In poker, you can win in one of two ways:
The first is to have the best hand at showdown.
The other is when you force your opposition to fold.
It's the latter that brought about the key concept of fold equity.
It's an important concept because anytime you can manipulate your opponent into folding a stronger hand, you benefit.
Knowledge of fold equity allows strong players to win more than their fair share of pots and hence win more money and more tournaments.
Fold Equity Definition
Fold equity is the equity that you gain that based on the probability that your opposition will fold to your bet (or raise) which will win you the pot.
On the other hand, pot equity is your chance of winning when you showdown your hand. For example, a pair of aces has over 80% pot equity vs a lower pocket pair if they go all in preflop.
Note: if you do not bet or raise (i.e. you just called or checked) your fold equity is zero and you are relying totally on pot equity to win the hand. An example of this would be trapping with a strong made hand.
Fold equity is most often used in No-Limit Hold'em because you can manipulate the size of the bet to increase pressure on your opponent to fold.
Fold equity can be applied to almost any situation, at any point of the hand. Providing you have enough chips to bet or raise. If you've ever heard a player mention that the only way they could win the hand is by betting, they were relying solely on fold equity to take down the pot.
Skilled players are able to recognise situations when they have a lot of fold equity and use it to execute well-timed bluffs. This is the essence of successful bluffing.
Fold Equity Example
We have a busted flush draw after raising preflop and betting the flop and turn vs a good opponent. Our hand is Q♦J♦ and the board is A♦9♥7♦5♠2♣
We can assume that we have very little chance of winning the pot if we get to showdown because our hand strength is just queen high with no pair.
However, if we bet, our opponent may fold some percentage of the time giving us a chance to take down the pot.
How often our opponent will fold will depend on a number of factors. Most notably;
- Our bet size
- Our perceived range
- Evaluating your opponent and their likely range
- Past history and observations
To have success applying fold equity, as if often the case in poker, there's a number of aspects to consider and weight. It's not always an exact science.
But what is for certain is that you will increase your chance of winning the pot (or in other words, your total equity) if you bet or raise when compared to just calling or checking. This is why many players have found success at the tables using a very aggressive playing style!
When it comes to getting the most out of fold equity, good players are assigning their opponent a range and targeting a part of that range to fold out.
In No Limit Holdem, we have the option to bet small, leverage our entire stack, and everything in between.
If you're using fold equity to pressure a weak part of villains range, a small bet may get the job done. If you think you have the opportunity to fold out some even very strong hands that your opponent might be holding, an over-pot or large all-in move might be required. Check out one of our free videos on overbetting by clicking one of the buttons below:
Player Factors To Consider Regarding Fold Equity
Firstly, evaluate the factors at the table that you can control when determining your fold equity in a hand.
Your Table Image
For starters, what is your present table image? Your image often goes a long way in determining your fold equity.
Have you been playing tight and primarily showing strong hands or have you been caught bluffing a few times?
How many hands have you been playing? The more involved you are at the table, the more someone may play back at you and the less fold equity you will likely have when you contest the pot.
Conversely, if you have been playing tight because of a poor run of cards you may have an opportunity to get out of line to win a big pot as your fold equity will be maximised as opponents will be more likely to give you credit for holding a very strong hand.
This is why it is often a good strategy to play a little tighter than normal in the early stages of a poker tournament - in the later stages of a tournament, you will have more fold equity when winning the blinds and antes are worth a lot more to your stack!
Your Perceived Range
Your perceived range will also play a factor in your potential fold equity.
In conjunction with your table image, the hands that you regularly showdown will give opponents a general idea about the way you are playing.
If you're generally showing down strong hands, opponents will often give you a lot of credit when you turn up the heat and bet or raise. When the board produces scare cards, it could be a good time to apply pressure and bluff if you have a weak hand. Your opponents will be likely to believe you have a strong hand.
So if you have been showing down some weak hands prepare to have reduced fold equity and therefore expect your opponents to call down lighter!
Evaluating Your Opponent
You also need to consider what your opponent is holding and their general tendencies.
Opponent Table Image
What image is your opponent portraying at the table?
Are they playing like a maniac and are regularly involved in a hand or are they being more selective and are capable of making big lay-downs?
It may sound counter-intuitive, but generally, your fold equity is going to be higher against solid players. True these players might sometimes be holding stronger hands than their loose counterparts, but when they feel they are beat, they'll be more willing to fold their hand.
This is why it is often advised that you don't bluff a fish - you have no fold equity vs a player who won't fold!
Opponent Perceived Range
Before you even attempt to make a play based on fold equity, you better be able to put your opponent on a range of hands.
The first piece of information comes preflop. How often are they raising and what position are they? Do they regularly continuation bet the flop or are they more passive and content with letting other players control the action? What does their turn play say about their hand?
By the river, how has the runout of the board cards and your opponent's actions narrowed their possible holdings to this point?
Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to put them on a hand range and will guide you when deciding to make plays based on fold equity.
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Other Factors to Consider
Unless you're playing in a heads-up match, you need to evaluate various factors when determining whether to utilize fold equity in a hand. Many of these considerations will become second nature once you start regularly using fold equity, but early on you need to be mindful of the following.
Position and Number of Opponents
Everything in poker is dependent on position. Standard strategies regarding position apply to fold equity. The later the position you're raising, the weaker your hand is perceived by opponents. Note that table image will also play a part in this. An early position raise from a tight player is going to look much stronger than the same raise from a maniac.
Next, how many players are in the hand? If you're making a raise after multiple players have come into the pot, odds dramatically increase that someone will call. The ideal scenario would be to have no more than a single opponent in the hand. The fewer the opponents, the more likely your bet or raise will take down the pot.
If there is one opponent in the hand who has a 50% chance of folding to your bet, your fold equity is 50%.
However, if there are two or even three opponents in the hand each with a 50% chance of folding, your fold equity will be 25% or less (0.5*0.5) or 12.5% (0.5*0.5*0.5).
Keep this in mind and be careful the next time you try to bluff in a multiway pot!
Stack Size Comparison
The size of your stack compared to those you're playing against can help or hurt your fold equity. For example, if you're sitting on a stack of 10 big blinds and shoving against a player with 50, then your fold equity is likely to be lower than when your opponent has a stack size you can pose more of a threat to.
For example, if you're sitting on a stack of 60 big blinds against the same opponent with 50, then they have a decision to make if you move all in since they'll be risking their tournament life. Is their hand worth risking their entire deep stack or should they pick a better spot? Your fold equity in this spot is high.
Does Your "Story" Make Sense
When attempting to capitalize on fold equity and execute a successful bluff, remember your play throughout a hand is like a story. It needs to be consistent and to make sense. This will allow fold equity to be utilized most effectively.
Your bet or raise should be continuing to tell a story based on the board texture and your actions in the hand. Here's an example of putting the details of a hand together to capitalize on fold equity and win the pot.
Making plays that don't quite make sense with actions you've taken and your likely range is a recipe to have your opponent sceptical of your bluff and be more likely to look you up.
Applying Fold Equity to Tournament Situations
Fold equity is a concept that is really useful in tournament poker. Perhaps more so than cash games. In tournaments, the rising blinds put pressure on players to accumulate chips in a relatively short period of time. So the more pots you can get away with winning, the better position you'll be in to hit a really nice score and win a tournament.
The odds of getting called down in marginal situations in cash games rises because players can just reload and continue playing if they're wrong.
However, if they make a bad call in a tournament, they could be knocked out or lose a large chunk of their stack - Which in a poker tournament they can't just reload.
One of the most common areas to use fold equity to your advantage would be near where the payouts start, known as the bubble of a tournament. In the bubble players tend to tighten up in order to avoid being knocked out without making the money - if players are more likely to fold, your fold equity increases!
For more on bubble play see our YouTube video:
Pre-Flop Fold Equity
Pre-flop fold equity can be leveraged by either short-stacked or deep-stacked players, but it's usually the former where it's common. For short-stacked players, they are looking for spots where they can pick up pots, often without going to showdown. They have a stack size they're often willing to risk all of, for a chance to pick up the blinds and antes
For example, let's say you have 14 big blinds and look down to J♦9♦. Action folds to you, and you have the button and blinds left to act. None have more than 30 big blinds.
In this spot, an all-in shove is going to have high fold equity because your opponents have to call off a significant portion of their stack. At the same time with a fairly short stack, only 3 players behind, and a somewhat decent holding, moving all in and picking up the blinds and antes makes a nice addition to your stack.
There are accurate charts for correctly moving all in when short which you should familiarize yourself with if you haven't already. PokerNerve's Power Number chart is a powerful system and has greatly helped players have success leveraging a short stack.
At the other end of the spectrum, deep-stacked or chip leaders will also be able to use fold equity to help protect and build their stack. Especially against medium stacks who have quite a lot to risk. However other than the money bubble or final table where ICM pressure can be asserted, deep stacked players usually don't just move all in preflop.
Look to apply pressure with smaller raises preflop. Chips risked aren't as significant to bigger stacks, but the shallower stack may refrain from risking a significant portion of their stack and get involved in a pot against the big stack. So big stacks often have success stealing the blinds and antes.
However, when players get very short they may become desperate and this could reduce a larger stacks fold equity. An example is when a chip leader has a bunch of short stacks with 15 or fewer blinds left to act. Despite your massive stack size, when you raise your fold equity has gone down because these players are running out of chips and looking for a spot to double-up, even if it potentially means re-raising all in with a non-premium hand.
Post Flop Fold Equity
Pre-flop fold equity decisions are generally more straightforward than post flop where there are multiple decision points. Once you hit the flop, then you have to pay much more attention to all of the factors listed above when making decisions.
For example, you're in a hand from the big blind against a tight early position player with a similar stack size and the board cards don't fit your perceived hand range. In this spot, your fold equity is going to be lower than usual because your opponent is not likely to believe you have a strong hand.
So a donk bet or check-raise on an A♦ K♠ 2♣ flop probably won't get much credit. If you had aces, kings or ace-king you probably would have re-raised preflop. But your early position foe can easily have these holdings. So your opponent has a nut and range advantage. Theory, therefore, dictates they should be the one driving the betting action.
Now, let's say you're that early position player with a solid image, but have a hand like T♥9♥ on the same board. This could be a good time to continuation bet and represent that you have a strong hand such as AQ.
So position, player type and board texture are playing an important role in the decision to apply fold equity in order to win the pot post-flop.
This is why check-raising from the big blind is often a great way to take advantage of fold equity.
Big blind players are getting a reduced price to see a flop since they already have money invested and hence generally play a wide range of hands. This wide range could really hit some board textures that are much less likely to help, say, a tight early position openers range.
A board like 7♣5♦3♠ rainbow could give a big blind player any number of 2 pair, straight and set combinations. An early position player is far less likely to be holding these nuttier hands. Similarly, on paired flops where the pair is a lower rank card, a player with a wide range of holdings has a great opportunity to represent trips. It's a great spot for the big blind to capitalize on as the following video demonstrates.
Effect Of Turn And River Cards On Fold Equity
Turn and river cards can also have a profound effect on your fold equity.
For example, if the turn completes a flush or straight draw and your opponent has a lot of draws in their range, your fold equity will decrease. That would be an example of a turn card which is good for your opponent's range.
Conversely, if the turn comes a high card, say an ace for example, that will be more beneficial to the preflop raiser and their fold equity will tend to increase. This is why double barreling the turn as the preflop raiser is often a good idea on an ace, king or queen as it helps your range and thus gives you more fold equity.
How To Apply The Concept Of Fold Equity On The Table
So how do you apply fold equity on the table?
Well, the simple answer is to bet and raise more frequently than you check and call. In other words, play aggressively. A tight aggressive game (TAG) is often very effective.
Tight aggressive means you are playing a narrow range of hands, but when you do play you are betting and raising rather than taking passive lines.
One of the key areas this can be applied to is when playing draws. Rather than calling, look to be the aggressor and semi-bluff. Draws will quite often have weak pot equity on the flop (<35%). However, combining this pot equity with fold equity can be a potent combination. This gives you the 2 key ways to win the pot - Make the best hand or force your opponent to fold a stronger hand. Now that's winning poker and we see an example of this concept in the following video.
Don't Use Fold Equity as a Crutch
Sometimes a little knowledge can be a bad thing for a poker player. Some will use fold equity as an excuse to play marginal hands that should be tossed. No amount of fold equity should justify you playing trash hands like 7-2 offsuit against three opponents!
Regularly playing weak hands and constantly relying on fold equity alone might be fun, but isn't a formula for winning poker.
Factor fold equity into your game but remember pot equity is the other driving force. And by combining the two, you'll win more pots and play better poker.
Remember to always evaluate what your opponent might be holding, and what they might suspect your cards are. The compare those ranges to the board and make logical decisions.
Just playing a hand because you "might get them to fold" is not the same as assessing the situation to determine if you have proper fold equity.
Once you have learned how to properly evaluate the play on each street in a poker tournament, regularly start to apply fold equity when appropriate. Read the situation and make the appropriate bet size to achieve your desired result. When used correctly, fold equity could mean the difference between making a final table run or finishing short of the money bubble.
One of the quickest ways to improve your poker game is to enrol in a course or join a poker training site; if learning poker as quickly and as efficiently as possible interests you, be sure to check out the PokerNerve road to Success Course for some advanced poker tournament strategy to get you taking down their tournaments more often.