How To Play Top Pair + A Flush Draw

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There are times when you know you are behind – but you still have a hand that sucks to fold. In this hand we’ll explore that exact kind of situation. Hero ends up flopping top pair + a nut flush draw – but when facing escalating action in a multi-way pot it becomes very clear that our top pair is almost certainly NOT the best hand. What should we do? Keep reading (or watch the video) to find out…

This is a hand from 10NL where Skrish has A9s in the small blind and has a question about playing big draws facing big action. There’s a raise under the gun, button calls, hero decides to call and here we are. And the only HUD stats I was given was for button who has a 19/12 with a 32% AF over 84 hands.

In this scenario, I feel a lot of players will heavily consider flatting here, but I would always suggest at least look for the squeeze. This is one where the button is rarely going to have something that’s super-strong, so they probably go away a pretty large chunk of the time assuming you size your squeeze decently. Probably 5x-ish should probably go up to about $1.85, $2.50, something like that.

Learn exactly what goes into a bluff squeeze with this short video

Even an under the gun player who, yes, is probably opening a strong range of hands, if they’re opening small pairs, are they going to love facing that squeeze with something like 22 or 55? If they have something like AQ or KQ, are they going to love facing that squeeze or are they going to melt away a large chunk of the time? A lot of times in full-ring games, you can get people to fold a large chunk of the time against 3bets and squeezes, so heavily, heavily look for that. As played, we end up going 3-way to it. Go here, check, bet, raise, and hero needs to decide what he wants to do.

Skrish’s main question in the write-up was:

“How aggressively should we be playing strong draws when there’s big action in front of us?”

So what I want to do is look at Skrish’s line, which was just “Do you shove?” and then mathematically proof it to say was this good? Was this bad? And what goes into looking at this situation from a mathematical perspective?

To proof this, we really just need two simple things. A fold equity calculator and any equity-calculating program. In this case, we’re going to use Equilab. And this is the free fold equity calculator from Red Chip Poker. We just need a couple of numbers to proof it and we’re good to go from there. I know I’ve said this about a million times and I’m going to say it at least one more. It’s that you do this stuff off the table, so that in real time, you can estimate it and say, “Okay, this looks like a good spot to get aggressive,” or, “This doesn’t look like the greatest spot to get aggressive.”

For the fold equity calculator, we just need a couple of numbers. So what is the pot size before we shove? If we back up one tick, that’s 3.37. Now, in the fold equity calculator, no decimal points, so in this situation, since we can’t write 3.37, we just write 337. Pretty simple. We just move the decimal point over a little bit and we’re good to go.

In this situation, how much do we have to call? Well, $1.85 in front of us, so we’ll just say 185. Excellent. How much are we shoving for total? Well, technically, 970, but if we do get called, it’s the full 975. So I’m just going to go for the 975. It’s definitely close enough to get us in the ballpark.

What is our estimated percent equity in this situation when we shove and get called? To figure that out, we can just simply pull out Equilab and start plugging in some numbers. So in Equilab, we just plug in our hand. We plug in the board and then we need to plug in our opponent’s range.

Again, this is the range of hands that we think the button would call the preflop raise with and raise over the cbet and call our shove with. So in this scenario, what do we think that is? I always like to start with worst-case scenario, so let’s just plug that in – 22s, TTs, probably not AAs. They’ve probably got a 3bet preflop. And we’ll plug in both the ATs.

This is a pretty realistic worst-case scenario. If you want to plug in A2s, okay, fine. Let’s just go with that, evaluate it, and go forward. And you notice in that situation, we have 35% equity.

Going back to the fold equity calculator, 35, good to go. And you see that we need villain to fold at least 42% of the time when we make this shove. So what that really means is that we need enough hands in this person’s range that they’re going to raise the cbet with. They’re going to melt away when we shove a large chunk of the time. Ideally, about half or more.

In order for that to be the case, you would need AAA or the person on the button in order to be essentially raising here with things like AJ and then folding when you shove, or raising with nonsense and folding if you shove, or that sort of thing if we’re only talking about worst-case scenario. But I think there are some other things we can keep in mind here.

So, yes, we filled that in against worst-case scenario, but what are some other hands that could possibly be in this range that would raise here and then possibly call our shove?

I think there’s some mega-draws that probably do that. There’s probably QJ of clubs. There’s probably KQ of clubs, KJ of clubs. Excellent. Are there any other big ones like that? Yeah, there’s 45, there’s 43, there’s all those. Let’s just run with that for the time being. Just doing a suit selection only choosing the club combos. Excellent. Evaluate it and now all of a sudden, you notice that we get a huge equity boost. Now, all of sudden, we’re up to 49%. Now, if we add that in there, excellent.

Now you notice that we’re totally profitable. We actually don’t need our opponent to fold at all. So it really boils down to how worst-case scenario is it? I always start with the worst-case because if it’s profitable in a worst-case scenario or pretty darn close in a worst-case scenario, in a normal case, you’re probably just fine making this shove.

As to the overall question of how aggressively should we be playing strong draws when there’s action in front of us?

Typically – very aggressive.

Now, if you were 200, 300, 400 big blinds deep, this probably doesn’t make any sense to shove this. But if you’re playing 100BB or lower, that effective stack isn’t super, super deep, you can definitely get away with playing draws very, very aggressively and this is how you proof it mathematically. Fold equity calculator, any sort of equity calculating program will get you to where you need to be quite quickly.

Remember, built into this is the times that you decide to get it in. Of course, your opponent calls and they have something like the set where they have something really, really strong. Now, in this scenario, it kind of sucks. We ended up shoving. The fact that they have AK is really, really surprising. They didn’t 3bet preflop and then they decided to massively fast play at postflop, which is a little bizarre. And, unfortunately, we ended up losing on both run outs, both the first run out and the second one, because we ran it twice.

The point is, is that this is how you proof it from a mathematical perspective, which is incredibly important. Any information that you get here, whether you run into deuces, whether you run into AK, whether you run into something totally funky, make sure to take a note because that’s going to help inform your hand rating in the future, both when you’re assigning their preflop ranges and also their postflop ranges, whether it’s in an all-in situation or just a normal situation altogether.


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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