Is Fold Equity Over Rated?
Poker experts and theorists around the world often talk about a concept known as fold equity and it's importance in given situations. The technical definition for fold equity is the equity a poker player gains due to their opponent folding to a bet. The layman's definition is do I have enough chips or is my bet big enough to induce my opponent to fold.
Fold equity most often comes into play in short stacked situations and many poker players believe that because of fold equity it is best to move all in with a wide range of hands as opposed to calling with a smaller range of hands because moving all in gives you two ways to win (your opponents folding or your hand improving) while calling only gives you one way (your hand improving). While utilizing fold equity should be a big part of a poker players’ game, many players over complicate it and pass up situations they shouldn't because they would rather be the initial raiser than the caller. This article is going to show you situations where you should use fold equity in tournament situations and discuss the times where you should ignore fold equity.
Pre-flop first to act fold equity
This is the situation that most people think of when it comes to fold equity. One of the concepts embedded into many poker players’ minds is to never let your stack get small enough to where you have no fold equity. You want to have the ability to induce people to fold as winning hands uncontested removes the element of luck that exists in poker.
For example, if the blinds are 500/1000 and the antes are 100 at a 9 handed table, what stack size would have fold equity and what stack size would not? Most players will call out of the big blind with any two when they are getting 2:1 on their money or better. There are of course exceptions to this, loose players will call getting less and tight players won't call. A stack size of 4,400 will give the big blind 2:1 on his money. The reason players are likely to call when getting 2:1 is that there is no hand that is more than a 2:1 dog against a random hand. Even if you have a hand like kings or queens, a hand with an over card is just slightly more than a 2:1 dog to beat you.
Thus, it is important that if you are going to be applying fold equity that you have a stack size that is sufficient enough to get your opponent to fold. Usually you will need a stack size of at least 8-10 big blinds to open shove first to act and have fold equity. What hands should you play in these situations? This will depend on the likelihood that your opponent will call. If they will only call with a narrow range of hands then your range should be infinite. If they fold 9 times out of 10, you're passing up too much value in basing whether you raise or not on the strength of your hand.
If your opponent is likely to call, your range needs to be smaller and it needs to be a hand that will play well against your opponent's range of hands. You will often see people open shoving with any ace and this is a mistake because one of the hands that is most likely to call you is a bigger ace. It is better to shove with a hand like 8-7 suited than A-5 off suit. Say you are called by A-J with both of those hands; 8-7 suited would only be a 3:2 dog to the A-J; A-5 off would be a 2.3:1 dog. The one advantage an ace would have is in situations it's called by a big pair and has the three outs, but this is not a strong enough factor to make the play viable.
Pre-flop raising callers fold equity
When people have limped into the pot, you will need more chips than if you were raising first to act but this can be an ideal situation to pick up some chips without much pressure. In fact, if you are looking for a spot to push in your short stack it is better to do it in a pot where there are two to three limpers then moving in first to act. Your stack size increases more and your opponent's have already told you they didn't really like their hand that much. There is always the off chance that someone limped in with a big pair, but over the long run this play is a profitable one.
An example to explain:
You have 12,000 in chips with the blinds at 500/1,000 and a 100 ante at a nine handed table. There are three limpers and you are on the button with 8-6 suited. There is 5,400 in the pot. You move all in for 12,000. Let's say that two out of ten times you will be called and lose the hand, one out of ten times you will be called and win the hand, and the other seven times everyone folds (this is a pretty realistic approximation). Here is how the math plays out.
The net for the 10 hands is 31,200 or 3,120 per hand which is over a 25% increase in stack size. Even if you lost three out of the ten you'd still show a profit.
Pre-flop re-raise fold equity
When re-raising a raiser, you will need to have enough chips to induce a fold and your opponent must be capable of folding to a re-raise after they have raised. The best hands to re-raise with when you are short to medium stacked are hands that have good show down value like A-K/A-Q/K-Qs. Moving all in with these hands is much more favorable than just calling a raise and seeing if you hit the flop. Think about it. If you hit one of your cards your opponent more often than not won't pay you off and when they do call your bets it's because they have you beat. Meanwhile if you miss the flop, two out of three times you will miss the flop and have thrown away the chips you put in pre-flop. By moving all in you get maximum value for your hand the times you do hit your cards or are called by a lesser hand like K-J or K-10 and you can win pots pre-flop when your opponent's fold.
Another situation you can use re-raise fold equity is in re-steal situations. If a player has raised from late position, a well timed all -in can be an excellent source of chips. As above, you will need enough chips to induce a fold and you must know your opponent. Eight to ten big blinds won't be enough to pull off this move, you'll probably need about fifteen big blinds.
Post-flop fold equity
Most discussion of fold equity pertains to pre-flop, short stack decisions. However, a big part of tournament poker is making re-raises and re-steals of players post-flop and fold equity is a huge factor in determining whether the re-raise or re-steal is a valid play. When considering whether to put in a re-raise the same factors that you evaluate pre-flop come into play except now you have more information to work with. You know what your opponent did pre-flop and you have the flop to help define things more clearly.
A big time to apply fold equity in post-flop decisions is when you have a big draw or believe that your opponent is bluffing. Let's look at an example of having a big draw:
The blinds are 250/500 with a 50 ante. An early position player raised and a middle position player called. You call as well from the cutoff with 10-9 of diamonds and everyone else folds. There is 5700 in the pot and you have 30,000 in front of you. Your two opponents have 25,000 and 50,000. The flop comes 8-7-2 with two diamonds giving you an open ended straight draw plus a flush draw. A monster flop for sure. The pre-flop raiser bets 5,000 leaving himself with 20,000. The middle position player folds. A mistake here would be calling. Here's why. Say you call and the turn comes with a non-diamond face card. Your opponent now bets all-in and you have to fold. By moving all-in or making a re-raise on the flop, you avoid this predicament. Additionally, you can win the pot if your opponent was just taking a stab at the pot after he missed. Even though you have a huge draw, it's still just a draw and there is nothing wrong with taking the pot down on the flop. Another problem with calling is that if you do hit your draw on the turn, you might not get paid off. If you had moved in and your opponent called you, you would receive maximum value for your hand.
Ignoring fold equity
The reason why fold equity might be overrated somewhat is people rely on it too much. A short stack will move all in for 10,000 and a player with a 12,000 stack and K-Q suited will fold because they aren't first to act. When people get short stacked, they have a natural tendency to panic and they start playing hands they would never dream of playing. Folding hands like medium pocket pairs and two paints can be a mistake in these situations. Think about it this way. If you were first to act from the cutoff with a short stack and had K-10 would you fold? No, you wouldn't. Say you had 12,000 in chips and were first to act from middle position with the blinds at 1,000/2,000. What kind of hand would you need to move all-in here? Not much right? The probability (and believe it or not, poker is largely a game of probability) is that K-10 is either way ahead or in a race situation which means over the long run this is a largely +EV situation. People say that it's better to raise than to call a raise, but sometimes you just have to ignore fold equity.
One last example to show you why this is an important concept.
You have 15,000 in chips with the blinds at 1,000/2,000 with a 200 ante. You've been waiting patiently for a hand to play. You have lost nearly 10,000 in chips the last two orbits just folding. You are dealt A-9 suited on the button and are anxious for the action to get to you so that you can move all in. It is folded to the cutoff who moves all in for his last 20,000. “Crap!” you think to yourself and start to toss your cards in the muck.
Wait. Don't do it.
Think about it. What is the range of hands your opponent could have? Say he plays similarly to you. What would you move all in with here? A lot worse than A-9 suited right? You can fold the hand but with the way middle to late tournament play is, you aren't guaranteed that you're going to get an opportunity to open shove first to act. Doubling up here could be huge though as it'd put you in position to play some poker. You call, he turns over 9-8 suited and you double up. This game is easy.
Not overrated, but...
Fold equity isn't over rated, that much you can be sure of. It's an integral part of tournament poker and has a say in many of the decisions players make over the course of a tournament. However, that doesn't mean it should be the overruling factor in every decision that you make. Poker is a dynamic game and each hand is different. Where folding might be the proper play in one particular hand, calling or raising might be the correct play in a different particular hand. Don't forsake other plays simply because fold equity doesn't exist and when you do use fold equity make sure you understand the proper application. It could be the difference between a small payday and a huge one.