Understanding fold equity is one of the simplest yet most useful poker strategy tips.
You can win the pot in a poker game by getting to the showdown with the best hand (or the best-remaining hand after others fold). But, if you don't have, or aren't confident you have, the best hand, you can still win the pot by getting your opponents to fold right away--and "fold equity" is defined by the odds chances you have of making that happen.
Here's the practical application of fold equity: if you think your opponent will fold 25% of the time in a $500 pot, then you have $125 worth of fold equity. You use fold equity to determine when it will be the most profitable for you to shove a bad hand and try to win the pot without a hand--that is, steal the blinds.
Now, fold equity calculations do not work if your opponent doesn't ever fold, for fold equity equals the chance that he is going to fold. If you've got a fish or a "novice Brunson" going against you, calculating the chances that he's going go fold is worthless, since he's rarely going to do that. But that's alright because he'll slit his own throat.
It should be pointed out that fold equity is really not about stone-cold bluffing, either. Let's call it "semi-bluffing". It's a way of going for pot winnings when you really don't have anything to win with, yet you're doing so in a carefully calculated way rather than relying on the emotional aspect of the stone-cold bluff. How Dick Dastardly of you!
Part of the skill set you need to pull off being able to use fold equity is being good at reading the range of your opponents. Now according to renowned poker theorist David Sklansky, this is part of "playing a hand correctly"--that is, playing a hand exactly as you would if you knew for a fact what your opponents are holding. This is, of course, well nigh impossible--but you can approximate knowing by monitoring their checking, calling, and raising, along with the cards you hold and those on the board, to figure out what they are most likely to have and then playing your hand accordingly. As games wear on, and you get to observe your opponents' play more from different positions, you will become increasingly accurate at assigning them a range if you know what you're doing.
You will rely on fold equity most of all in tournament poker playing. For all poker players regardless of skill level and experience, there's a wall that gets hit somewhere in the middle of a poker tournie. Your desire for the prize and the long, winding path you have to travel to get it, courting Lady Luck the whole time, really start to wear you down. So, it becomes important to start using fold equity to win money even before the flop. This is known as stealing the blinds. If you are in a tournie and don't steal blinds, you're finished.
As soon as the blinds reach a point where they equal a fair percentage of your chips, you want to start pressing mentally to steal as many as you can. As the blinds increase, your M value will decrease. Dan Harrington defines M as the "zone" which is represented by the size of your chip stack as compared to the antes and the blinds.
This will inevitably happen to you because nobody gets as many good hands as they do less than average and garbage hands in tournament play. It just won't happen. So you have got to start winning with bad stuff at least some of the time, and the only way to do this is to get your opponents to fold in the belief that you've got good stuff. By practicing using fold equity, you can make your bad hand shoves as profitable as possible and keep yourself alive to, maybe, win it all. Add fold equity to your portfolio of poker strategy tips.
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