An important primer in fold equity at the poker table

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I just finished playing a World Series of Poker Circuit event at Harrah’s Philadelphia and I feel compelled to write this article. No fewer than three times I witnessed a player make an all-in move with K-J offsuit preflop when they felt they were short-stacked and needed to make a move. That’s not all that unusual. In most cases, it would not be worthy of mention. However, I’m going to dedicate this article to these moves for one reason: In all three instances, each player made the move after a much larger stack had open-raised from early position.

Why is that relevant? Each player was virtually guaranteed to get a call by at least one player, and the odds were fairly good the short stacks would be dominated or in a race. Of course, that’s exactly what happened. Each player got called; twice dominated (A-K and K-Q) and once in a race (pocket nines). All three lost and were eliminated.
All three players failed to understand the concept of fold equity. While each was short-stacked, all three had plenty of chips to do some substantial damage to everyone else at the table. In another words, they could have forced their opponents to fold to their open all-in raise. I would’ve not blinked an eye if they had pushed all-in from middle to late position after everyone had folded to them. Even from early position, I wouldn’t have thought much of it, though the move would’ve been more questionable.

However, to make this move after an open raise from early position is not “getting your chips in good.” Part of getting your chips in good is playing situations and not cards. If you’re going to move all-in with vulnerable hands, you want to give yourself the maximum opportunity to win. You do that by taking advantage of fold equity.

If opponents have a real decision to make as to whether to call you, then you have two chances to win. First, you can win if your opponent folds. If you get called, you can win with the best hand. If you’re guaranteed to get called, you only have once chance to win: You must make the best hand. If you’re looking for an opportunity to get your chips all-in, think about the potential consequences and the likelihood of being called. If you want to “get your chips in good,” fold equity should be part of your analysis.

— David Apostolico is the author of several poker strategy books, including Tournament Poker and the Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.