A drawing hand is any pair of cards that have no value immediately, but the potential to become strong hands if the right community cards turn up. There is a lot to review when we break down this last sentence.
First, any pair of cards that have no immediate value. These are two cards that are not impressive yet. A Nine-Eight-suited or a Jack-Nine, for example. You wouldn't bet the farm on a hand like this, but like Stud or Draw, Hold 'Em has more cards coming up...cards that may turn your hand from mediocre into a monster. The key with drawing hands is measuring the hand's potential to improve. There is inherent risk in chasing a drawing hand because more times than not, they will not improve. Second, the potential to become strong hands.
When a drawing hand improves, it typically does so to a straight or a flush. The two examples above have the potential to become a flush (or straight flush) and straight, respectively. These are strong hands, and usually pot-winners. Put these two points together and you've summed up the significance of drawing hands at the low-limit table: drawing hands need to be measured for their potential, they will not likely improve, but if they do, you will win a nice pot.
Small pairs are just like drawing hands, in that they probably don't have what it takes to win the pot on their own, but should they improve to trips, you have a strong hand.
In fact, we treat small pairs as drawing hands for this reason: they won't win the pot on their own and the most likely improvement will be to trips. Drawing hands are the lifeline of low-limit poker. As we will see here and expand upon in our discussion of low-limit mathematics, when a low-limit game is characterized by many players staying in the pot, we need to play the right hands.
Big cards lose value against a big field (many players) because the more players, the better the winning hand is going to need to be. Against eight players, a big pair of Aces will likely not cut it, and the player holding that hand better aim to fold as many players as possible.
Against this many players, we need strong hands. And ironically, strong hands are borne of drawing hands, which again are limited in value at the outset. That said, the key to making money at the low-limit table is to correctly chase drawing hands against a large number of players. If done correctly, those few times where your hand improves will pay for the many times that your hand doesn't improve.
This discussion will focus on how we measure the potential of drawing hands. Some of them are garbage, some of them are must-plays, and some of them are contingent on other factors that we've discussed, such as position and table climate.
First, we look at the card-specific factors.
Rank: The higher the rank, the more playable the hand. Here, if we do not improve to the straight or flush, we at least hope to make a big pair or big two pairs. In this way, we should be more inclined to throw away a Five-Three-suited, yet possibly hold onto a Ten-Eight-suited.
The numerical rank of the cards is a failsafe, since it adds to the list of possible hands we could improve to.
Sequence: We determine whether the cards are connected, gapped one, gapped two, or gapped three. Here, we are referring to the number of numerical spaces in between the two cards. Two cards that are connected, such as Nine-Eight, have more strength than two cards gapped one, such as Nine-Seven, or gapped two, such as Nine-Six.
The greater the gap between the two cards, the more other factors in your favour are needed for this hand to be playable. Gapped cards can still be a playable hand, you just need other reasons to be playing it other than the sequence.
We're obviously impressed with connected cards for their potential to improve to a straight.
Suit: It goes without saying that two suited cards are stronger than two cards that are not suited. A Nine-Seven-suited is always stronger than a Nine-Seven that isn't suited. Suited cards improve to a flush, which is obviously a strong hand. Unsuited cards need other factors in their favour to be playable. We sum up by saying that the potential of a drawing hand is measured by its numerical rank, its sequence, and its suit. A match with all three of these factors would be big suited cards, such as King-Queen-suited. Hands like these are the kings of the low-limit table, so we will discuss them in depth by themselves. These big potential hands aside, make it a rule of thumb to consider those drawing hands that capture at least two of the three factors. Jack-Ten is a good example because the rank is somewhat high and they are connected. Seven-six-suited is a good example because the cards are suited and connected.
King-Nine-suited is a good example because the cards are suited and high in rank. Ten-Five-suited is a bad example as the cards are suited but have little else going for them. Next, we look at the situational factors. These borrow from our previous columns on Table Climate and Position.
Table Climate: If the game is aggressive (lots of betting and raising), then you need to lower the range of drawing hands that you intend to play. Such a table is costly, so you don't want to take chances needlessly. On the other hand, the pots at a loose-aggressive table will likely be huge everytime. Play the big suited cards that capture all three drawing hand factors.
You will lose more times than not, but when you win, it will be a huge pot. And, this is really how we characterize the loose-aggressive table; it's a crapshoot with a lot of money on the line. If the table is passive (lots of calling and checking, but not much betting and raising), you may really open up your range of drawing hands.
Nobody is really charging anybody else to stay in the game, so you're free to take a lot of cheap chances. If you make the hand, feel free to charge these unimaginative players. If you don't make the hand, fold and know that it didn't cost you much to take the chance. As an aside, the tight-aggressive player will do well at the loose-passive table. That's the player you aim to be, and that's the table you aim to play at.
Position: The earlier your position, the more players to act behind you. In such a spot, you need to lower the range of drawing hands that you play. You can't be as sure that there will no further betting behind you.
Again, these are hands with no potential now. Your goal is to see if your hand improves as cheaply as possible. Bets that could potentially be made behind you need to be incorporated into your decision to call or fold. Late position, however, is when most or all players have already acted. Here, you have a lot more freedom to open your range of drawing hands and know with more certainty that there will be no further action behind you. You also know that you will carry this advantage into later betting rounds.
Let the card-specific factors determine the range of drawing hands that you are willing to play. Then, let the situational factors determine the posts that tighten and widen on this range. In last position with no raises, you may play Five-Four-suited. In early position at an aggressive table, you would throw that hand away without a second thought.