How to Play Combo Draws in Cash Games

Combo draws are super strong hands, especially on the flop…

…but their value can obviously change drastically by the time you reach the river. You may end up with a strong five-card hand, a total airball, or something in between (like one pair).

To help you navigate this dynamic, this article covers how to play combo draws on every street. For the newer players out there, I will also quickly touch on what a combo draw is.

Let’s dive in!

What is a Combo Draw?

When poker players say combo draw, they are referring to a hand that is drawing to both a straight and flush. The straight draw can either be open-ended or a gutshot. Here are some examples:

  • A K on Q J 3♠
  • T 9 on J 8 2♣
  • A♠ 4♠ on 8♣ 3♠ 2♠

With the definition of combo draws out of the way, let’s move on to the best strategy for playing for combo draws.

The Fundamental Principle of Playing Combo Draws

The key to playing combo draws profitably is aggression. You should basically always take aggressive actions when you hold one of these powerful draws.

For example, when you are in position and the action checks to you, you will almost always want to bet. When you are out of position against a bet, you should oftentimes check-raise.

You should almost never take a passive line and check these types of hands behind on the flop or turn. It may be tempting to take a free card, hoping to catch your draw on the next street, but betting is simply the better option the vast majority of the time.

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Why Is Aggression The Best Way to Play Combo Draws?

The reason combo draws are best played aggressively becomes obvious when you consider the fundamentals of poker. Specifically:

  • Equity
  • Equity Realization
  • Fold Equity
  • Implied odds / Future Street Implications

Let’s run through each of these.

Equity

The very best bluffing hands are those that have a chance to improve to the best hand by the river. Poker players call these equity-driven bluffing hands semi-bluffs.

Combo draws have the most equity of all of the potential semi-bluffs, which is one reason they are best played aggressively. Even against a flopped set, combo draws are in great shape to become the best hand by the river.

Let’s look at an example in which Player A has T 9 and Player B has J♠ J on a flop of J 8 2♠. In this scenario:

  • Player A has 42.12% equity with his open-ended straight flush draw
  • Player B has 57.88% equity with top set (the current nuts)

Even though Player B has the best possible hand at the moment, he will still lose the pot over 42% of the time to the combo draw. And most of the time your opponent will not have a hand as strong as a set, which makes playing aggressively with a combo draw even more appealing.

Equity Realization

Equity realization is the percentage of the pot a hand can expect to win based on its raw equity and the many postflop variables at play. In other words, it’s your equity after accounting for how often you will reach showdown, get bluffed, bluff your opponent, etc. I would argue that the realized equity of a hand is its true equity.

When betting with any kind of drawing hand, you have to take into account the risk of not getting to see the next card should your opponent raise. This is a huge problem if you, for example, bet with a gutshot straight draw and your opponent makes a big raise. You’re now forced to either fold your draw or call with just four outs to make a straight.

But combo draws realize their equity very well because they are strong enough to call versus any raise size. This means that their equity cannot be denied, thus, there is no downside to playing them aggressively.

Further reading: How Equity Realization Impacts Every Hand You’ll Ever Play.

Fold Equity

Another consideration is fold equity, which is the probability that your opponent will fold versus a bet or raise. Fold equity is a very important consideration when deciding to bet.

Non-made hands, like combo draws, benefit greatly from betting because they fold out a lot of better hands. This is especially true on the turn, on which the defender is supposed to start folding a good part of his pairs at equilibrium. Just think how amazing it is to force a hand like A♠ 8♠ out of the pot when you’re holding T 9 on a J 8♣ 2 K♠ board.

Further reading: What is Fold Equity and Why Does it Matter?

Implied Odds / Future Street Implications

The last aspect to consider when deciding whether or not to bet is the effect that it will have on the rest of the hand.

For example, when you bet, you increase the size of the pot exponentially (see: geometric bet sizing). Therefore, by betting on the flop and turn, you make it easier to get your entire stack in on the river.

When you’re in position and you check, however, you cut down the potential size of the pot tremendously. This means that when you check back with a combo draw, you will not be able to win as big of a pot on average.

Note that checking out of position is different than checking in position for two main reasons:

  • You are not guaranteed to see the next street for free (which is the case when you are in position).
  • Your checking range needs to have some strong hands and draws that can check-raise for balance purposes.

This means that you will need to check with some very strong hands and some strong draws in order to protect the rest of your checking range. Combo draws are most often times the best ones to use for that check-raise bluffing range.

Further reading: What Are Implied Odds? How to Use Implied Odds Like a Veteran Pro.

Playing the River When You Miss

It sucks when you’ve played your combo draw aggressively on the flop and turn, only to wind up with a missed draw by the river.

But this happens a little bit more than half the time, and when it does, you should usually concede the pot to your opponent.

The reason for this is simple: when you bluff on the river, you want to have a hand that makes it less likely your opponent holds a strong hand. In other words, the best bluffing hands are those that block the top of your opponent’s range and don’t block the bottom of your opponent’s range.

Missed combo draws will consistently block the missed draws in your opponent’s range, which makes it more likely they’re holding a made hand that can call your bluff. That’s why it’s usually best to waive the white flag with missed combo draws.

Departing Ideas

The conclusion here is simple: play aggressively with your combo draws on the flop and turn, but be willing to give up on the river should you miss. It will, on average, pay off better than playing them deceptively. 

That’s it for this article. I hope you enjoyed it and that you learned something new from it! As usual, if you have any questions or some feedback please leave them in the comment section down below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Want to learn how to play another key hand class? Check out How to Play Flopped Sets in 8 Common Situations.

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

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