You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em

Woman folding playing poker

Folding: quite frankly, it just doesn’t seem natural. Why would anyone want to throw away hand after hand when they are paying blinds and antes in order to get some of the action? It’s just not right, is it? Wrong. The fact of the matter is simple: the player who folds most effectively is generally going to be the player who wins the most. This means that folding is a very important – perhaps the most important – part of your game to develop. After all, if you don’t lose money, there’s only one direction your poker account can go…

The first step to understanding that folding is important is perhaps the most difficult: it is accepting that folding is going to be the inevitable outcome in the majority of hands you play. If this isn’t accepted, then the inevitable outcome of most hands changes – to losing. If you watch a professional player like Tom Dwan at the table, most of the time you won’t even notice them there, yet their stack keeps building. That’s because they know which hands to muck and which to play, with the former making up the bulk of the decisions.

When to Fold?

So, when should you fold, and when should you stick around? The answer to this question is, unfortunately, almost impossible to answer. There are some rules that you can follow to make the decisions easier though. Therefore, you should fold when:

  • You know you have the worst hand and there’s no chance of bluffing the other player(s).
  • You aren’t sure if you are winning, but to find out you’ll have to end up calling a large – potentially stack-busting – bet in order to find out.
  • You think that someone after you in the action will raise the pot to even higher levels.
  • The bet to call is big, and you don’t have a massive chance of improving your hand (trying to fill a gut-shot straight draw is a prime example here).

If any of the above are true, you should fold immediately. If you don’t, you risk crippling your stack and ending up with much less than you started with. Of course, bluffing can be an option, but this should only be done by those with a good understanding of the game and its dynamics. This is because bluffs that go wrong, tend to go spectacularly wrong…

If you want a bit more of a complex analysis of the hands to play/fold pre-flop, check out this article.

Psychology

Poker player on tiltPsychology is massively important in poker, and folding plays a huge role in this. This is because, when playing poker, you are constantly trying to get under the other players’ skins, in the hope that their frustration or anger will induce a costly error on their part. But how can bluffing do this?

Imagine the scenario. You are sitting with Pocket Aces preflop, and you throw out a little bet, hoping that you’ll get a couple of callers. After all, anyone calling is going to be odds on against beating you and you therefore stand to make a nice profit. As the action moves around the table, players keep on folding, until there is only one left. And then they fold. The disappointment you feel is nearly as bad as losing a huge pot, as you know that you’ve lost the chance to win a nice, juicy amount and increase your chips substantially.

Now, a good player won’t let this bother them, but we’ll let you in to a secret: most players online and on mobile are not good players. They’ll see this failure to get a single caller as a personal sleight, and could start to behave erratically, in a process poker players call “going on tilt”. This means that they might start calling with weak hands, making bets that are too large or trying bluffs that have no chance of working. And then you’ve got under their skin, and their money is yours for the taking. All because you clicked on the “fold” button and moved on to the next hand.

There are also pot odds to consider, but this is designed as a beginner’s article, and pot odds are frankly pretty complex. That’s why we’ll cover them in an entirely separate article in the near future. For now, just remember this though: if you don’t like the look of the hand, throw it away. It’s better to lose a couple of pence and live to fight another day, than risk it all and end up with nothing.

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