The Fold Equity
No longer is it enough to play a solid game and wait for a good hand, nor is it enough simply to be aggressive and bluff with reckless abandon. The ability to combine courage, patience and insight does remain integral to the game, but with it now must come a fine-tuned understanding of the cogs that make the game work.
One of the most recent concepts that has been formalised in poker is fold equity. It is not quite as taxing as it might sound, and we will use a number of examples to explain this definition:
Fold equity is a measure of the chance that your move will cause your opponent to fold. This move will often be a re-raise all-in, and a good fold equity should combine with your chance of winning if you are called to make it a good move.
Fold equity in action
An example of a good move would be:
The pressure is increasing as the tournament approaches the bubble, and you look down at in the small blind. With blinds at 3,000/6,000, the cutoff raises the action to 20,000, leaving himself 80,000 behind. You have him covered. Do you have good fold equity?
Yes. Your fold equity here is perfect to make the all-in move. The crucial calculation is to work out the odds that your opponent will be offered to make the call. Here, he will be calling 80,000 to win 209,000 (two lots of his 100,000 stack plus the blinds).
To do the calculation (don’t worry, you’ll learn how to do this roughly), he is looking at pot odds of 38%. This number is high enough to give him a problem, and will cause him to fold many hands.
Let’s say your opponent holds a hand like or . Your move will make him uncomfortable. He will know that he is likely to be in a position where he is either going to be a tiny 54-46% favorite against a two overcard hand, or a big 20-80% underdog against an overpair. He may well decide to pass, and in the long run would not be wrong to do so.
However, in this situation, you would benefit massively from a fold, as you pick up a decent sized pot in a situation where your hand was actually slightly inferior. Why? You have used our fold equity very well, to make the correct move.
Insufficient fold equity
Now the bubble has burst, but our 80,000 stack is struggling against the increasing blinds. We look down at your best hand for a while in the small blind, with blinds at 5,000/10,000. A player in second position makes it 30,000 to go. What do you think of your fold equity, and this spot in general?
You have a stack nearly three times as big as the raise that has been made. It would seem that your have a good spot for a move with a decent hand. However, this is a real red herring, and there is a stark warning here; your fold equity is not as good as it seems. In fact, rather than moving all-in, you are practically calling all-in.
Let’s have a look at the odds that the second-position player will have when the action comes back to him. He will be calling 50,000 more to win 170,000 (two lots of 80,000 plus the 10,000 big blind). This gives him good pot odds of 29.5%.
These odds are small enough that it will be very difficult for your opponent to pass with any kind of reasonable hand. Even if he believes he is beat, he will probably mutter something about pot odds, shrug his shoulders, and make the call.
So, we have almost no fold equity. We now have to treat the hand as if we are calling all-in with . In some situations, this may be the right thing to do, but here I would advise against it. The first step is to fix a range of hands that our opponent may have raised with in the second position. Let’s have a look:
- There are a number of hands that we are roughly racing against e.g. , .
- Just a few hands that we are a good favorite against, e.g.
- Many hands against which we will be an underdog, these are and
What is the right thing to do?
It seems strange to pass a good hand like in a situation where you are struggling and have not seen a good hand for a while. Many players justify it as “taking a stand.” This is nonsense, however, in a situation where you opponent will almost definitely have to call.
It is actually better to pass, and wait for a different spot. Instead, move all-in in a pot where either every player has passed, or one player has limped. The tool you are utilsing is of course fold equity, as these moves will give your opponents a genuine decision.
You may even find yourself moving in with a clearly inferior hand like . However, this is a better move; fold equity is such an important thing that it can bring about this paradox, where different timings can make a move correct with , and wrong with .
The stark warning
One of the most common mistakes that you will see is people relying on fold equity when they actually do not have it. One of the most difficult pieces of maths required in the game is to work out what the pot odds for your opponent will be if you move all-in. If you do not fancy the maths, the overriding lesson is that the pot odds for your opponent will often be much better than they seem.
A good rule of thumb comes from the first example. Where there has already been a raise, you need as much as five times the raise in your stack for all-in to be a effective move.
Good luck at the tables, and, most of all, have fun!
Struggling with the poker jargon? Check out our poker terms webpage.