Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Boring--But Powerful--Poker Skill: Folding

Most experienced intermediate cash game players understand the importance of playing position. They get the preflop concept of tight-is-right. They employ aggression in their game because they know that pressuring the other guy to fold means they can win with effectively any two cards. They continuation bet with the right frequency. They’ve mastered bankroll management, they don’t tilt, and they know how to hand read like fortune tellers.

But there is a common leak among these same intermediate players that I see over and over—and this leak costs them money. A lot of money. These otherwise solid players don’t fold enough. I’m not talking preflop (remember, I said they get the whole tight-is-right concept?). No, I’m talking post flop, in situations when the bad guy is firing into them and, well, they don’t believe the bad guy. So these otherwise good players call down, in a sense just kind of just hoping to win. They say things like they're going to "look up" the villain. These folks play the role of sheriff, and it costs them money that it doesn’t have to. Said simply, there’s better money to be made without “hoping” you have the best hand.

Folding is one the chief ingredients to the the secret sauce of beating low and medium stakes games. It’s how you survive—and thrive--against the opposition. It’s what the pros do.

And it’s what I do. My name is Bug, and I fold a lot.

If you are unsure if you have the best hand on the flop or beyond, and the bad guy is betting into you, you probably should fold.

If you think the decision is close, you probably should fold.

If the villain is firing multiple barrels and you don’t have a very strong hand that should otherwise go to showdown, you should probably fold.

In low stakes games, you shouldn’t have to risk your stack fighting for marginal pots and battling for thin edges. And you should almost never "look up" the other guy just because you want to keep them honest or see what they have. At these small stakes tables, there is easier, lower-risk money to be had. This is true whether your opponent is a weak-tight nit, a loose-passive fish, or somewhere in between. When these players bet, they mean it. They rarely bluff. Their post flop bets are real. These may be bad players, but as the old saying goes: even the blind squirrel occasionally finds the nuts. Just accept it and move on.

You should also strongly consider folding when a tricky professional or “reg” is firing into you. Yes, it’s less likely they have the goods than when a passive bad player is betting, but you still have to ask yourself if the risk-to-reward ratio of calling down the reg is positive. Sometimes when you have position on these types you can float them, but usually only one street. If they fire a second bullet, ask yourself if you want to invest any more money into this hand, hoping you’re best, or hoping that they’ll give up on a later street. If the answer is no, then just fold and move on. It's really this simple.

Remember, folding is always zero EV. Folding costs you absolutely nothing. Any money in the pot--even if you put it there--is not yours; it’s a sunk cost and now belongs to the pot, not you.

Your main source of profit in the small stakes games comes from making hands against loose-passive players and stealing from the tight ones. At these small stakes games you shouldn’t be making many—if any—fancy plays or big “hero calls.” You should not be looking up players.

As you move up in stakes you can and should start employing more advanced tactics like 3betting light and bluffing more, but in the small stakes tables just forgetaboutit.

The downside of course is that playing this way may feel boring. It may seem unsexy. It might not cause adrenaline to course through you blood stream—but it’s a highly effective, highly profitable way to play poker.

Fold. Your bankroll will thank you.


  1. I had a friend tell me it's not fun to fold. I replied, yes, but it's fun to win money.

  2. Exactly! That's what I remind myself when I've been folding for the past 15 minutes and start getting anxious to play a hand. "This is about making money, not winning hands," I say.

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