How To Play Gutshots In Poker

Gutshots, also known as ‘inside straight draws’ are just one kind of draw you catch in poker. The typical definition of a gutshot is that you have 4 cards to improve your draw, which is only half of the number of outs you’d have with an open-ended straight draw (OESD).

To visualize this, say the flop is QT6. On such a board, 87 is a gutshot that needs a 9 to improve to a made-straight. And AK is also a gutshot, but it needs a Jack to improve to a made-straight.

Two Gutshots On The Flop

Note that gutshots can also have other qualities (for instance, AK has a gutshot straight draw AND two overcards on QT6). And in some cases, a starting hand can actually have a double gutshot (aka a double-belly buster). 98 is a double gutty here since a Jack OR a 7 would make their straight. 

In this guide, we are going to look at how to play gutshots through the lens of Ace King. This material comes directly from Chapter 11 “When AK Flops A Gutshot” in the book Optimizing Ace King. So without further ado, let’s get into the strategy…

Arguably, one of the toughest aspects of playing AK is when it flops a gutshot. In some senses, this is also the least relevant of the three “buckets” we have chosen, because it comparatively occurs with the lowest frequency. The other two “buckets” – missing with Ace King & flopping top pair – were covered in previous chapters.

So what is it that makes AK with a flopped gutshot so tough to play?

  • By default, we will often need to employ mixed strategies
  • We need to be able to make estimates regarding range-vs.-range equity

It should also be noted that knowing how to play gutshots with AK will give us a leg up when it comes to playing other draws (such as nut flush draws (NFDs) with AK suited).

Most flopped gutshots with AK are to the nuts, and that certainly means they are candidates for aggressive lines due to their measure of equity retention. However, problems can occur if we opt to always play these hands aggressively.

Let us visualize this with a 100NL example:


AK Overs And Gutter

HERO ???

Based on our discussions in earlier chapters, cbetting seems reasonable. We have a decent draw to the nuts, and we therefore know it is going to retain its equity at least somewhat decently. We would probably even get away with firing a continuation bet with all of our AK combos in the majority of games. It would make sense to double barrel a large number of turns also. This is especially true on rainbow turn cards where the AK gutshot ends up being one of our best semi-bluffs.

If our games are soft and we are satisfied with a very low-level strategy; we can leave it there. The “just fire the cbet” strategy is simple to execute and likely profitable in practice.

Cbetting AK with 100% frequency on gutshot boards can quickly become problematic

For anyone wishing to compete at a higher level, this rather broad overview will absolutely not be sufficient. Cbetting AK with 100% frequency on gutshot boards can quickly become problematic.

To illustrate this further, let us begin by taking a look at the range-vs.-range equity. We will use similar ranges from our earlier discussion on BB vs. BTN scenarios. There are subtle differences though. For example, we will exclude all AK combos from the caller’s range and add TT to the 3bettor’s range:

Two Poker Ranges

And here are the equities after the flop is dealt:

3Bet vs. Call Equity

We can see that the 3bettor is a significant underdog on the JTx board. And herein lies the issue: the boards where AK flops a gutshot are typically also the most favorable boards for the caller.

Sure, our AK hits reasonably well, but we simply do not have a lot else going for us. We have some set combinations in our range, but we do not have any two pairs or OESDs in our range. Our opponent, on the other hand, has an abundance of these holdings.

Put simply, our opponent has an advantage here, and it is important that we do not get out of line by betting too frequently. This is something that villain can easily exploit, partly because they have so many great hands to do it with.

How many hands can we fire all three streets for value?

Another way of thinking about the problem is to ask ourselves “which holdings in our range are likely to be able to bet three streets for value by the river?” The only ones we can be confident about are our three combos of TT and three of JJ. Even these cards will face ugly runouts some percentage of the time and be unable to value bet. If we select an ambitious 2:1 bluff:value ratio on the flop, this does not even use up all of our AK combos, let alone our AQ combos and other potential bluffs.

Of course, we are making sweeping over-simplifications here…

Even if AA and KK are rarely worth three on this texture; they are usually worth at least two streets. This, in turn, allows for some additional bluffs (at a lower ratio). Also, our AK and AQ combos sometimes connect on the turn making the nuts and can be triple barreled. But the point is, we cannot recklessly continuation bet the flop with all of our gutshot combos – we simply have far too many.

Another issue is that it might not be correct to cbet all of our premiums anyway. Cbetting all of our value hands makes our checking range even weaker and vulnerable to exploitation. We need to leave some holdings behind to defend our checking range. Even if we were to fire all of our value hands, we could not cbet all of our gutshot combinations.

If we were looking to make large simplifications to our strategy and avoid dealing with complex mixes; it would actually be better to check our entire range rather than always cbet here.

However, there is a reasonable possibility that having a betting range is optimal.

One GTO solver recommended this flop play. Bets are in blue and checks in green:

Complete Poker Range

It is worth noting that solvers are only as good as the accuracy of the game tree they have been given for later streets. Within the current tree, the solver recommends a cbetting frequency of just under 50%.

It would be very easy to argue that even this cbetting frequency is overly-aggressive and that it is better to check with a higher frequency than the one recommended. However, there are two reasons why having some sort of betting range might be stronger than checking our entire range:

1. We have the nutted equity distribution. (We have top set with JJ, and we assumed our opponent 4bet that preflop). Even if he sometimes flats it, we never need to fear being beaten if we have JJ.

2. While some of the hands in the hero’s range struggle to extract 3 streets of value, the board is somewhat drawy and betting one-pair holdings is very viable because they are vulnerable and benefit from a protection component. Note how the solver even tends towards betting hands like 65 and 54 which are clearly only worth a single street of value in the best case scenario.

We can see that AKo and AQo are advised as both checks and bets i.e. a mixed strategy. It is a good idea to be comfortable with the concept of mixing because excellent NLHE play dictates that we do this with certain holdings.

Mixed Strategy: When a player will take different actions with the same hand. For instance, checking AK 20% of the time and betting the other 80%.

There are potential simplifications to the mixed strategy which result in minimal loss of EV and stripped down strategies which can be executed more accurately. A trend developing in the online scene is attempting to simplify strategies either by checking our entire range on the flop or betting our entire range with a small sizing.

The solver output from above was given only one bet size to work with – which is arguably suboptimal. Perhaps it could bet more frequently if it was given a range of sizings to work with. Also, as a general principle, the smaller the sizing we use, the more frequently we can bet.

So while it is typically not going to be correct to bet 100% of flops with a large size, when we start exploring underbet sizings such as 25% pot, it can quickly become at least OK to bet close to 100% of our range when the equities allow for it.

Again, this is just a snippet from this chapter. The rest of the chapter goes on to look at spots where we called a preflop 3bet and face a cbet holding a gutshot, when villain checks to us and we hold a gutshot, and how to craft lines when we opt to check AND our opponent stabs at the pot.

If this kind of exploration is up your alley, and you see how important it is to have this skillset in your playbook, pick up your copy of Optimizing Ace King today. It’s a quick read with lots of examples to showcase how to play AK preflop, postflop, when hitting, and when missing. See how AK fits into your overall range AND strategy!

OAK Cover

I rate the book 10/10.

I believe it’s perfect for my current stage of development. I appreciate how it blends the concrete with the more abstract and provides a view on general poker strategy through the lens of one starting hand.”


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