Flush draws are beautiful – I get it. There’s nothing like looking at four of your suit and thinking about all the times you’ve seen that magical fifth one come out. The problem is that such draws can be seductive beyond the point of profitability.
Let’s look at a classic example. You call a raise in the big blind with the ten and nine of hearts (Th9h). There are three people going to the flop, which comes Ah-7c-4h. The pot now contains 7 big blinds (BBs). You check, the initial raiser bets 3 BBs, the other player folds. Now what?
You have a pretty easy call here. You are getting 10:3 odds (it costs you 3 BBs to try to win a pot of 10 BBs). It’s reasonable to assume you have 9 outs (all unseen hearts), so that’s 9 of 47 unseen cards, or 38:9 against, about 4:1. So you’re not getting the correct direct odds (you’re getting 3.3:1), but there are two factors working in your favor:
1. A number of turn cards could give you more equity in the hand. An 8 on the turn would give you an open-end straight draw to go with your flush draw. A 6 or jack would give you a gutshot draw. A ten or 9 would give you a pair, which is unlikely to be good, but it would give you 5 additional outs against a hand such as AK.
2. If you do hit your flush, you can reasonably expect to collect some chips from the preflop raiser. This is what we call implied odds – you can read a good introduction to implied odds here. Not least, you’ll have two streets to potentially collect (the turn and river) if you hit the turn.
So even though we’re not getting exactly the right price on the flop, there are good reasons to call that first bet.
However, the situation becomes much more marginal when the turn misses us completely. Suppose the turn is the deuce of clubs, a complete brick in every respect. There are 13 BBs in the pot, and the villain bets 8 BBs.
This situation is less clear.
You are getting 21:8 (2.6:1) to call, and are now a 37:9 (almost exactly 4:1) underdog to hit your flush. But all the reasons that made a flop call reasonable have vanished. You’re going on pure equity here and the pure equity doesn’t justify a call. Yes, implied odds are still at play, and you may collect some chips if you hit the river. But it’s far from a sure thing.
This is where the seductiveness of flush draws becomes dangerous. I routinely hear good poker players – people who know the odds – discuss such a hand and say something like, “With the flush draw, I have an easy call.”
No, you don’t. Flushes are pretty but they come in on the river 20% of the time – not more, not less. If you’re not getting 4:1 odds (or close to it) to call, you need to fold your flush draw.
There, I said it – fold your flush draw.
Again, implied odds matter. If you’re getting close to the right price and honestly believe you can collect more if you get there, you can call. But for example, if you or your opponent are all-in, implied odds cease to exist – you must fold.
It’s not easy, it’s not fun. But poker is unforgiving of players who ignore the math of such situations. When you’re a 4:1 underdog to make a winning hand and your opponent gives you only 2.6:1 odds, fold.
I’ll close with a final thought, from the other side of the pot: if you’re the one with the made hand, and think that flush draws make up a significant portion of your opponent’s range, the turn is a good time to punish them for not respecting the odds. If you bet 8 BBs into a 13 BB pot and they call just a flush draw, they’re giving you money. It doesn’t matter if the flush card comes or not (as long as you don’t pay off a bet on the river) – when they made that call on the turn, it was -EV for them, and thus by definition +EV for you.
Flush draws, no matter how pretty, live and die by the same mathematical rules that underpin our entire game. Respect that.
Do you feel that you might not understand pot odds fully, or when it is or isn't correct to proceed with a flush draw? Schedule a coaching session with me and let's make sure that you're making those correct decisions.