If I get invited to a costume party on any Halloween, I’m going as a flush.
Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of recreational hold’em players like the sight of that dreaded third flush card on the board. Just this weekend, I heard a player tell a story of how he was in a big pot and was so worried about the flush coming in that he mucked his cards without realizing he’d backed into the best hand with a straight.
Knowing how to use the threat of the flush to beat recreational players is an integral part of every good poker player’s game. Here are two ways that you can use flush cards to your advantage.
1. To bluff with your straight draws
Flush cards make great bluff outs for your straight draws. For example, let’s say a tight recreational player raises from early position with a strong range that consists mostly of big cards and big pairs. I call on the button with . The flop comes . I call a continuation bet, then the turn card is the .
At this point, most players will check and fold with their big cards that do not contain a flush draw. Instead, let’s say this player bets again. At that point, I’d put him squarely on an overpair-heavy range. This is even more true if he gives off classic bet-sizing tells like betting full pot with his overpairs.
Let’s say he does bet the pot in this case which lays me 2-to-1 on a call. With just eight outs to my straight, I am not getting the right price. In order to continue, I will have to make use of the bluff outs offered by the flush cards on board.
This type of player makes the big turn bet because he doesn’t want me to call and hit the flush. He still has nightmares about that one time some young punk chased a flush and sucked out on him. In fact, he’s probably going to tell me about it after this hand.
If I expect this guy to fold if a flush card comes, then I can treat those cards as outs as well. If I only count the 11 unseen hearts and combine them with the six non-heart eights and treys that complete my straight, I have more than enough outs to call the turn and bluff the river. If this is the type of player who will fold to the backdoor diamond flush as well, then this is a slam-dunk spot. In that case, I have 26 outs which means my 7-high is technically ahead of his at this point!
2. To get max value with your made straights
This one is a corollary to the idea of using bluff outs. If I actually hit my straight in the example hand, I can get a huge value bet paid off because it will look like a last-ditched effort with a missed flush draw.
Once again, say my hand is and the board is . The million-dollar river cards in this scenario would be the or the . These cards would not only give me the nuts, but would also give him a hard-to-fold wheel the times he has .
However, this is an infrequent result since he is three times more likely to have through than . In those cases, the four-card straight on board may scare him.
Another very favorable scenario is one in which the or comes on the river. Like my friend I mentioned at the start, this guy will be so focused on the flush draws that he’ll never see the straight coming. In fact, if stacks aren’t too deep I may be able to felt him with in this spot in which case I’d prefer this scenario over the ultra rare nuts vs. near-nuts one.
A mistake that I often make here is convincing myself that the guy would fold to the huge bet and taper my sizing down a bit. The problem with this is that there will be times that I will actually have a missed flush draw when I show up in this spot. If I want to be able to shove those hands as a bluff, I have to protect them by shoving value hands as well. If anything, I should shove my straights and missed flushes and probably bet smaller with my made flushes.
Lastly, note that the bluff outs help me to win this pot more often than not, but hurt my chances of stacking him when I make a straight with a card that also puts a flush on board.
This may seem like out-of-the-box play to some, but I don’t think it’s even optional. Simply chasing draws and folding when you miss isn’t likely to be the best strategy in the long run.
If you aren’t already making good use of frightening flush cards, this Halloween is the perfect time to give it a try. After all, everyone is already on edge and seeing monsters under the bed.