you face a bet of $25 into a $100 pot.

The odds tell us that we have 5:1 odds to hit our straight and the pot is 4:1. Strictly based on pot odds, we should throw this hand away.

However, we might also believe that we can win another $50 from our opponent should we hit our draw. And if we don’t hit the draw, we toss the hand away. If we are certain enough of this, we could re-frame it as $100 + $50 / $25 = 6:1. Now, the odds from the pot favor a call.

The reason why implied odds are more advanced is that you need to be able to accurately gauge your opponent’s hand strength and likelihood to call or bet into you if the draw falls.

Experienced poker players are always aware of the chances of various draws coming through. If you’re calling early in a hand, many people will put you on a draw. And then, on the river when a fifth of a suit comes down or a card that makes a straight shows up, they’re noting that. When you suddenly bet on the river, they may correctly put you on a made drawing hand and fold.
poker hands to play: river

As a result, implied odds are something that requires a bit of finesse and knowledge of both your opponents and your own image. If you can’t reliably get paid off, trying to apply implied odds will cause you to call bets you shouldn’t be calling.

Final Thoughts

As complicated as some of this might seem, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Once you’ve mastered the concept of calculating odds and determining the math behind playing drawing hands, you’ll be making sound fundamental plays. But there are times to stray from the script. The next level of poker involves playing individual situations and opponents, and there’s far more uncertainty and art to that.

But understanding the principles behind calculating your outs and odds is the first step toward intelligently playing drawing hands. And drawing hands are essential poker hands to play. Mastering these techniques gives you a solid foundation for expanding your poker ability so that you can be competitive in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, see you at the WSOP!


Poker Hands to Play – FAQ

What is a backdoor straight draw?

A backdoor straight draw means you need two more cards for a straight when you’re on the flop and you need to draw those two cards on the turn and the river.

Does a straight in poker have to be 5 cards?

Yes, a straight must be five cards. A four-card straight doesn’t count, and a six card straight means nothing.

What is a gutshot draw in poker?

A gutshot straight draw means you have the inside straight draw. For example, if you’re holding 87 and the flop is J45, you need the 6 to complete the straight.

What is drawing dead in poker?

When you’re drawing dead, it means you have no chance of winning the hand regardless of what card(s) come.

Author: Andrew Smith