5 Card Draw Starting Hands

Starting hands in 5 card draw poker are determined by 3 inter-related factors. Position at the table (relative to the dealer button), tendencies of opponents and finally the actual cards that you hold.

Since the only information about the strength of hands is the amount bet and number of cards drawn you will need to take the past hands and bets made by opponents into account when selecting starting hands. This article looks at the various strengths of starting hands from the best through to marginal holdings.

Pat Hands

The very best 5 card holdings are collectively known as ‘pat hands’. These are hands such as quads, straights, full houses and flushes that mean you will not be drawing any cards after the first betting rounds (you will be ‘standing pat’). These hands should be played aggressively before the draw – you are unlikely to get much action after standing pat unless a drawing opponent makes an equally strong hand.

Hands including trips are also strong before the draw. Many opponents will draw to pairs (or better) giving them chances to make trips themselves. This means that the rank of your trip hands becomes an important factor, especially against loose opponents.

Two pair hands are strong but suffer the same vulnerability – especially against several opponents drawing to beat you. The rank of the highest pair is the critical factor when playing these hands. By drawing a single card you have 4 outs with which to make a full house.

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Drawing Hands

Drawing hands can be difficult to play in 5 card draw. They are playable with good position for a small investment before the draw under many circumstances. Your opponent’s tendencies are important when playing drawing hands, both the chances of them folding to a bluff if you miss and the chance of building a big pot those times that you hit.

Straight flush draws are the strongest of all – flushes are playable in many circumstances also. Straight draws should only be played when open-ended and caution is advised if you feel one or more opponents was drawing to a flush.

Paired hands, these are sometimes playable before the draw. Again the decision to play will depend on your position at the table and your opponents. A high pair with a good kicker (for example K-K-A-X-X) has the added advantage of making a potential top 2 pairs after drawing 2. Paired hands are far better when opening a pot with a raise, if an opponent has already raised ahead of you then it is generally worth folding all but the highest pairs.

Marginal Holdings

Marginal holdings such as Ace-King-X-X-X and 3 high cards to a flush (for example) should not generally be played in 5 card draw. The only circumstances in which you might play such hands is when folded to on the button in an attempt to steal the blinds. Under normal circumstances entering the pot with a marginal holding is asking to improve to the second best hand!

To summarize, winning in 5 card draw involves watching your opponents very closely – the starting hands which you select, and how to play those hands, vary from game to game. In a tight game you may lower your raising standards before the draw, but give up quicker when raised after the draw.

In a loose game you would tend to play drawing hands when cheap to enter the pot pre-draw – as your chances of a big payoff when you hit your hand are increased.

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