The one-card straight draw

I love to draw. And I know I have a lot of company in that respect. Drawing hands have a sneaky, seductive kind of allure that can be almost impossible to resist. When your draw comes in, it’s one of the sweetest feelings in poker. But in spite of that wonderful feeling—or perhaps because of it—some drawing hands are often more trouble than they’re worth. Exhibit A: the one-card straight draw.

A player has a one-card straight draw when he is using only one of his hole cards for the draw. Say you’re in the big blind with J-3 and get a free look at the flop, which comes 8-9-10. At first glance, this may look like a strong draw. But one-card straight draws are full of hidden dangers. For starters, if any of your opponents hold J-Q—a reasonably popular starting hand—you’re already beaten and drawing dead to a chop. Or if an opponent has K-J, half of your outs are ruined because if any queen hits the board, it will only give you an expensive second-best hand. And even if there is no Q-J or K-J out against you, and you manage to make your straight by the river, any opponent holding a solitary jack will tie you for half the pot.

This example illustrates two of the main pitfalls associated with one-card straight draws. Problem one, you’re almost never drawing to the nuts, and problem two, tied hands and chopped pots are very common. So even when you spike the card you were hoping for, more often than not you still have to worry about hands that could potentially beat you, which in turn makes it difficult to play the hand aggressively. And if you dodge that landmine, your ultimate reward is liable to be half the pot. This is especially true when the top end of the straight falls right smack in the “playing zone,” the big Broadway cards that poker players just love to call and see flops with.

The problem is less acute when your straight draw is lightened by a few pips. Say you call with A-5 suited and the flop comes 3-4-6. Now it’s much less likely that you could be up against a made straight, since 2-5 and 5-7 aren’t exactly the most well-loved starting hands, even when suited. And if the seven hits, even though your seven-high straight won’t technically be the nuts, it’s doubtful you’re going to spend a lot of energy worrying about 5-8 in an opponent’s hand, for the exact same reason.

But even though this is one of the more optimistic scenarios for a one-card straight draw, you still have a problem, which brings us to the third major pitfall when playing this type of draw. However you make your straight, once there are four consecutive, or near-consecutive, cards showing on the board, that tends to be a very effective action-killer. To say your draw is not camouflaged is a gross understatement—it’s naked, transparent, exposed. When your one-card straight draw comes in, the only real action you’re likely to get is from brain-dead ninnies, players who have you tied, or players who have you beaten.

As with any poker hand, you must consider a whole host of factors including the size of the pot, the number of opponents, playing style of opponents, and position, before deciding how to proceed. And with the one-card straight draw you also need to consider where your one card falls in the sequence. If it’s at the bottom—the “sucker” end of the draw—in your draw can easily be beaten. Also, does your side card, the one that’s not involved in the straight draw, help at all by giving you a pair? These are the things you must ponder before you commit yourself to playing one of the most problematic draws in poker.

Mark Brown
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