Playing Draws in Tournaments
Draws are never going to be particularly easy to play. When you factor in the elements of a tournament, the difficulty level is raised a few notches. The differences between playing a draw in a cash game vs. a tournament are great. You'll need to consider the consequences of your plays a lot more closely. In cash games, aggressive play with a drawing hand can take consolation in the ability to re-buy. Save for certain tournament types, this luxury isn't going to be made available to most tournament players. You need to take the short term and long term effects of your decisions into account. Yes, chasing and hitting draws is thrilling, but the pain of bricking and busting out is much worse.
There are many different types of draws and there are varied amounts of strength therein. You could have a straight draw on an unsuspicious board, or you could have a flush draw on a board that saw three spades on the flop. The variety of your particular draw (as well as the other ongoing and recurring variables) is going to largely determine the most optimal route for success. You can't play every draw the same if only because they have different likely outcomes.
Sometimes you'll be happy with taking down a pot right on the spot, but other times you may really want to get the money in the middle. Your end game strategy (and the likely result that correlates) is the most important thing when playing draws in tournaments. A lot of players will blindly make calls or raises while disregarding the fact that more decisions will lie ahead. Thinking and planning ahead will go a long way towards your success with draws in tournaments.
Small Pots vs. Big Pots
The existing size of the pot that you are playing will help to determine what type of natural value is in place. It's going to make a lot more sense to chase after a draw when there's tons of dead money in the middle than if you are involved in a limped pot. Likewise, the size of the pot is probably going to be one of the most important elements in the decision making process of your opponent(s). You need to use all of this information together in order to formulate an optimal game plan.
Pretend that you are in a raised pot. A player in EP leads into a 3-bet pot on the flop. You have an up and down straight draw. Knowing the line that your opponent has taken, you should come to the conclusion that raising is unlikely to garner a fold and that folding would be a big mistake. The pot is big enough as is, so there's little need to inflate it further right now.
This is an example of controlling a pot with a drawing hand. If there was no money in the middle pre-flop, raising the flop bet would come with a lot more merit. A raise in a limped pot like this will enable you to build the pot should you complete your hand, it will position yourself for a steal on the turn if you miss, and it may take down the hand right then and there. Raising is much less likely to scare an opponent who has been raising and betting out than one who had shown no prior aggression. Pot control cannot be overstated in tournaments, and its relevance is on center stage when you are playing a draw.
Numbers Games, Weak Draws vs. Strong Draws
A lot of players like to chase draws regardless of their value. Sometimes these players just imagine the rush they will get should they be lucky enough to land their 4 out gut shot straight draw. This isn't to say that making such a play is always wrong, but for the sake of this article, just assume that it was a poor move. You need to be able to define yourself as the polar opposite of these action junkie players. Keep things in perspective before you ever commit.
Odds and math tend to be blown out of proportion in poker. The truth is that knowing the numbers isn't something that's necessarily required to win. Even players like Phil Ivey have openly stated that they have general ideas on the numbers involved, but that a general feel for situations is much more valuable. With all that said, however, draws are one of the times where your odds are critical.
Using the example above, the chances of hitting a gut shot are quite slim. This would mean that chasing your hand would require an awfully cheap price relative to the pot and the amount of money that you could stand to win. On the other end of this pricing spectrum would be a straight draw, flush draw combo. You don't need the right odds to call this bet, as your worst case scenario is going to be a coin flop. These situations should be relatively easy to handle, but it's all of the spots in between that tend to cause the problems.
Deception should be the big area of concern. It's more important that you can get paid off with a made draw than it is for you to make one in the first place. The reason for this is that all of your plays are going to be heavily reliant on implied odds. You know what the rough chances are of making your hand, but this will hardly matter if no one is going to pay you off.
The true strength of your drawing hands is going to have a lot to do with deceit. If you are holding the Ad on a ddd flop, another diamond is very unlikely to result in you stacking an opponent. If, on the other hand, you have the Ad 8d on a 5s 7h Jd 4d board, you are in prime position. The former hand is a draw to the nuts, but it's really weak in that it doesn't offer much, if any deception. The latter hand is going to be a surprise in most situations, making it capable of getting paid off with more ease. The strong and weak dynamics of draws in tournaments are more about how likely a draw is to ultimately win you a big pot, and less about the strength of the draw itself.
Comparing to Cash Games
The risk involved in any play with draws is what differentiates cash games from tournaments. You should be making less moves with the idea of fold equity in mind when you are in a tournament. Fold equity matters in cash games because it assumes a reasonable losing percentage.
In tournaments, losing isn't just a blow, it's the end. This isn't to say that making some shoves with draws can't garner folds and/or be profitable as an aggressive strategy, but it does mean that you need to be more careful with each step that you take. Remember that tournaments are life and death, with your bust being permanent. In cash games, it's a never ending cycle of re-birth. Adjust your decisions according to your environment and game type.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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