Why is a Flush Worth More Than a Straight in Poker?


Did I ever tell you about a story of how I and my buddies were convinced we know the correct rules for poker? It was somewhere around 2007, and it was an everyday occasion to chill and play poker after classes. We had no chips, and I only wish I would have come across such an article that would have told me different ways on how to play poker without chips or money. It turned out that at the beginning of our poker journey, all of us were wrong. We were confident that straight beats a flush. We felt no need to check the rules online. It took us good 14 days to find out that flush is worth more than a straight in poker. We were wondering why is that. If only would I knew about poker so much as I know today.

Why is a Flush Worth More Than a Straight in Poker? Flush is worth more than a straight in poker because it is less likely that we will hit it. Chance to hit a flush is 0.1965% with odds against of 508:1, while the chance to hit a straight is 0.3925% with odds against of 254:1. We will hit a flush or better 0.367% of the time, and straight or better 0.76% of the time.

You can read about percentages in more detail on Wikipedia.

The chances to hit either of them may not seem like a lot, but flushes and straights really are strong hands in poker, and therefore, they don’t happen so frequently. You can expect to hit a straight once for roughly every 250 hands, and a flush once for every 500 hands. If you play live and get around 25 hands per hour, then it will take you 10 hours just to hit a straight once and 20 to hit a flush. These numbers are long term averages, of course. But you can go on hot streaks and get 4 or 5 flushes in a single session. Or you can play for 50 hours and not get a single straight. 

All of that can happen, and it will happen to you eventually if you play enough. Many poker players are convinced they are the best on the table when their hot streak is on. Things change fast when the negative variance hits. And that is why poker is such a great game to play if you have the right mindset and a good strategic plan that you stick to.

If a flush is worth more than a straight, then it should make you more money. Let’s check if that is indeed the case.

Flush vs. Straight: Which Makes More Money

Both hands are strong in poker terms. With both, you need to be printing money. They both beat pairs, two pairs, and sets. Many of 2 pairs and sets will be willing to pay off big bets when you have a straight or a flush.

Of course, the flush will make you more money. In my case, I am making 50% more money with flushes than straights.

As we can expect with such a strong hand, our graph will be going up pretty steadily even for 4000 or 5000 hand samples. Winrate is through the roof as it should be.

It is not rocket science to make money when holding a flush or a straight. You can still further maximize your winrate.

How to increase your winrate when holding strong hands:

  • Pay close attention to player tendencies and make notes
  • If they are a calling station, bet bigger
  • If the opponent is a weak straightforward player, maybe slowplay for him to catch up to something that he will be willing to call at least a bet or two with. Or make tiny bets. It can be even less than half the pot.
  • Against maniac slow play or make small bets to induce a reraise. Often such players, when they start bluffing on one street, they can’t help themselves and continue on the later streets. In the process, they might donate a whole stack. If you hit flush on the river, you might sometimes do a very small bet, and the aggressive player will be tempted to reraise you as he will see an excellent opportunity to bluff you off the hand.
  • If a passive call machine opponent called you two streets, then bet huge on the river. I would overbet on many rivers. Do this only if you have a nut flush or 2nd nut flush. If you hold a low flush, then maybe consider checking sometimes.

With good reads on every opponent, you will be able to make an optimal decision in the right spots. This can make a difference between winning 70bb instead of 20bb from the opponent. If you winrate is five big blinds per hundred hands, then you just made yourself a difference in profit of 1000 hands! That is a few hours of playing even if you multi-table online.

Flush draw vs. Open-Ended Straight Draw on the Flop

On the flop, if we have a flush draw, we have 9 outs to hit it. This gives us 36% to hit our flush. On the other hand, if we have an open-ended straight draw, we have only 8 outs to hit our straight. And by the river, we will hit our draw about 32% of the time.

This might deceive newer players into thinking that a flush is easier to hit than a straight. What they forget is that it is harder to get a double suited hand preflop combined with hitting a flush draw on the flop. All of this combined makes flush harder to hit despite being sometimes more likely to come by the river.

How likely is a backdoor straight draw to hit compared to backdoor flush?

Hitting a backdoor flush draw means you first need to hit your suit on the turn, which is about 20% – 10 outs of the remaining 47 cards. Afterward, you need to hit another of your suits on the river. For that, you have 9 cards out of 46 remaining. So your total chances of this to hit a flush when having a backdoor flush draw, are around 4.2% or 23 to 1.

Chances to hit a straight when having only a backdoor straight draw on the flop are about the same. We will hit a straight about 4.44% of the time with only a backdoor straight draw on the flop. This includes all the open-ended straight draws and gutshots that we will get on the turn. (8/47) multiplied by (8/46), which gives us 2.96% for when we hit open ender on the turn, now add up the odds for our gutshots, which adds another 1.48% (8/47 multiplied by 4/46).

Flushes vs. Straights in 3bet Pots

If your winrate in 3bet pots when having a flush or a straight, is not bigger than in single raised pots, then you are doing something wrong.

This is due to a simple fact that the stack to pot ratio is smaller in 3be pots. This means that everyone is more inclined to go allin lighter. You don’t need a set or 2 pairs anymore to stack off, just overpair might be enough. Therefore you get paid off more often when you have a flush or a straight.

I make another 50% to 100% more in 3bet pots for those 2 hands. It is hard to say precisely how much more as a sample of 500 hands is not enough to say for sure. But you can get the idea of the smoothness of the graph. It could be close to real values.

Unsurprisingly, a flush still outperforms a straight. To be honest, any of those 2 hands will do great, and I don’t care which one of the two I get. Both are printing money with little variance involved.

Of course, these scenarios will not happen that often, and they kind of play themselves. Even weak straightforward players will now be willing to stack off lighter. A poker pro will not be folding after he has a decent hand. And a maniac will do his own thing, just more often now as the stack to pot ratio is lower.

Conclusion

Now you know why flushes and straights are extremely powerful hands in poker. Because flush is less likely to hit, it is also worth more. At the end of the day that is why we also make more money with a flush than a straight.

Next time you hit such a strong hand, make sure to take advantage of your notes on the opponent, to make even more money.

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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