by Barbara Connors
CORRECTION: I gave an example where you call to see a flop with A-7 suited, but you’re concerned an opponent may hold a bigger ace. I explained that if you could push that opponent out with a raise, the remaining aces would become good outs for you, and thus you would gain three more outs. Oops. Obviously if you have an ace, and your opponent has an ace, you would gain no more than two outs with that move. I had a good education so we can’t blame the school system. Mea culpa.
It’s one of the most famous axioms in poker: drawing hands play best against a large field of opponents. When you’re drawing to a big hand like a straight or a flush, you want lots of other players in the hand with you, so you’ll get paid off in case your draw hits. But in poker, where everything is situational, even the truisms are relative and this seemingly universal rule doesn’t always apply. There are times when you actually want to thin the field with a drawing hand. For example, when you have the opportunity to buy outs.
Say you call to see a flop with A-7 of spades and the flop comes down J-8-3 with two spades. You have nine outs to the nut flush, which is pretty simple and straightforward, except that the flush is not the only draw you have going for you here. You could also hit one of the remaining three aces, which would give you top pair. Problem is, your top pair would be married to a mediocre kicker. If one of your opponents has a better ace, say ace-king or ace-queen, your three ace outs are tainted, because spiking an ace will only bring you heartache and an expensive second-best hand. But if you think a wellplaced raise can push this particular opponent out of the pot, you’re effectively buying three more outs for your hand, giving yourself a total of 12 good outs to win. But before you decide to push out that raise and buy yourself a few more outs, you need to look for certain conditions. First and foremost, you want a large pot. If the pot is still on the smallish side, those extra outs aren’t worth the price of your raise. When the prize you’re competing for is still just a piddling pile of chips, the extra equity you gain by giving yourself a few more outs is not worth the cost of putting in a raise. But when the pot is hefty because somebody raised preflop—as tends to be the case when one of your opponents holds a big ace—that’s a different story.
With a large pot, every little extra bit of equity counts. In this case, your first priority is to give yourself the best possible chance of winning this pot, and the sooner the better. So gaining a few more outs for your hand takes on much greater importance. By thinning the field now, yes you’ll lose a few customers who would have paid you off if your flush comes in. But a thinned-out field gives you a much better chance of winning if all you can make is a measly pair—and with a big pot in the middle of the table, that matters more.
Of course to make this play effectively, you must know your opponents. Before you make the decision to knock out your big-ace-wielding opponent with a raise, you must be reasonably confident that A) he really does have the hand you think he has and B) he will actually fold to a raise. No use squandering chips on a player who is determined to call anyway, or who holds such a weak hand that you want him to stick around. If you don’t have a decent read on your opponents, don’t make this play. It’s also worth mentioning that when the pot is really large, opponents are liable to call regardless of your raise, simply because the pot has become so lucrative. So it’s something of a delicate balancing act. You want a pot that’s big—but not too big.
The example here is a flush draw with an ace, but the principle of buying outs can apply anytime you hold a draw with at least one overcard. As the pot gets larger, the potential of your overcard(s) and the extra outs they represent increase dramatically.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life’s ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.