Playing your draws correctly is one of the most important skills in Texas Hold’em. While you sometimes get lucky and flop a made hand, more often than not, you’ll have some kind of a draw once those first three community cards hit the felt.
What many players new to the game don’t understand is that not all poker draws have been created equal. The one I’ll cover in this article, namely the inside straight draw, is, in fact, the weakest of them all.
Players will often make the mistake of overvaluing their gutshot straight draw and putting way too much money in the middle, hoping for the miracle card to hit. This is a very costly approach, and if you do this frequently, you’ll struggle to make money playing poker.
What Is an Inside Straight Draw?
If you’re reading this article, you might be completely new to Texas Hold’em, in which case you could be wondering what is an inside straight draw, exactly. So, let’s start with a simple explanation.
There are two types of straight draws in poker:
- Open-ended draws, where eight cards can help improve your hand (i.e., you’re holding 7x8x on a board of 5x6xKx). In this scenario, any four and any eight will fill up your straight.
- An inside straight draw, where only four cards can improve you. For example, you have TxJx on a board reading 7x8x2x. Here, only a nine will complete your straight.
This type of hand is also frequently referred to as the gutshot straight draw, although it’s not entirely clear where the name originates from. Some players believe it’s because when your opponents do catch one of their outs and make the straight, it’s particularly painful – like a punch in the gut.
For a newbie, a draw is a draw, and you’ll often see players piling poker chips into the pot with their inside straight draws, calling huge bets without a care in the world. However, as stated in the beginning, this is the weakest of all direct draws in Hold’em, and you need to treat it as such.
Inside Straight Draw Odds
Even if you’re just learning the game, you’ve probably already heard that Texas Hold’em is all about math and numbers. Your chances of making any particular hand can be expressed in percentages, and these percentages dictate if you should or shouldn’t proceed with a hand in a particular situation.
Calculating inside straight draw isn’t hard using the simple formula you’ve probably already come across somewhere. These are known as the “rule of 4” and “rule of 2.” Simply multiply the number of outs you have on the flop by four and the number of outs you have on the turn by two to get the percentage.
For the gutshot straight draw, you’ll always have four outs at best, so your inside straight draw odds are:
- On the flop: 4 x 4 = 16%
- On the turn = 4 x 2 = 8%
Exact numbers are actually slightly higher, but using these two rules, you get percentages that are close enough to the real number. So, what you can immediately see is that the odds of actually making your hand aren’t that high, especially on the turn.
You don’t really want to be calling off huge bets on the turn when you know that you only have an 8% chance to win a hand, do you?
To make matters worse, sometimes you won’t even have four clean outs. For example, if there are two hearts on the flop, you often can’t rely on the hearts as your outs. Your opponent could be on a flush draw, and if they are, you “getting there” will only cost you more money.
For some of you, this might be nothing new, and it doesn’t really help you get the most out of these hands. However, in poker, getting the most also means knowing when to fold your hand, and this is something players new to the game tend to be particularly bad at.
Gutshot Straight Draw – What Is It Good For?
Having established that a draw to an inside straight isn’t a particularly strong hand, the question that comes next is – what are these hands good for? Are you supposed to just fold them to any aggression and move on to the next hand?
I guess the simplest answer to this question would be – yes. And, if you’re just starting out, I’d definitely recommend you tread lightly when it comes to inside straight draws. It’s so easy to lose a lot of money with these types of hands.
But this wouldn’t be much of a strategy article if I stopped there, so I’ll try to give you some actionable tips and tricks as to when and how you can actually play a draw to an inside straight draw profitably.
Direct & Implied Odds
First thing first, let’s talk some more math. If your odds of making a gutshot straight draw are just 16% on the flop, you can’t afford to call a very big bet at all. From the direct odds perspective, you should be folding to any reasonable continuation bet, as your chances of making the straight are just over 6 in 1.
However, there is always the matter of implied odds. This number refers to the amount of money or chips you stand to win from your opponent if you do make your hand.
This one isn’t as easy to calculate because it depends a lot on who’s sitting across from you. If you know your opponent will keep on betting their strong hands even when a scare card peels off, you might have an additional incentive to try and hit your inside straight draw.
In that case, calling one bet even when you aren’t getting correct direct odds can be justified.
An important bit of advice here is not to push it too far. If someone bets a full pot on the flop, leaving themselves with another pot-sized bet on the turn, you can’t justify calling with implied odds. You’re just gambling at this point, hoping to get lucky.
But, if they fire a reasonable c-bet of like half the pot and you both still have plenty of chips to play for, peeling one off is probably fine.
All this being said, playing a draw to an inside straight passively is probably not the best choice in most scenarios. You’ll be playing your hand somewhat face up, giving your opponent all the maneuvering space and leaving none for yourself.
Turning Your Inside Straight Draw Into a Bluff
The best poker players know that you always want to give yourself more ways than one to win a hand. Making the nuts feels great but doesn’t happen all that often, especially when all you have is a gutshot straight draw.
This is to say that taking an active approach with this hand is sometimes the best strategy.
Most newbies will check-call the flop and/or turn with their inside straight draw and hope to hit. When they do, they’ll fire a huge bet in hopes of getting paid. When they don’t, they’ll either give up or try to bluff, which will often end badly, especially against more experienced opponents who understand board textures and ranges.
But, what if you played your inside straight draw aggressively. Instead of passively calling a continuation bet, what if you were to raise?
Many players don’t like this approach because they feel this somehow lowers their chances of winning. If they raise and get re-raised, they have to fold and don’t get to see the turn. But you have only a 4% chance that you’ll catch your card on the turn, anyways, so it’s not like you’re missing out on a lot.
The fact is, you’ll much more often win by taking an aggressive route than by making the hand. The odds of your opponent not having a huge hand that can take a lot of heat are, generally speaking, much higher than 4%.
When to Bluff With a Gutshot Straight Draw?
I don’t want the previous section to lead you astray. I’m not saying you should blindly raise with every gutshot straight draw. Like everything else in poker, this play is very situational, but it can be very effective when implemented properly.
There are several things to consider when deciding whether to bluff:
- Board texture and range advantage
- Your hand potential
- Your opponent
The first aspect is the one that new players struggle the most with. If you call a raise from the big blind, the flop texture will play a huge role in how you proceed with a hand.
For example, you defend against a hijack raise, and the board comes Ax Kx 7x. On this board, the raiser has a clear range advantage. Their actual holdings don’t matter – they are the ones having all the big cards in their overall range. So, this is not the kind of board you’ll want to get very adventurous on.
In the same scenario, if the board comes 4x 5x 8x, you’ll have the range advantage. Defending from the big blind, you’ll have a much wider scope of poker hands, so you can have all the straights, sets, two pair, and a pair + gutshot combos.
So, when deciding to bluff with your inside straight draw, try to do it on the boards that favor you. Check-raising 9x 7x on the 5x 6x Jx board will be way more effective than doing it with 9x Jx on the 5x Qx Kx.
Your hand potential is the second factor. Obviously, you have an inside straight draw, but, ideally, you want to have a bit more to fall back on if you’re going for an aggressive approach. Having three to the flush or an over-card to the board are good examples.
This is because there are more good cards you can hit on the turn to allow you to keep firing. If you don’t make your hand but pick up a flush draw on the turn, you can keep the pressure on and really put your opponent in a tough spot.
The pressure, combined with the fact you’re firing on a board texture that heavily favors your range, will make it very hard for them to continue with a hand, even when they have a very strong hand, like a big pocket pair. Thus, you’ll frequently win a decent-sized pot without even having to make your hand.
Finally, always consider who you’re up against. Trying to bluff calling stations is a bad idea in general, and especially so when doing it with very marginal hands. If you know your opponent hates folding, keep it simple. Save your inside straight draw bluffs for the players who know what the poker muck is.
Gutshot Straight Draw: Summary
Like any poker topic, this one could be expanded further. There are still other aspects of an inside straight draw to consider. But, if you’re just taking up poker, these tips should help you avoid some of the common pitfalls and build an effective strategy that gives you better winning chances with these hands.
A draw to an inside straight is simply not a very strong hand, and you can’t expect to win heaps with it. But, combining discipline with some well-timed and well-directed aggression, you can certainly make these hands work for you, not against you.
If some of these strategies don’t work, don’t get disheartened. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to – that’s just poker. The most important thing is that you keep learning and gathering experience and don’t delve too much into any single hand. Any one hand is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.