When to Fold

Published: 11/12/2010

Back in 1978, country artist Kenny Rogers sang a #1 hit song called “The Gambler.” Its lyrics contained some of the best Poker advice ever offered: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

The vast majority of Poker hands that are dealt are losers. That is no exaggeration. It is a mathematical fact, so the sooner a player discovers it is time to fold, walk, or run, the better. Continually limping in, betting on hope, and waiting for a lucky draw is a sure strategy for ruin, especially when playing Texas Hold’em and similar games where blinds are involved and getting out of a hand often costs nothing.

Fold Early and Often

The first opportunity to fold comes right after the deal. Unless there is some compelling reason to try a full-on bluff, any junk cards received should be folded without fail. That means tossing in all easily recognised losers, such as the J-5 or 7-2 unsuited, and also most marginal hands, including small pocket pairs in late positions after two or more players have called or raised the blind as well as unsuited connectors and disconnected small cards of the same suit.

A decision is always required when on the small blind. Folding depends on what action has already occurred. If the big blind has been called or raised, there is no valour in paying more just to “go along for the ride” with a small pair. Similarly, the cost of folding is minimal when holding a weak hand against an unknown big blind behind, no matter how many hands have folded in front.

Obviously, folding is not an option when unraised on the big blind. It costs nothing to see the flop. On the other hand, when raised, it is a different situation altogether. Knowing the pot odds will give a good indication of whether to call, re-raise, or fold. Just don’t get caught up in the desire to “defend” the small amount invested in the blind. There are still three betting intervals to follow.

When in Doubt, Fold

Pre-flop folding is far less costly that decisions made post-flop. Once a wager has been made, whether through the contribution of a blind or a call made during the initial betting round, folding should be based on the likelihood of losing and the relative cost of continuing, i.e. pot odds.

Pot odds can be defined as the ratio of the size of the pot at any given time to the cost of making a call. Another way of expressing it is as a comparison of the amount of money already in the pot to how much it will cost a player to win it. When pot odds are low, even a strong hand may be folded without remorse—it simply is not worth the risk.

But what about when pot odds are high, offering potentially huge rewards for relatively little cost? Again, the low probability of winning on a weak hand still doesn’t warrant the gamble. A marginal hand or better is required to continue.

Even a strong going-in hand, like pocket Aces, may have to be folded after the flop. For example, a flopped J-10-9 or three suited cards that don’t match either Ace should set the alarm bells off. Even a K-10-9 might be cause to fold if two other players start betting and raising as if there were no tomorrow. Surely one has triplets and the other a straight, making Aces look very weak indeed.

And should a bluff end up taking the pot, there is no cause for hand wringing. It is always better to fold and lose to an occasional bluff than to get sucked into losing an entire stack. There is no shame in giving up at any time, so when in doubt, fold. Stick around for the big wins to follow.

Published on: 11/12/2010

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