Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
Some hold ’em players get married to open-end straights. They over bet and over raise. They call big bets that break their bankrolls. It’s a sad, sad thing.
I could write several books dealing with the nuances of open-end straight draws. Today, I want to share some of the issues that were included in a lecture I gave many years ago. It went like this…
If you could take all the cases where an open-end straight try is possible after the flop and average them together, guess what you’d find? Think about it. I’m talking about all the times in the history of hold ’em that some player held an open end straight draw after the flop. How do you think those players fared on those hands?
I’ll tell you how they fared. They won a little money. OK, but, wait! If you go back to the beginning of the hand, you’ll find something much different. Of all the non-pair hands played that could potentially flop an open-end straight by using both starting cards – whether it actually happened or not – players lost money.
Don’t misread me here. I’m not saying they lost money after they flopped the open-end straight draw – clearly, in some situations they did and some they didn’t. I’m saying if you averaged together all the times that an open-end straight draw was flopped, added together all the money won with similar hands played, starting before the flop, subtracted all the money lost, and divided by the number of incidents, you’d get a net loss. No profit for you. I’m so very sorry.
So, what am I saying? Are you never supposed to play those hands and never end up with an open-end straight draw? No, you can play some of those hands sometimes. You might win by making a pair, two pair, three-of-a-kind, a full house, or four-of-a-kind — or just by holding the highest card. You never know how luck will treat you. But, because all non-pair hands averaged together that have a potential to flop an open-end straight result in an average loss if played, and even all such hands that are selected to be played result in a loss, you need to be quite careful about how you select and play these hold ’em hands.
I’m going to give you some important tips about this today.
First, you should know that if you begin with hands most likely to connect for a four-card straight on the flop, unless the ranks are very large, you need them to be suited in most cases to show a profit. A hand like 9-8 of mixed suits typically will not show a profit, even if there are a lot of players already in the pot, making your odds more inviting. But, when 9-8 of mixed suits is not profitable, 9-8 of the same suit often is. By the way, what I’m telling you isn’t just based on speculation. It’s based on actual analysis, including a comprehensive ongoing Mike Caro University of Poker research endeavor called MCU Project Y-06.
Hands with the ranks immediately adjacent and the suits matching are often called “suited connectors.” Can you play suited connectors smaller than 9-8? Yes, especially if you’re calling many opponents.
Now, there’s one monumental tip I want to give you today. Sometimes you will play non-suited connectors – hands like 7-6 or 8-7. This usually happens when you’re in the blinds and can call cheaply or can see the flop totally for free. Then what happens when you flop an open end straight?
Well, for one thing, you’re better off if you’re holding the high two cards of the four-contiguous ranks than the low two cards. There are several reasons for this. One is that if you hold the low two cards and next board card hits the high end to complete your straight, there are three higher adjacent cards on the board and you could be beaten in a costly collision with bigger ranks that make a bigger straight. For this reason, you’re also well off if you hold the middle two ranks – for instance your 9-8 with a 10 and a 7 on the board.
Which pairs win?
Now listen closely. Another powerful reason you should prefer holding the two top ranks with an open-end straight draw is often overlooked. You might make a pair and win, especially against only a few opponents. But someone else might already have flopped a pair. This means, if you have the high two cards in the straight draw, it’s more likely that the pair you might make will beat the pair that your opponent already holds. With the top end of the potential straight, your opponent may have paired one of the smaller straight cards. But with the bottom end, his pair is more apt to be higher than yours, even if you do subsequently pair.
Now here’s a final tip. If you’re in doubt whether to proceed with your open-end straight draw, you should do so only if there are three different suits on the flop. If two cards are of the same suit, your chances of losing to a flush are increased slightly – but just enough to often make pursuing the pot unprofitable. So, you should fold. I’m not saying you should routinely fold an open-end straight attempt when there are two suited cards on the flop. But, I’m saying if the decision is close otherwise, that’s enough to be the deciding factor.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC