Ace to Five Triple Draw – Pat or Break Decisions after the Second Draw

As we mentioned last month, Ace to Five Triple Draw is the widely ignored twin brother of Deuce to Seven.  They are essentially the same games but with different hand rankings thus players typically spend their preparation time studying Deuce and then simply try and handle the differences for Ace on the fly.  This is understandable considering that Deuce is spread more often; however, Ace is being spread more often in mixed cash games and at the World Series of Poker.  Thus it is certainly to one’s financial advantage to spend time away from the table analyzing and thinking about Ace specifically otherwise you are at risk to making many sub-optimal plays that could have easily been avoided.  One piece of low hanging fruit is becoming familiar with common pat or break decisions after the second draw.

In Position against a Single Opponent Drawing One

Suppose we are in position after the 2nd draw with a marginal made hand and our opponent just drew one.  In Deuce to Seven it is commonly known that the breakpoint is a jack, that is assuming no knowledge of any discards the pat jack is a small favorite over any draw.  What is the equivalent breakpoint in Ace to Five?

Let’s look at some simulations involving several different hands.  In the charts below you want to compare the win percentages in the first column (which assumes you break) with those in the following columns with the marginal pat hands.  For example, in the first chart you can see that a holding of A2348 is a 76% favorite over A457 while A234 would only be 57%.  That is a big difference and we should clearly choose to retain the made eight and forfeit the opportunity to make a better that we could possibly raise our opponent with after the last draw. A2349 is a 67% favorite over A457; while this difference is smaller it is probably worth keeping the nine especially in an already sizeable pot.  Since there is virtually no difference between A234 and A234T versus A457 we should certainly break in position when holding a superior draw.  Of course we never know exactly what our opponent has so we should look at several different matchups and see if we can draw any conclusions.

Hero’s Holding
A234 A2348 A2349 A234T
Vs A234 50% 69% 59% 50%
A236 53% 74% 65% 55%
A457 57% 76% 67% 58%
4567 58% 79% 69% 60%
Hero’s Holding
A236 A2368 A2369 A236T
Vs A234 47% 67% 58% 49%
A236 50% 68% 59% 50%
A457 54% 79% 69% 60%
4567 57% 79% 70% 60%
Hero’s Holding
A457 A4578 A4579 A457T
Vs A234 44% 69% 61% 51%
A236 46% 72% 63% 53%
A457 50% 68% 59% 50%
4567 56% 74% 65% 55%
Hero’s Holding
4567 45678 45679 4567T
Vs A234 43% 72% 62% 54%
A236 43% 72% 63% 54%
A457 45% 67% 58% 49%
4567 50% 69% 58% 49%


The most important takeaway from this demonstration is that in essentially every case it would probably be considered a mistake to break a nine.  However, the decision on whether or not to break a ten is more complicated.  In the case of better draws such as A234 or A236 you should probably break the ten and continue to draw even though the win percentages when staying pat are slightly higher.  With position and such a smooth draw you have implied odds and the clear advantage on the last round of betting.

With rougher hands such as A457T and 4567T it appears we should keep the ten especially if we can put our opponent on a four card to a six or better draw. If our opponent re-raised before the first draw and drew one it is highly likely that this is his holding.

Decisions for other type of in between hands not shown such as 2346 and A456 are much closer.  Once again if you can put your opponent on a strong four card holding you should probably keep the ten.  Another reason to keep a ten would be if during the course of the hand you discarded many low cards that paired your hand but may be cards that your opponent needs.

Out of Position against a Single Opponent

Unfortunately when you are out of position you usually do not have the luxury of knowing whether or not your opponent will be drawing or staying pat.  I say usually because some opponents will exhibit many obvious tells on their intentions.  For example, if they are drawing they may get their discard ready even before you have acted on your hand.  Start observing your opponents, a subtle quick look will do because a stare may cause your opponent to be more careful in his actions in future hands.

Assuming you don’t pick up anything on whether or not your opponent is drawing you should usually take your chances and stay pat with an eight.  It is possible that your opponent is calling and planning stay pat with a better hand but you give up too much from an equity standpoint when he is drawing.  With nine lows or worse you should typically break.  It is probably on worth staying pat with your rougher hands.

In Position against Multiple Opponents Drawing One

What if you are you against two opponents who are drawing?  It fluctuates based upon what cards everyone is holding but most often the breakpoint is a nine low.  That may be surprising given the results above and the fact that many people believe that a nine is also the breakpoint in Deuce.  That misconception was probably due to the Deuce chapter in SuperSystem 2 where Daniel Negreanu displayed the following graphic:

23479 42%
2347 29%
2347 29%

The problem with the example is that everyone has the same hand so it presents a skewed viewpoint as the drawing hands have every single one of their cards available to catch.  When you look at other more likely situations the most likely breakpoint turns out to be a ten low:

2374T 42%
2357 29%
2458 29%

We would observe something similar if we did the same thing for Ace to Five:

A2368 41% A2369 28%
A236 30% A236 36%
A236 30% A236 36%

Looking at the above results we would erroneously conclude that we should break the nine.  But let’s look at some examples where to some degree everyone needs some cards that other players are holding:

A236 34% A2368 56% A2369 41%
A456 A456 A456
2345 2345 2345
A234 38% A2348 59% A2349 44%
A245 A245 A456
2356 2356 2345
A234 41% A2348 67% A2349 50%
2456 2456 2456
A357 A357 A357
3456 31% 34568 48% 34569 35%
A245 A245 A245
2356 2356 2356

In all of these cases above, keeping the nine has higher equity.  With wheel draws and smooth six draws it can be acceptable to discard the nine due to implied odds, position, and to account for some occurrences where holding the nine performs worse. However, with a rough hand such as 34569 it should always be correct to stay pat.

Most importantly though, is to never make the big mistake of breaking an eight even when we hold A2348.  It can be frustrating to stay pat with that hand, end up losing, and wonder what could have been.  However, never ever make matters worse by asking to “rabbit hunt”.  That’s just entering yourself into a free-roll to really steam yourself up if you discover that would have drawn a five or a six.

Poker is about playing your hands correctly with the odds on your side and if you do that your bankroll will thank you.  Having confidence in your decisions will also help you avoid tilt.  Hopefully this article will help you successfully navigate some common important Ace to Five situations.