Folding strategy guide

Granted, folding might not be the most spectacular play in a poker player's toolbox, but it sure is a very important aspect of poker. If you recognize the situations in which folding would be the most correct play, then you can save yourself a tremendous amount of money in the long run (or even every session). Especially in no-limit hold'em games not folding when holding a second best hand can be very expensive. It is therefore useful to take a closer look at folding and find out when to fold in poker (if you are looking for more information about which hands to fold pre-flop I would like to recommend you to also read the Texas hold'em starting hand selection guide).

When to fold in poker?

There are a number of situations in which folding would be correct:

  1. You are certain that you hold the worst hand and are also facing a bet.

  2. You don't have enough chance of improving to the best hand compared to the pot odds you get.

  3. You're unsure whether you're ahead or behind, but you'd have to call a big bet now or maybe later in the hand to find out.

  4. You are getting odds to call but you aren't closing the action and it is very likely that someone behind you will make it too expensive to continue.

Situations in which folding would be incorrect

Just like there are situations in which folding would be the best play there are also situations in which folding wouldn't be so okay:

  1. You can check instead :-).

  2. You know you have the best hand (obviously).

  3. You know you probably have the worst hand but you are getting the correct odds to call with your draw anyway.

  4. You know you are behind, but you are also pretty sure that a bluff will win you the pot.

Also: don't think about folding pocket kings pre-flop at the lower stakes unless your opponent goes all-in and shows you pocket aces.

Key aspects to consider for recognizing a fold

As you can see from the examples of folding and non-folding situations above there are some aspects besides your cards that are very important to consider in order to recognize a fold. These are:

There's also the option of bluffing instead of folding when you know you're beat, but that goes beyond the scope of this article. At the lower stakes folding is often the better play anyway as there are too many loose calling stations anxiously waiting to call down your bluff.

Folding because of bad odds

If you are on a draw you should only call bets when you get the right pot odds and/or implied odds, as explained in more detail in the pot odds guide. As is mentioned in this guide it is very important to not overestimate your number of outs when deciding to draw or not (i.e., don't draw to gutshot straights on a two card flush and paired flop).

Folding when you don't get the right odds to call doesn't necessarily apply only to when you are drawing though. Because you can't put your opponent on just one hand, you often also can't say you are always ahead or always behind in a certain situation. If you put your opponent on a range of most likely holdings then you will often find that you are ahead of a part of that range and behind of the other possible holdings: you can make an estimation of how likely you are to be ahead and by comparing this chance with your pot odds you can either justify a call or make a good fold.

Hole cards Board
9 of clubsTen of clubs Ten of hearts8 of diamonds2 of clubsqueen of clubs5 of diamonds

Say you called a raise from middle position pre-flop and called both a flop and a turn bet (seems very reasonable with top pair and second pair with an added flush- and gutshot straightdraw on the turn). Now your opponent bets again on the river: a pot sized bet giving you pot odds of 33% or 2:1. Say you think this opponent might have you beat with a pair of kings or aces, a hand like AQ, KQ or QJ and that you know he also likes to bluff three streets ('triple barreling') with hands like AJ, AK and sometimes a lower pair like 33.

Now, if you count all the possible combinations of these hands and calculate the fraction of hands you win from with your pair of tens, then you'll find that you have a chance of about 44% to win the pot based on the hand range mentioned. This means you should call. (You could also use PokerStove for this sort of 'equity calculation' instead. Oh, and now we're between brackets anyway, don't try to do these calculations while playing. Just practice them away from the table to get a rough idea or feel for your odds when playing.)

If, on the other hand, you don't think your opponent could have lower pocket pairs and AJ in his hand then you only have a 30% chance of winning. This means you should fold, because you aren't getting the right pot odds.

At the lower stakes you will encounter a lot of passive players who would not be attempting to bluff this river. In that case it would be a clear fold too.

Note that you can only very rarely put your opponent on an exact hand. Therefore folding very strong hands like bottom set (three-of-a-kind) on the flop or pocket kings pre-flop will almost never be correct, certainly not at the lower stakes. In order for this to be correct you have to put your opponent on exactly a higher set or, in the other example, pocket aces. In reality the range of possible hands your opponent could hold will almost always be wider and that would give you the right odds to just go ahead and 'ship it' with such strong holdings.

Folding because of the expected action

This one is also important for pre-flop starting hand selection. The reason that you should be very reluctant to play all kinds of drawing hands (with which you would like to see a cheap flop) from early position is that there are still quite a number of players to act behind you who can make it more expensive than you would like to by raising.

This principle also applies after the flop. Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you have a relatively weak made hand and are facing a bet with one or more opponents left to act behind you. Even if you think that you are ahead of the player who bet out, you have to consider the fact that you might still be behind to one of the other players. This would be a sound reason to just fold your marginal hand.

Besides the possible action the players left to act behind you might give, you also have to consider the possibility that a player will keep betting on future streets. If you check/call the flop with a medium strength hand and check the turn again then do you really want to call another bet? If not, then maybe it wouldn't have been a bad idea to fold on the flop in the first place.

Notice how your position plays a very important role in deciding whether to fold or not. If you are out of position then you have less control over how the hand plays out after you have made your decision, which should favor a fold in very marginal situations.

Folding in poker - conclusion

Hopefully this folding guide has helped you to better recognize folding situations or maybe even calling situations where you would have otherwise folded. Whether you actually fold your hand when you recognize that doing so would be the best action or whether you just keep calling and pushing with it instead might be dependent on the amount of bad beats you already had to suffer at that point. That's where discipline becomes an important factor too.

Remember that in micro stakes online poker games it isn't very difficult to pick the spots where you have a big edge to build big pots. That is where your value, your profit comes from. If you find yourself in a situation with a marginal hand and the pot is getting bigger than your hand warrants, then just fold. Don't become a calling station with your draws; don't find yourself calling your stack away with a weak middle pair; just fold. After all, a dollar saved is still a dollar earned. And those dollars can and will really add up when playing thousands of hands every month!

Further reading at First Time Poker Player:

Further reading across the internet:

Tired of reading and anxious to finally practice your newly acquired poker skills online? PokerStars is an excellent room to play online poker at for everyone. European players have more choice when it comes to online poker rooms and they might find some easier games at Everest Poker or Ladbrokes. Have fun!

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