This text is based on episode 6 of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Hey there poker players, let’s dive into some strategy and level-up your skills. I’m Mike Brady and I’m joined by Scottish poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls? Today we’re talking about flush draws in single-raised pots. When to raise them, when to call them, when to check them back.
Mike: Now, we can’t comprehensively cover how to play this hand class in every situation in one short podcast episode. However, we can give you some key heuristics for the most common spots.
We’re gonna talk about playing flush draws as the preflop raiser and the preflop caller, both in and out of position. You’ll learn which specific flush draw combinations perform best as bets, which flush draws you should check, and key adjustments to make in multiway pots.
Keep in mind that the specific examples in this episode assume you’re playing 100 big blind cash with no ante. If you play a different game type, such as tournaments, the general concepts we talk about will largely apply, but the specific hand selection and frequencies won’t.
The Global Frequency Concept In Poker
Mike: Let’s start with playing in position as the preflop raiser – in other words, you raise from early, middle or late position and the big blind calls. Gary, can you talk about the factors that impact your decision to either bet or check with a flush draw?
Gary: So the first thing we’re gonna talk about today is unbelievably important, and not just specifically for the topic that we’re discussing today, but for all things poker. It’s something called our “global frequency” which is just a fancy term for how often our range wants to bet on a particular board.
For example BTN vs BB single raised pot on Q♠7♣2♥, our global frequency is 100%, so every category of hand, be it flush draw, top pair, set, eight-high and so on, they always want to bet. On the flipside if we have a board like 6♠4♠3♥, our global frequency is much much lower, so all categories of hands bet less frequently, and that of course includes our flush draws.
So it’s not a case of “I have a good flush draw” or “I have a bad flush draw” and I want to do XYZ, the KEY to getting better at poker is looking at the board, estimating your global frequency, and building your strategy around that for ALL types of hands, not just flush draws.
Mike: Gary referenced our previous episode on how often you should c-bet, and that episode is going to pair really well with this one. If you go back and listen to that one, you’re going to hear us list a bunch of different boards, and different properties of boards, that make them either high-frequency, middle-frequency, or low-frequency c-bets.
So if you go back and listen to that one, if you hear us talk about a high-frequency c-bet board, that means you’re going to c-bet your flush draws at a high frequency (or a middling or low frequency), you’re going to be betting your flush draws at those same frequencies on those boards.
Mike: I think it’d be helpful to zoom in on one of those flops that warrant a mid/low c-bet frequency so we can talk exactly which flush draws like to bet and which prefer to check. Suppose the flop is (mid-frequency c-bet flop here, 8♠6♠2♥ with BTN vs BB), which flush draws are you for sure betting and which ones are the clearest checks?
Gary: So it’s really important to understand that we are betting basically ALL of our flush draws at some frequency on a board like this (i.e. a middle-frequency c-bet board like 8♠6♠2♥). Obviously, if it’s a board like 6♠4♠3♥, where we’re betting very infrequently overall with our entire range (i.e. a low global frequency), there are going to be a lot of flush draws that we check back.
Let’s start with your flush draws that want to check back more often, and those are going to be your AK/AQ/AJ/KQ-type combos, for two reasons. One, they have pretty reasonable showdown so they don’t want to bet too wide anyway, and two, AK suited blocks more flush draw combos with the king which makes it slightly less likely our opponent has an inferior flush draw, which is the dream scenario for us.
But if we have a hand like A3s, our three kicker doesn’t block as many inferior flush draws, and we have way less showdown value. Also really important to point out there’s a big difference between AK suited and QJ suited here, QJ has no showdown value so it bets virtually always in this spot.
If we quickly change the board to something like T♠9♠3♥ we will now see our lower flush draws checking at a higher frequency, and the reason for this is that 64 suited is dominated by way more flush draws, so we don’t want to just start piling money in with it, we want to be a bit more reserved because the reality is we might get flush over flushed, but when we have K4 suited that’s way less likely, so we play more aggressively.
I don’t want to confuse our listeners here and have people start checking A♠K♠ on Q♠6♠2♥; remember the global frequency is key. So because on Q♠6♠2♥ we bet really wide, A♠K♠ bets basically always. But when the global frequency is low, like T♠9♠3♥, 8♠4♠3♥, 8♠5♠2♥, when our global frequency is lower, that’s when we need to start finding these checks with A♠K♠, A♠Q♠, and so on.
Playing Flush Draws Out Of Position As The Preflop Raiser
Mike: Alright, time to move on to playing out of position as the preflop raiser. How does your flop strategy with flush draws change when you’ve raised in, say, middle position and were called by the button (so you’re out of position as the preflop raiser)?
Gary: It changes drastically, and one of the reasons for that is that we are now out of position, and when we are out of position, we c-bet WAY less often. Our opponent is in position, and are more likely to float us. So our global frequency goes down, and as a result all types of hands, not just flush draws, bet way less often. There are actually so many boards that we are supposed to just check our entire range on when we open in MP and the BTN calls.
For example, on boards eight-high and below, we’re supposed to check virtually our entire range as MP vs. BTN. And that means we’re checking so much with our flush draws. So we bet less frequently with our flush draws when we’re out of position because we’re out of position.
Mike: You’re playing against such a strong and condensed range when you raise and someone calls in position. They’re going to have a lot of pocket pairs and a lot of high-card hands. Generally speaking, they get to call your c-bet on the flop a lot. So you have to play a defensive strategy, even with sets, two pair, and overpairs; you have to do a lot of checking in those spots.
So we’re going to check a lot, and sometimes our in-position opponent is going to bet. Gary, can you walk us through how you play your flush draws once you’ve checked and your OOP opponent bets?
Gary: So it’s actually very consistent with what we’ve talked about already. We want to prioritize our nut flush draws and our second nut flush draws with the weaker kickers. Because we love to flush over flush, or flush draw over flush draw, our opponents when we’re raising on the flop.
Say for example we check on a board like 8♠5♠2♥, and the button stabs. We’re going to raise our A♠3♠, A♠4♠ combos way more than a hand like T♠9♠. A hand like T♠9♠ is going to raise sometimes, but nowhere near as often.
The solver is actually very consistent here in terms of we want to raise those nut flush draws, second nut flush draws, and combo draws. So on 8♠5♠2♥, a hand like T♠9♠ isn’t going to raise that much, but 7♠6♠ is actually going to raise quite a lot. Yes it is an inferior flush draw, but it has an extra few outs with the straight draw.
Playing Flush Draws Out Of Position As The Preflop Caller
Mike: Now that we’ve covered playing flush draws as the preflop aggressor, let’s turn the tables and talk about playing as the preflop caller, starting with out of position. Suppose you defend your big blind versus an in-position player’s raise. You check to the aggressor, as you should with your entire range, and they c-bet. Gary, how would you sum up playing flush draws in this spot?
Gary: Let’s talk about our flush draws that want to check/raise the most first of all, and again we are favoring our ace-high/king-high/queen-high flush draws with the lowest kickers, for the same reasons we’ve talked about above.
We want to dominate our opponent’s weaker flush draws, and K♠2 ♠of spades dominates more flush draws than K♠8♠ for example. We also like to check-raise our combo draws too, even the weaker ones, because they have extra outs.
If we look at a board like T♠3♠2♥ we will see that a low flush draw with no combo draw will virtually never raise. Our 8♠6♠ of spades raises virtually never, we have no straight draw, no overcards, and we don’t want to be bloating the pot vs a range that has a lot of flush draws in it.
A hand like 5♠4♠, however, with the open-ended straight draw and the flush draw, does want to check-raise.
Flush Draws That Include Pairs
Mike: A quick question about that; what about flush draws that have a pair? Let’s say like K♠3♠ or 4♠3♠ on T♠3♥2♠. Do those hands like to raise, or do they call because of the added showdown value?
Gary: A hand like K♠3♠ is going to check-raise really often. We have the second nut flush draw, it unblocks a lot of flush draws, and it has a pair to go with it. Lots of equity.
A hand like 4♠3♠ is going to raise a little less often than K♠3♠, but way more often than 8♠6♠. You treat your pair plus low flush draws kind of like your combo draws in a way. You want to raise those much more often than your 7-high flush draw with no straight draw and no pair.
A Note On Mixed Betting Frequencies
Mike: I want to touch on one thing before we move onto our last spot. Throughout this episode we’ve said that pretty much every flush draw plays a mixed strategy in most spots, betting/raising sometimes and checking/calling the rest of the time.
If you look at these spots at equilibrium, you’re supposed to play say an 80 percent bet strategy with one flush draw, and a 20 percent strategy with another. It’s kind of a lot to memorize, and if you have high poker ambitions, and you’re trying to succeed at high stakes, that is what you’re going to have to do. You have to have a robust, tough strategy like that.
But I do want to present the option – if you’re playing 1/3 or 2/5 live, or maybe 25NL online, you can keep your strategy simple. You can just always bet the flush draws that really like to bet, and always check the flush draws that really like to check. That’s a pretty reasonable way to simplify. You’re going to be costing yourself some EV in theory, but that’s okay because you’re keeping your strategy simple and you’re going to execute it better.
Gary: I remember when I started randomizing, it was really daunting at first. It can be really overwhelming, and as Mike just said, a lot of the time a simplified strategy is actually higher EV. If you’re confusing yourself and overwhelming yourself, you’re not going to play the strategy correctly.
Playing Flush Draws In Position As The Preflop Caller
Mike: Good stuff. The last common spot to cover is playing as the preflop caller IN position. Suppose a player raises from whatever position and you call on the button. How are you playing your flush draws versus a c-bet?
Gary: It’s a little different here because in this spot our range is much narrower than other spots. Say we flat the button vs MP and the flop is K♠6♠2♥, we raise all of our flush draws at some frequency, but again we want to raise more aggressively with our nut flush draws and second nut flush draws for obvious reasons. Let’s get into the habit of playing slightly more passively with our weaker flush draws, and more aggressively with our stronger ones AND our low combo draws.
Mike: What about versus a check? I assume you’d bet some flush draws while checking others, depending on the board. Can you speak to that?
Gary: You bet all your flush draws at some frequency, but really consistent stuff here, your strongest flush draws bet way more often, especially the ones with the lowest kickers. Really important we are finding a bet with all of our flush draws at some frequency though, as our range is strong and we can support stabbing really wide here!
Playing Flush Draws In Multiway Pots
Mike: Let’s get into every live poker player’s favorite topic: multiway pots. I’ll ask you a very general question and then we’ll see where the discussion takes us. So, Gary, what are your considerations when playing flush draws in multiway pots?
Gary: A really good piece of advice is that when you are playing multiway you want to c-bet a whole lot less often in general. The reason for this is that when there are more players in the pot, you have less equity, and therefore you need to c-bet less, because the general rule of poker is that when you have less equity you can’t c-bet as wide. All pots have 100% equity, but the more players that are in the pot, the less equity you have in the pot.
So if we’re betting less often, how do we play our flush draws? We bet way less of the 8-high flush draws, and we bet way more of the king-high and ace-high flush draws, and which of those king-high and ace-high flush draws do we wanna bet? The ones with the lower kickers. Remember we love to put money in with very strong flush draws vs weaker flush draws, so my advice here is to bet less overall, and when we do bet, favor your higher equity bluffs as opposed to your 8-high bluffs that are dominated!
Mike: Imagine you raise with 8♥7♥ from the lojack in a live game, and the cutoff calls, the button calls, the small blind calls, and the big blind calls. So you go five ways to the flop; not super unusual for live poker.
Let’s say the flop comes Q♥T♥3♠. If you think about the hands that your opponents are flatting your preflop raise with, they’re going to have a lot of suited hands. They’re going to have a lot of A6s, KTs, K9s, maybe JTs and J9s.
So you’re going to be up against a lot of better flush draws. There are four different ranges, all of which can have flush draws in them. C-betting in this spot with the eight-high flush draw is kind of a disaster. There are just so many flush draws that are better than yours, and not many that are worse.
A Note About Playing Flush Draws In Tournaments
Mike: I really like to end these podcasts with a quick addendum for tournament players.
One thing I want to touch on for our tournament players, that hasn’t been discussed in this episode, is being aware of stack sizes. In particular the possibility of facing an all-in raise, and being forced off of your equity.
For example, let’s say you have a 20BB stack, or your opponent has a 20bb stack, and you have a middling flush draw. Even if it’s a high global frequency board, your going to find that those middling flush draws play better as a check a good amount of the time.
Because if you do bet, your opponent is going to have the chance to potentially raise all-in, and you’re going to have to fold the equity of your flush draw.
Imagine you raise with 8♥7♥ from the cutoff in a tournament, and the big blind calls. The flop comes K♥6♥2♠. You’re supposed to be c-betting that board very often in a cash game.
In a tournament, that frequency is going to be high as well. But, at a 20BB stack depth, you have to be careful with certain hands. If you have that 8♥7♥ and you c-bet, your opponent might just rip it, and you have to fold your equity. And you probably had at least 30 percent equity against the range with which they’re shoving.
So the big takeaway there, in tournaments – be aware of stack sizes, because you don’t want to get shoved on and have to fold your equity. A hand like 8♥7♥ plays better as a check in that spot.
Want to Really Take Your No Limit Hold’em Game to the Next Level?
We’ve given you a solid overview of how to approach flush draws throughout this episode…
…but if you really want to print money with your overall strategy, you’ve gotta join the Upswing Lab training course and community.
As a listener (or reader) of this podcast you can get $50 off when you sign up for the Upswing Lab with the coupon code LEVELUP. Click the banner below to learn more and sign up.
If you want to check out more episodes of Upswing Poker Level-Up, scroll down on this page to find them.