Your Ultimate Flush Draw Strategy Cheat Sheet (2022)

How to Play Flush Draws

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Hitting a flush draw in no-limit hold’em is a great feeling. A flush is a relatively strong hand, and when you hit it, you can be certain that your hand is comfortably ahead most of the time.

However, a lot of players struggle with playing flush draws. They either don’t make a lot of money once they do hit their flush draws, or worse yet, their opponent ends up having an even stronger flush.

If you have a feeling this keeps happening to you all the time, keep reading this flush draw strategy cheat sheet.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about playing flush draws like a pro!


1. Playing Flush Draws 101: How Often Do Flush Draws Complete?


Even though a flush is a relatively strong hand combination, it doesn’t mean you should chase every flush draw you have, due to the simple fact that most draws just don’t complete in no-limit hold’em.

Here’s a standard situation to consider as an example. 

Let’s say you are dealt two suited hole cards and you flop a flush draw with two flop cards of the same suit as your hole cards (which isn’t likely in the first place, as there are more combinations of unsuited hands). 

You have 9 outs, so your chance of improvement from flop to river is 35%. If you prefer the odds, this equates to 1.86:1 odds of improvement. 

By the way, an out is a card that improves your hand on later streets. The more outs you have, the stronger your draw.

Not terrible odds by any means, but you’ll still miss your flush draw almost two out of three times. 

This means that a flush draw is almost always an underdog against a made hand on the flop.

The chance of flopping a flush is even more unlikely.

If you have a suited hand, you will flop a flush only a measly 1% of the time.

By the way, check out Nathan's recent video on how to play drawing hands like the pros.



2. Playing Flush Draws Mistake: Playing Suited Junk


Before getting into the specifics of playing flush draws on the flop, it’s important to mention a huge mistake a lot of beginner poker players make, and that is playing too many suited junk hands. 

In fact, some recreational players will play just about ANY suited hand just because it’s suited, and they hope to hit a flush with it post flop. 

Example of suited junk hands: 

J2

84

Q5

Playing hands like these is a huge mistake, especially the way most beginner poker players play them.

Most often they flat call with these hands preflop, which puts them at in a lot of awkward, marginal spots post flop where they are bound to make even more mistakes, which causes them to lose even more money.

How to Play Flush Draws

This is the so-called snowball effect, where an earlier mistake compounds into more costly mistakes on the future streets.

There are a few reasons you don’t want to play these hands preflop. 

The first one is fairly obvious: suited junk is still junk. 

It’s true that suited hands are stronger than their offsuit counterparts, but this still doesn’t justify playing any two random suited cards. 

That’s because you run the risk of your hand being dominated, even if you do manage to hit a flush or a flush draw.

A dominated hand is the one that’s highly unlikely to win against another hand, due to weaker kicker. 

For example, if you play a hand like J2s, your hand is dominated by all the other Jx hands with a stronger kicker.

Most hands miss the flop completely in no-limit hold’em (2 out of 3 times, to be precise), and trash hands miss even more often, because there’s fewer ways for them to connect with the flop.

And even when you do connect with the flop, most often it’s going to be just a one pair hand. 

In these spots, your hand is in a lot of trouble, due to the aforementioned kicker problems. 

Your hand will often be dominated in these spots, which will cause you to bleed money over the long run. 

Even if you do manage to hit a flush, you still run the risk of your opponent having an even stronger flush.

This brings us to the second huge problem of playing suited junk: you won’t hit a flush nearly as often as you might hope.

In fact, if you have a suited hand, the chance of hitting a flush on the flop is only 1%. 

You will hit a flush draw on the flop more frequently, though. 

The chance of flopping a flush draw is a whopping 11%. 

And even then, your flush draw won’t complete by the river most of the time.

And even when it does, you still run the risk of your opponent having a stronger flush than you.

Check out my other article on other beginner poker mistakes to avoid.


One caveat: just because some hands are mentioned as examples here, it doesn’t mean you should never, ever play them under any circumstances.

For example, these hands can be viable blind stealing candidates in some situations.

Let’s say your opponents are very nitty and fold to blind stealing attempts 8 or 9 out of 10 times. In these instances, you may as well “get out of line” and steal their blinds with a trash hand like J2s or Q5s. 

As with anything else in poker, context is key.

If you want to know how to steal blinds like the pros, check out Modern Small Stakes.

If you play online poker and want to know how often your opponents fold to blind stealing attempts, as well as other useful poker stats, consider investing in a hand tracking software like Poker Tracker 4.


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3. What You Should Consider When Playing Flush Draws


Aside from the pot odds, the next thing you need to consider when playing flush draws is the implied odds you have.

Implied odds simply refer to the amount of money you can POTENTIALLY win if your flush draw ends up completing.

Implied odds are an important factor to consider when playing drawing hands, because most draws don’t complete in no-limit hold’em. 

For this reason, you want to get your money’s worth once they do complete. In other words, you want the reward to be well worth the risk.

Calculating the pot odds is a quite simple matter. You simply divide the pot size with the price of a call to get a ratio. 

Pot odds are exact, whereas the implied odds require a bit of guesswork. 

That’s because you don’t know in advance whether or not your opponent will be willing to pay you off, and how much they’ll be willing to pay. 

The formula for calculating the implied odds is more complicated, and it’s not just a matter of adding the rest of the effective stack size and concluding that’s how much money you stand to win if your draw completes.

By the way, the effective stack size refers to the smaller stack size of the players involved in a pot, because you can’t win more money than you put into the pot. 

For example, if you have the remaining stack of $300 and your opponent has the remaining stack of $100, the effective stack size is $100.

Instead, you have to take multiple factors into consideration to figure out how much money you realistically stand to win. 

Implied odds are a complicated subject, but for the purposes of this article, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Here are a couple of factors that increase your implied odds:


Good Implied Odds For Flush Draws Factor #1: Deep Effective Stack Size


This one’s pretty obvious. The more money there is in your opponent’s stack, the more money you can potentially earn if your flush draw completes.

It’s important to mention though, that you should look at your opponent’s stack RELATIVE to the pot. 

In other words, you need to consider the stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short).

As the name suggests, SPR is simply the ratio of the effective stack size and the size of the pot, and it shows you how committed you are to the pot. In other words, it tells you how willing you should be to play for the rest of your stack.

If the SPR is very small (3 or less), you are automatically committed to the pot with a top pair hand or a stronger hand, and you should be willing to play for the rest of your stack.

You are also pot committed if you have a strong drawing hand like a flush draw, especially if you are drawing to the nuts.


Flush Draw Example Hand #1:


Effective stack size: 100 BB

Cash Game, 6-handed table.

You are dealt A3 in the SB. A recreational player open-limps UTG (under the gun). A tight and aggressive (TAG) regular iso-raises to 4x.

You 3-bet to 16 BB. Fish folds. TAG villain calls.

Pot: 34 BB

Flop: KT4

You: ???

You should BET between half pot and 3/4 pot.

In this spot, the stack-to-pot ratio is about 2.5. (divide your effective stack size - 84 - with the pot size - 34 - and you get the SPR of 2.53). 

You are drawing to the nut flush, so you should be quite comfortable with shipping the rest of your stack in the middle. 

You may not have the best hand yet, but this is a great spot for semibluffing. 

Another reason you should play this spot aggressively is the fact that your opponent is a decent regular who may not give you action if they spot a flush draw completing.

By playing this hand aggressively, you can win the pot outright with a simple c-bet, even without hitting your flush draw. 

Remember, you don’t need to hit your outs if your opponent folds. 

And if your opponent doesn’t fold, you still have a ton of hand equity to fall back on.

Now, you might want to try to get tricky and try a check-raise instead of a c-bet from time to time, but then you’re running the risk of your opponent checking back and taking a free card on the turn.

Either way, playing this spot aggressively is far more +EV than playing it passively and just hoping your flush completes (which it won’t most of the time).


Good Implied Odds For Flush Draws Factor #2 - Loose, Oblivious Opponents


As a general rule, the worse your opponents, the better your implied odds. 

This one’s also a no-brainer. You’ll usually have far better implied odds against fishy, recreational players than you will against more skilled and observant regulars. 

Fish are notorious for their tendency to overcall, which is obviously great if you have a strong hand like a flush. 

Better yet, they don’t take their relative hand strength into account, and are only concerned with their absolute hand strength.

How to Play Flush Draws on Paired Flops

This means they’ll often be willing to pay you off even on the scariest of board runouts if they have something they perceive to be a strong hand (like sets, straights, flushes and so on). 

Against more observant opponents, on the other hand, you’ll have more trouble getting paid off if your flush draw completes.

Completed flush draws are fairly easy to spot, which decreases your implied odds. 

This is another reason why it’s advisable to play flush draws aggressively beforehand, instead of just waiting to hit your flush draw and then start blasting off big bets.


Good Implied Odds For Flush Draws Factor #3 - Aggressive Opponents


As mentioned previously, you should usually play your flush draws aggressively. One notable exception to this rule is when you’re playing against wild, aggressive opponents (aka the maniacs). 

Against these players, you may try to “get tricky” and trap them with a monster hand, because you can rely on them to build up the pot for you. 

If they keep barreling into you over multiple streets, there’s no point of betting yourself and tipping them off about your hand strength. Let them try to “rep” a flush themselves and count your money.

To know more about situations where you might want to get tricky, check out this article on spots where you should slowplay.

Bottom line: you have better implied odds against loose and aggressive opponents than tight and passive ones.

This is discussed in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.


4. Play Your Flush Draws Aggressively to Win More Money


Being the preflop aggressor gives you the opportunity to make a continuation bet (or a c-bet for short) on the flop. C-bets are usually profitable, especially if you have a lot of hand equity, which is certainly the case when you flop a flush draw. Y

ou don’t have a made hand yet, but there’s a decent chance of improving to a strong hand on later streets. 

This means you’re essentially semibluffing on the flop if you have a flush draw. 

Semibluffing is preferable to stone-cold bluffing (i.e. bluffing when there’s no other way for you to win the pot except making your opponent fold). 

That’s because you have some sort of hand equity to fall back on in case your bluff gets called.

As a general rule, the stronger your draws, the more aggressively you should play them

There are two factors that tell you how strong your draw is. 

The first one is the number of outs you have.  If you have a suited hand and two cards of the same suit on the flop, you have 9 outs, meaning you have 35% chance of improvement.


How to Play Flush Draws - Rule of Fours


By the way, a quick and easy hack to figure out how often your hand improves on future streets is to use the so-called rule of fours: 

You simply multiply the number of outs you have by 4 to get a rough percentage estimate of your hand improving. 

The rule of fours gets a little less accurate the more outs you have, but it works in most in-game situations.

If you want to calculate your chance of improvement on just one future street (say, turn to river), you simply multiply your outs by 2 instead.

For more info on everything you need to know about poker pot odds, check out my ultimate pot odds cheat sheet.

The other factor to consider is whether or not you’re drawing to the nuts, i.e. the strongest possible hand combination. 

If you’re not, you need to consider the reverse implied odds, because your opponent could end up having an even stronger hand than you.

The reverse implied odds means taking into account the amount of money you can potentially LOSE on future streets if your draw completes, but your opponent has a stronger hand.

For example, if you are dealt AK and the flop is:  

J52

You are drawing to the nuts, and you don’t need to worry about the reverse implied odds.

On the other hand, say you are dealt 65 and the flop is:

JJT

You also have a flush draw, but your opponent could easily have a stronger flush. 

Worse yet, the board is paired, so your opponent could even end up having a full house or quads.

One caveat: on board #1, your opponent could still theoretically have a set and improve to a full house on future streets, but it’s so highly unlikely it’s barely worth considering. 

On board #2, on the other hand, your opponent can very realistically have a number of hands that have you beat.

On the board #1, you can play your hand fairly aggressively, because not only do you have the nut flush draw, you also have two overcards, so any Ace or King also improves your hand.

(An overcard is a hole card that’s stronger than the cards on the flop. So on a board #1, Aces, Kings and Queens are overcards).

On board #2, you should exercise more caution due to the reverse implied odds. 

This doesn’t mean you should skip a c-bet altogether, though. If other factors work in your favour (i.e. being the preflop aggressor, playing in position, having a weak opponent etc.), you can still fire a c-bet profitably. 

But you probably don’t want to bloat up the pot too much, because if you do end up getting action, especially on later streets, chances are your baby flush is no good anymore.

Remember, your opponent sees the same board as you do. So if they start giving you crazy action, it means they’re probably not scared of the board runout, which can only mean they have a monster hand themselves.

For more info on different types of board runouts, and how to read the board like a pro, check out the Microstakes Playbook.


5. When Should You Fold a Flush Draw?


Even though flush is a relatively strong hand, having the flush draw doesn’t necessarily mean you should ALWAYS continue playing the hand. 

Let’s consider the spots where you should actually FOLD the flush draw.


When to Fold a Flush Draw Spot #1: Not Enough Pot Odds


There will be times when you simply won’t have the correct odds to call a flush draw, and there aren’t any implied odds either (if your opponent shoves all-in for example). 

In this spot, folding is the only mathematically correct play. This is a major bummer, especially if you’ve already committed a large chunk of your stack in the pot. 

But remember, once the money leaves your stack, it no longer belongs to you. At its core, poker is about making mathematically sound decisions, and sometimes it means letting go of the hand, despite already investing money in it.


Flush Draw Example Hand #2: 


Effective stack size: 80 BB

You are dealt JT on the BU (button).

You open-raise to 3x. Villain 3-bets to 12x from the SB (small blind). You call.

Pot: 25 BB

Flop: A94

Villain shoves all-in for 68 BB

You: ???

You should FOLD.

In this spot, you’re getting about 1.4:1  odds on a call, and you need 1.86:1 for your call to be break even. 

Also, you’re not drawing to the nuts, so there’s reverse implied odds to consider.

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When to Fold a Flush Draw Spot #2: When you Don’t Have Enough Implied Odds


As mentioned, flush draws usually won’t complete, so you need to get your money’s worth once they do. 

If that’s not the case, and you can’t win the pot another way (i.e. bluff your opponent), it’s best to just give up the hand altogether. 

There’s two ways to win the pot: either by making your opponent fold, or by having the strongest hand combination. 

If you can’t get your opponent to fold AND you’re not likely to get paid off if your draw completes, there’s no point in putting more money into the pot.


When to Fold a Flush Draw Spot #3: When You’re Already Drawing Dead


Drawing dead means not being able to win the hand even if your draw ends up completing, because your opponent has a stronger hand. 

The weaker your draw, the more caution you should exercise when playing it, and sometimes it’s best to just give up the hand altogether.


Flush Draw Example Hand #3



Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt 54 on the BU (button). You open-raise to 2.5x. Big blind calls.

Pot: 5.5

Flop: TT9

Villain checks. You bet 2.5 BB. Villain raises to 7.5 BB.

You: ???

You should FOLD.

You have a flush draw on the flop, but it’s quite weak. The number of stronger flush draws your opponent could have is through the roof. 

What’s worse, the board is paired so even if villain doesn’t have a stronger flush than you, they could still beat you with a full house (now or on future streets). The reverse implied odds are too great to justify continuing this hand.

If you have trouble dealing with wild, aggressive players, check out Nathan's recent video.



How to Play Flush Draws - Summary


To sum up, here’s (mostly) everything you need to know about playing flush draws like a pro.

You don't need to study a lot of advanced poker strategy to play flush draws profitably. All you need to do is avoid some basic common mistakes a lot of players tend to make.

The first thing to keep in mind is that most draws don’t complete in no-limit hold’em, and flush draws are no exception. So if you do play them, you need to get your money’s worth when they do to justify the risk.

Also, don’t play suited junk hands preflop, because they’ll often be more trouble than they’re worth due to the reverse implied odds.

In order to know whether or not you can play a flush draw profitably, you need to know how often they complete in the first place. 

Flush draws complete 35% of the time from flop to river. You need to compare your hand equity with the pot odds you’re getting to know if your call is +EV.

There’s also the implied odds to consider, i..e how much money you can potentially win if your flush draw completes. 

Unlike the pot odds, implied odds need a bit of guesswork, and it’s better to err on the conservative side when estimating them.

You also need to consider the reverse implied odds if you’re not drawing to the nuts. In other words, how much money you stand to lose if your flush draw completes, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand.

If the aforementioned factors don’t work in your favour, sometimes it’s best to give up the hand altogether. 

Remember, winning poker is not only about maximizing profits. It’s also about losing the least amount possible when you don’t have the best hand.

Don’t let the prospect of stacking your opponent with a monster hand blindside you. Always consider the maths first. 

And for the love of God, please don’t play suited junk.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

How to Play Flush Draws