First, don’t get all bent out of shape: You’re not going to make a straight flush. Or at least, it’s not very likely. After all, how many have you made in your poker-playing life?  Okay, okay… it is possible. It’ll happen about 1-in-66 times you start with this hand. That’s a probability of 1.49 percent.

If you are holding three big cards to a straight flush, you can play it a couple of ways. First, if two (or three)  of your three high cards are overcards to the board and if they are live, consider raising, especially in late position with three or four players having already limped into the pot.

If you drop most of them, you have provided protection for your hand when you pair up on fourth street, and you have also gotten some dead money into the pot (money put in by players no longer active in the hand). If most of them stay with you, you have good pot odds for drawing to a straight or a flush (or even a straight flush) if one of those hands falls to you at fourth street.

With the same situation in early position, the purpose of your raise would be to narrow the field in anticipation of making an overpair at fourth street. But if your cards are not really live, you’d be cutting your own throat with a raise because there wouldn’t be much of a chance for the overpair, and there probably wouldn’t be enough money in the pot to give you the correct money odds for drawing to a straight or a flush. So just limp in.

If your three-to-a-straight flush starting hand does not have overcards, it really isn’t as strong as you think. You have no chance to make an overpair.

I commend setting aside the thought of making a straight flush until it happens-then it’s a bonus. What you have here at third street are two starting hands: a small three-straight and a small three-flush. That too will get many players overly excited, being able to go for two hands. but may be they don’t have as much as they think.

I don’t like either hand very much. I hate small straights-wouldn’t touch’em with a titanium fork. There is no way a small straight draw can become a big straight. At least a small three-flush can become a big flush by catching two or three high suited cards. I’ll call a raise with his hand, but I won’t be the raiser.

When you start with three-to-a straight flush, your board observation must be very swift because there are so many more exposed cards in other players’ hands that are of interest to you – the three ranks that will pair you; the number of your suit that are out; and how many of your straight cards are exposed. Remembering Exposed Cards. Busy, busy.


Quality, non-quality-what’s the difference?  Answer: Casino Overcards. Three big suited cards, overcards, would be the most “quality” of quality flush starts. But a three-flush with just two big cards, overcards, also makes a quality flush start in my book (and this is my book, thank you).

At the other end of the scale, a 7-4-2 suited would be the least quality of flush starts. But what you really want to know is how they play, or are played, differently. Then you got here just in time.

How you play a three-flush, whether you play it at all, depends on several factors.

They include how big your cards are (quality or non-quality three-flushes), what you are showing for an upcard, your position, and most importantly, how many of your suit are already out in other players’ third-street hands. Let’s eliminate one play right away:

If you see that more than two of your suit are out, toss a non-quality three-flush unless you’re in the perfect spot for an ante steal. It’s not worth playing with three or more of your suit gone. If you have a quality three-flush, you can afford to have three of your suit out.

That’s because you now have ways to get significant improvement other than extending the flush draw at fourth street by pairing one of your big cards. If you have seen none of your flush cards exposed, almost any three-flush is playable. An exception would be if you have three small cards and someone raises before the action gets to you.

Players who raises on third street at these limits almost always have the power they are representing. Almost. It’s up to you to determine which players will raise representing, but not holding, power. Again, there is no substitute for knowledge of poker hand opponents.

I’m not too thrilled about playing a small three-flush in very early position, no matter how many of my suit are out, if I see several big cards behind me yet to act-especially if those big cards are in the hands of aggressive players who tend to raise a lot without the power they are representing.

Just the fact that the player raised with that big card, even if it’s his only one, makes me an underdog with my three small cards. And there’s always the possibility of a raise from one of those players who does have the big pair he is representing.

One of the last things I want to do in a poker game is to play my small flush draw against a big pair heads-up.

I am an underdog in that spot. Even if I win the hand, which I figure to do only about one-in-five tries in this situation, I won’t make enough money with only one player putting in money against me to make up for the other four times I put in my money and lose.

So the problem you face with the small three-flush in very early position is that you don’t know how many people will call behind you, much less how many will raise. You lack information. Without information, you’re guessing. And if you’re guessing, you’re casino gambling. The point of learning these concepts is to take the gamble out of your game.

Now let’s suppose you have a non-quality three-flush containing just one big card in middle position with no one yet having called the bring-in bet. You call. The next player, showing a jack, raises. Everyone from there on, including the low card, folds.

You now find yourself in the position of playing your drawing hand against what is probably a big pair. You are a decided underdog. Call or fold? Conventional poker wisdom says that you can call such a raise only if your hand includes an ace. Let’s modify that:

You should have at least one overcard to the pair you figure your opponent is raising with.

In this scenario, your opponent most likely holds a pair of jacks. Your one big card is a hidden queen, a live queen. Call or fold? Wait a minute. We haven’t considered a raise.  If your opponent is an aggressive “Fast Eddie” type, a reraise from you will probably bring another raise from him.

And you certainly don’t want to get into a raising war against what is probably, but not for certain, the best hand. So just call and take off a card. (Remember: Multi-way, best hand or best draw; heads-up, best hand.)

If that queen, instead of being hidden, is your upcard and if your opponent is a player who is capable of throwing away a pair of jacks (thinking he has been reraised by a bigger pair or by trips that you slow-played the first time around), try the raise. If he calls, you’re not in good shape, but you do have outs with your semi-bluff (catching a queen or lengthening the flush).


In the playing of straights, my biggest concerns are much the same as playing three-flushes: big cards, overcards, live cards, my upcard, and my position. I recommend only three combinations of straight cards as starting hands –8-9-10, 9-10-J, and 10-J-Q. And the 8-9-10 is marginal.

With that starting hand, there is only one possibility of pairing a premium card, the 10, and that’s the bottom end of the premium-pairs spectrum. The 9-10-J combination gives you two premium cards to pair, and the 10-J-Q gives you three.

And that makes it much more powerful than the 8-9-10 start. So, of course, any combinations below that are definitely non-quality. Toss them. “But,” you ask, “what happened to the old ‘rule of eight’ that says that the smallest straight start should include an eight, so that a 6-7-8 is a playable start?”

Well, it’s just that: an old poker rule. Keep playing it if you don’t like money. Then you ask, “What about K-Q-J ?  Or A-K-Q?” I prefer to put them in the “overcard” category, which I’ll go into shortly.

Big cards give you another way to go if you don’t lengthen the straight: by pairing a big card. But if you pair, you’d like the pair to be good. Thus, the reason for overcards.

Live cards. How live?  The “rule of two points” will tell you that. We’ll use 9-10-J as an example. Your primary needed cards with this start are eights and queens. The secondary needed cards are sevens and kings. Primary cards that you see on the board are worth one point each; secondary cards are worth a half-point.

If you see a total of more than two points, too many of the cards that you need for your straight are dead.In the above example (9-10-J), if you see an eight and a queen, that’s two points. Or two queens would be two points. The same with two eights. Playable. If you see one queen and one seven, that’s one and a half points.

Playable. Two sevens –one point. Playable. Any combination of two points or under gives you a playable hand from that standpoint. One queen, one eight, and one seven: two and a half points. Not playable as a straight…maybe as in overcard hand. More on this in a moment.

I don’t like straights, with the exceptions noted above. I’m not alone in this. I know many professional who don’t play any straights. And a bunch more who will play a few straights, again as noted above, when they have other value.

In a close decision on whether to play or fold, a two-flush gives added value to your three-straight starting hand, assuming the flush cards are live. And I want them totally live, because in the direction of making a flush, I have only two for a start. So instead of needing two more suited cards for a flush, I need three.

What about raising with a three-straight?  I don’t like to do it, mostly because I will be knocking out the very players I need in to get the right pot odds to play the hand. An exception would be as an ante steal. If no more than one player has limped in while I hold my big three-straight, and if I’m in late position with no higher cards than mine behind me as a threat of a reraise, I’ll go for the ante steal (by raising).

I’ll more than likely drop the low card at these limits. The bigger kids at the higher poker limits are very likely to play back at you with nothing, knowing that you’re on a steal. If the limper calls, the steal didn’t work, but I’m not in too bad a shape. It’s unlikely that he’s setting a trap for me at these limits.

I’d figure his most likely hand to be a medium pair unless I have other specific information about his play to the contrary. There is no substitute for knowledge of your opponents. I still have ways to go because of my predilection for playing only the bigger three-straights.

What about calling a raise with your big three-straight? Depends on what  you think you need to beat and what the raiser raised with.

If a player raises early showing a big card, and if you can reasonably put him on that pair, then you’d like to have two overcards to that pair-and they had better be live. Also consider what he raised with. If his raising pair is also one of your big cards, your hand’s “liveliness” is much diminished, as far as making one or two pair goes.

If the raise comes from a late position with no one having called the bring-in, and if it looks like an ante steal, try a reraise if you have cards bigger than his doorcard, and if there is no threatening hand behind you. This will work best if your biggest card is your upcard, especially if it is an ace or king.

The raiser-stealer can’t be sure that you aren’t restealing. If he does decide to call your reraise, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has a legitimate hand. He just might not trust that you have a legit hand, but he doesn’t want to risk another raise. So he decided to take off a card and see what happens.

Even if he does have a pair; you’re not in too bad a shape with your live overcards.

They are live, aren’t they?  I hope so after all this hammering I’ve done on you about playing live cards. If you have been the only caller and then the later poker position raise comes, try the same reraise as above-unless the low-card forced bring-in calls or reraises.

He might be suspicious about the late raise being an ante steal, but because you are still in the hand as an unknown quantity, he is more than likely on a legitimate hand. He could have anything and I do mean anything, from trash to trips. I don’t want to get caught between these two hands without more power than now hold.

Against any raiser from any position, you have no call unless you are holding what you can determine to be overcards to his probably raising pair, or his biggest card if he is raising with a drawing hand. An exception would be if you figure him to be on a pure steal.

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