When online poker players first learn the game they recognize that there are two ways to win a hand. Primarily, they are looking to play good cards, or at least what they think are good hands, and then perhaps mix in some bluffs here and there. Then they may later learn to semi-bluff, usually with a good draw and a good chance that an opponent will fold. It’s usually only much later in their development, and at a stage that few players ever even get to, where they come to realize that this isn’t quite so polarized as they may think and there is almost always an element to both in every hand.
So what I teach my students right from the start is to think of this not in such black and white terms, as in we’re betting for value here or we’re bluffing, and instead start to think of this as a combination of both factors in determining their total equity. Now, this can be a pretty complex matter indeed, and in fact no matter how experienced you are, you are limited to what sort of calculations you have time to do during live play, and you need to leave the more complicated stuff for hand studies away from the table.
However, it’s never too early to start thinking in terms of what goes into correct poker decisions, and then develop your skills with it as they go along. So I’ll be throwing at you what may seem to be quite advanced approaches to figuring out where you are at in hands, but in fact it’s quite helpful to know what decides these things even if you’re fairly new, and once you‘re made aware, you can then work on getting better at doing it.
Fold Equity in Poker
I actually want to start with fold equity as that’s the first thing I always look at when figuring out where I’m at. This doesn’t necessarily mean our opponents folding better hands, as is the case with a so called bluff. At the starting point we’re only looking at the chances of our opponent or opponents folding to certain actions of ours, whether that be betting or raising. This need not even be in the present betting round by the way, as for instance if we know that we can float successfully, meaning calling now with a view toward betting or raising on a later round and earn more money than just doing it now.
So I start with looking for chinks in a player’s armor so to speak, which means his tendency to fold to pressure. Now ideally you’re going to be able to access these types of stats, but for now we’ll say that you either have them or have gained similar information from observation. Depending on the player, there will be situations where there’s enough fold equity alone to make an aggressive action profitable.
Random Situations Involving Fold Equity in Poker
For instance, a player may fold half the time to a c-bet in position on the flop. So if our bet is three quarters pot, and we win half of those without a fight, we’re already making money on the play without even considering our showdown equity. If the pot is $10, we make $10 half the time and have put up $7.50 to win it, so obviously this is to our advantage.
There are going to be situations where it’s close enough that we need to figure out our showdown equity as well though, even if our primary objective is to take down the pot. In the above example, let’s say that we win one out of three hands and to keep it simple let’s say we check it down from there. So we lose $7.50 two times in three, and we make $7.50 once. So now let’s put the two together. We win $10 half the time uncontested, and with the other half we lose $2.50 on average. So for every time we do this we make ($10-$2.50)/2 or $3.75, whereby we were only making (10-7.50) or $2.50 from the fold equity alone.
The only times you don’t have both is when it’s a pure bluff when you have absolutely no chance to win, or you have a player who never folds to anything. These situations don’t come up very often, there’s usually some chance you have the best hand, and everyone folds some of the time. Things can get more complicated than this though of course.
For instance, in our simple example there may be further opportunities to get folds on further streets, for instance if he folds enough to the second and even the third barrel we may have further fold equity if called on the flop. He may also raise us here and we may be done with the hand when we don’t have the goods to continue, or we may check fold the turn or river, and we may also call further bets from him and add to our losses when we don’t take the pot down.
Bluffs, Betting Ranges and Value Equity
On the other end of things, depending on how strong your hand is versus what you think your opponent probably has, if you feel you are ahead then the primary goal will be to get the most value out of it, while keeping things in the ballpark of your still being ahead. For instance, if you bet or raise so large that you will fold out all the weaker hands and only keep the better ones in, you’ve made a huge mistake of course. Not only that, but your value equity depends on his playing on with an average range lower than what you have, although with the fold equity factored in you can get away with winning less than half of course, but we’re talking about focusing on value here primarily, which means bet and raise sizing that if called would still put us in good shape.
This all depends on the tendencies of our opponents of course, and the looser they are the more we can look to extract value from comfortably. You also want to look at all the remaining betting rounds as well in formulating your strategy, and pay attention to how often a player will play on and what sort of bet sizing he will do it with. As well, with primary value plays it may be best to let the opponent be the aggressor, if he is tight but aggressive and is more likely to put money in with weaker hands that way.
So I’ve given you a few things to think about, and the math may seem to be pretty daunting but in the early stages of grasping these concepts it’s not really that important, as it’s more a matter of knowing what sorts of things you need to be thinking about and then building your skills gradually. The goal is to keep things within your present abilities while at the same time pushing yourself to go deeper, which is the best way to improve.