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StrategyNo Limit Midstack

Short Stack Strategy: draws in a free play situation


You'll find in this article
  • How to use outs and odds.
  • How to play weak and strong draws.

In the beginner's section you learned how to play good made hands in a free play situation (i.e. you're in the big blind and you don't need to invest more money to see the flop). Sometimes the only thing you have hit is a draw, but this is still no reason to muck your hand. This article deals with how to play draws in a free play situation.

Before you continue reading, it's essential that you first go through the articles about outs & odds and implied pot odds. The following content makes no sense without understanding the mathematical background of playing a draw.

Short Stack Strategy - Odds and Outs

Short Stack Strategy - Implied odds

Video: Draws in the Freeplay
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You can also watch the content of this article in video format. Simply click the picture to open the video.

You should still read the article to ensure that you have completely understood the strategy. Your bankroll will be grateful.




Implied odds are an important basis for being able to continue playing a strong draw. You should therefore have a solid theoretical understanding of how to deal with them.

When applying implied odds as a short stack player, the following should always be clear to you: your implied odds are better when you have two streets left (turn and river). If the implied odds are better on the flop than on the turn, from the turn to the river you can normally count ¼ to ½ of the pot size bet towards your implied odds. This of course depends on both the board and your opponents, but you can choose to add more if you see both a turn and a river card.


Not every out is helpful in getting the best hand. Not all of them are clean and some therefore need to be discounted. This is discussed in more detail in the article about odds and outs.

For example, two overcards with around 4 outs against one opponent is considered pretty good.


Pre-flop: Hero is BB with A T
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 7, 8

In this example, you have around 4 outs. If your opponent holds a hand like A3, your ace isn't an out and will only help you to a second best hand. The rule of thumb  is that 2 overcards are worth 3-4 outs.


First of all you have to evaluate the strength of the draw. A flush draw, when holding 2 suited cards, is much stronger than an unsuited flush draw. One card, unsuited flush draws lose a lot of value if you are not holding an ace. Subsequently your implied odds are lower since there are less worse hands that you can benefit from.

If you're holding a straight draw, you also have to consider it's true strength. If you only have one card in the pocket and it is also the bottom end of the straight, your draw is considerably weaker. If you have a top pair draw for instance, it is also a relatively weak draw, since you may already be behind against a two pair.

In general, the implied odds are higher when you have a nuts draw, in other words the best possible hand. If you don't have a nuts draw, your implied odds drop and you have to consider that you might be drawing the second-best hand, with which you will lose more money.

The four types of draws


Weak draws are hands with only a few outs. A gutshot, for example, only has 4 outs and is therefore rarely played. Having two overcards is also considered a weak draw since you are drawing a pair but may already be behind against a two pair.


Combo draws consist of multiple draws, as is a gutshot with 2 overcards. It is also a gutshot and an overcard plus a backdoor flush draw (you need two more cards of the same suit). These draws are all stronger than a simple gutshot or two overcards. Their strength varies so you have to determine the number of outs individually.


Preflop: Hero is BB with J T
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 7, 6

This example gives you two overcards: a backdoor flush draw and a backdoor straight draw. This draw is relatively weak since most of your outs are for the top pair hand, which means that you don't draw for the best possible hand.

Preflop: Hero is BB with J T
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 7, 8

A similar hand, but now you have a gutshot and two overcards. Here you have more outs for the best hand. That's why you can expect higher implied odds.


Strong draws are, for example, an OESD or a flush draw. Normally you have 8-9 outs to complete the straight or the flush. Such a draw can also include overcards or backdoor draws.


Preflop: Hero is BB with J T
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 7, 8

In this example you have a gutshot: two overcards and a backdoor flush draw.

Preflop: Hero is BB with T 7
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 9, 8

Here you have an OESD, which is also a strong draw because an overcard slightly improves your outs.


Monster draws are draws with more than 12 outs. Such hands are so strong that you should play them like made hands. For example, when you have 12 outs on the flop, you'll hit your hand in 45% of all cases until the river. When you have more than 14 outs, you'll complete your draw in more than half of all cases.

Examples for monster draws:

  • Flush draw + OESD
  • Flush draw or OESD and 2 overcards
  • Flush draw + 1 overcard + backdoor straight draw (2 more cards for a straight)
  • Flush draw or OESD + pair


Preflop: Hero is BB with A 5
Flop: ($1.25) 5, 7, 3

You have a monster draw. Besides your outs for the two pair, trips and the flush draw, you also have the chance of drawing a backdoor straight, therefore a total of around 15 outs.

Preflop: Hero is BB with J T
Flop: ($1.25) 3, 7, 8

Also a monster draw. Alongside the gutshot, you also have a flush draw and two overcards.

Preflop: Hero is BB with Q J
Flop: ($1.25) 9, T, 3

Flopping such a hand is surely a dream. You have a flushdraw as well as an OESD. In addition you have two overcards and altogether around 18 outs. This gives you a chance of around 60% to improve your hand from the flop until the river.

Monster draws should be played like made hands on the flop. You will hit your hand by the river in more than half of the cases, and of course, your opponents might just fold. It's not a bad idea to target one opponent, because your share of the pot is often more than 50%. Consequently you should play your draw for value (you want to get more money back than what you've paid into the pot).

How to play on the flop?


You should almost always fold a weak draw instead of betting; you don't have the proper pot odds to continue. Neither are the expected future winnings, when hitting a hand, big enough to make a profitable move. Exception: if you are last to act in the betting round (there is no one who can bet after you) and you get good pot odds. When you have a gutshot, it is advisable to call with pot odds of 1:6, even though you would need 1:10 for the possible winnings to be big enough on the following streets.


You should play passively by check/calling with combo draws. If you get the proper pot odds to call, you should call. If you can't call without implied odds, you always need to consider the strength of your outs. The possibility of success is higher and you can invest more money, when drawing for the best possible hand. Drawing for a mere pair, when you may already be behind against a two pair, is not advisable. So if you already have your outs for a pair, but only a few outs for the best possible hand, it's not a good idea to speculate on implied odds.


Generally, you should play passively by check/calling when having strong draws, because there is high risk that you might find yourself isolated against one opponent. Due to the fact that from the flop to the river you hit your draw only every third time, you obviously can't make much profit by contributing 50% of the pot and receiving only 33%.

By contrast, you can invest all your chips if there are two more players willing to play the pot. You pay 1/3 of the pot money and receive a return of 1/3 of the pot or more (9 or more outs). An all-in with 9 or more outs on the flop, is therefore actually good value.

Until when can I play a strong draw aggressively?

If you are only up against the small blind and he checks into you, you can naturally bet. The small blind will fold most of the time. You can also usually play your strong draws aggressively when you have enough evidence that your opponents are willing to fold. But against more than two opponents, you should choose a more passive approach.


You should always play monster draws aggressively, no matter against how many opponents and regardless of previous betting action. As already mentioned, you'll hit your hand more than 50% of the time. Furthermore, you'll build a big pot and avoid getting pushed out of the hand with a big bet on the turn, if you haven't hit your hand. If you face any resistance, you should get all of your money into the pot.

How to play on the turn?


Provided that you hit your draw, you should naturally bet in order to extract maximum value from the hand. You also have to protect your hand against possible redraws. For example, a flush draw with 78s can be outdrawn on the river if an opponent holds a higher flush card, giving him the eventual better flush hand.


In this case you should play according to odds and outs. Do not speculate implied odds because you only have one street left on which to make more winnings. As a rule of thumb, play check/fold. Only seldomly will you get good enough odds to call a bet.


This draw should also be played passively. You only have one street on which to make more winnings and you'll face a difficult decision if you get raised. All too often, you have to fold against a raise, when you could have played a comfortable check/call.

When can I play these draws aggressively?

If there's only one opponent left, you can think about whether he would fold his hand if you bet. As long as you are convinced that he is willing to fold, it's sometimes better to bet yourself. An appropriate situation for a bet is when a 'scary' card shows up on the board, for example an overcard.

Also, if you are the player who has had the initiative in previous rounds, it may be worth trying to get him to fold his hand by betting again. In most cases however, you should play passively; against two opponents you should almost always play passively.


Strong draws should be played like combo draws: only bet when you see there's a real chance of your opponent folding his hand. Nothing is worse than having to fold against a re-raise. Try to avoid such situations.


Since you played your monster draw aggressively on the flop, you should normally continue to play it fast. There is only 30% chance left from the turn to the river and your opponent is still able to fold. In any case, the pot should be big enough for you to call a re-raise, but don't bet all of your chips. Only bet according to odds and outs. If you hit on the river, there is a good chance that someone else will bet due to the huge pot size.

How to play on the river?

The river play is relatively easy: if your hands improves then bet. If you do not improve, play check/fold.

Exception: if you have a pair which could win a showdown and you only have a small bet to call. The betting style of your opponent may also give you hope that he might bet on a busted draw, or on a weaker hand. This is usually the case when your opponent has been rather passive so far.


This article should have taught you what kind of draw you can hold in a free play situation, how to evaluate its strength and the most important points when playing it. It can't be emphasised enough that you must feel confident with the mathematical basics of outs, odds, pot odds and implied odds.

When applying the concepts described above, you'll have a new profitable way of generating winnings with the short stack strategy.


Comments (18)

#1 gparce, 30 Jul 08 17:37

i don`t understand how you have four outs against a possible A3, `wouldn`t you have three outs....only the three tens help you

#2 jmackenzie, 13 Aug 08 21:02

i assume in that hand theyre using the possible backdoor flush and straight draws to add up as an extra out.

#3 PokerLucas, 24 Aug 08 17:42

gparce, you won´t have 4 outs against A3 if you have AT. That´s why the topic is called "discounted outs".

#4 TheBrood, 26 Aug 08 04:48

gparce: correct, you would have around 3 outs IF he has A3. But you dont know that so its 3-4 outs.

#5 mouse89, 05 Oct 08 15:01


#6 yzystyle, 29 Nov 08 20:20

mouse- u and ur ok's :)

#7 SadisticNature, 02 Jan 09 19:15

I think one overestimates the value of isolating in this article. The reason to play monster draws like made hands is partly fold equity and partly maximizing your value because people will call vs your monster draw with hands that wouldn't call after you hit. When you hit your draw you rate to win so isolating is weak as it decreases the chance of getting paid off. But isolating when you rate to make a near nut hand when you hit is mathematically the wrong play.

#8 theboydave, 20 Jul 09 16:25

Interesting read i agree to play monster draw aggressive as gives more ways to win.

#9 darkrum18, 08 Nov 09 02:59

I didn't really like this article, I found it was too basic after the two before it pretty much explained everything this just said in greater detail. Just my opinion, not helpful. Id recomend mastering the last two tho!

#10 luismg88, 07 Sep 10 00:18

help here please!... What I really don't understand is why in the "After the flop" article says you shouldn´t continue to play an OESD if you didn´t raise pre-flop (i.e. when you´re the BB); and in this "Free-play draws" article they tell you it´s a Strong Draw and you can check/call the flop, or even invest all your chips if there are 2 more players... what´s up with that????

#11 David, 07 Sep 10 07:31

@10: hi luismg88, our basic articles are directed to absolute beginners. We can not generalise how to play a draw on the flop, it depends how many opponents we are facing on the flop, our odds and outs, our relative position to the opponents, their stack sizes etc.
Have you already discovered our hand evaluation forums? Please have a look: http://www.pokerstrategy.com/forum/board.php?boardid=1527
and post your questionable hands :)

#12 luismg88, 08 Sep 10 00:37

thanks David.. so for example, playing SSS in a .02/.05 table, if I'm holding 67o on the BB, and I check after the SB calls (just the two of us in the hand, and supposing I have $1.70 and he has me covered), the board comes 8Q5 rainbow and he throws a pot-sized raise... the pot is giving me a 2-to-1, but my hand is 5:1
1.- is it profitable to call considering implied odds and chase the OESD? or should I fold when playing SSS?
2.- how about if he bets .05?
3.- and what if we have the same scenario but with another player that limped preflop and he would be yet to act after me? can I shove here? cause as this article suggests: "By contrast, you can invest all your chips if there are two more players willing to play the pot. You pay 1/3 of the pot money and receive a return of 1/3 of the pot or more (9 or more outs)." I don´t get this, cause I´m second to act since I´m on the BB position, so even if there´s another player, I´m not really getting 3-to-1 odds yet...
thanks for the advice

#13 David, 08 Sep 10 07:21

@12: Hi luismg88, please use our short stack strategy forums and hand evaluation forums located here:


One of our hand judges will help you regarding this specific hand.

#14 PERFICK, 18 Jan 11 12:21

I've lost the pLot, what is free play.
I read the basics which the chart says just bet fold or all in.. whats the context for these next articles

#15 PERFICK, 18 Jan 11 13:19

sorry- found it, a call on the blind and hit a draw

#16 riskcore, 27 Jul 11 09:36

in the first example, under the heading combo pairs, why does JTo have more outs that JTs, me confused

#17 Berliner1982, 29 Jul 11 07:05

The flop in the example with JTo is different then with JTs (an 8 instead of an 6) - that why with JTo you have a gutshot (+3 outs).

#18 AKM247, 21 Aug 11 06:30

"Exception: if you are last to act in the betting round (there is no one who can bet after you) and you get good pot odds. When you have a gutshot, it is advisable to call with pot odds of 1:6, even though you would need 1:10 for the possible winnings to be big enough on the following streets."