Folding

When people are learning how to play poker and the important skills to master, folding often takes a back seat. Many players want to learn to master the more aggressive skills in the game but to be a great all-rounder, you will need to master the art of a good fold.

Folding not only teaches you how to control your emotions at the table, but it can also cut back your losses, and in the long run, help to improve your overall winning percentage.

In this guide, we are taking you everything you need to know about folding including when to do it, how to force your opponent to do it, and more.

 

What is Folding?

Folding in poker is the act of surrendering your hand and ending your involvement in the pot. By folding, you don’t have to match the current bet, but you give up your right to win the hand.

Knowing when to fold is extremely important, as folding when you have the worst of it is going to save you substantial amounts of money in the long run, and you know what they say; money saved is money earned!

It can be hard to know exactly how often you should fold in poker because each scenario is very different from street to street, let alone from hand to hand. The size of the bet, the strength of your hand, your opponent’s range, the board texture, and other factors should all play into your decision of whether or not to fold.

professional poker game. Green poker table with two games. poker player folds by throwing cards on the table

How Often Should I be Folding?

One of the most common ways to determine how often you should fold is by using pot odds. Using pot odds, you can figure out the amount of equity your hand needs against your opponent’s range for it to be a profitable call. If your hand is a profitable call, then you call, and if you don’t, you fold… sounds easy, right? S

Not quite. If you’re playing against good players, you’ll need to defend enough against postflop bets to avoid exploitation. This means that sometimes you’ll need to call with hands that don’t meet the equity requirements given to you by the pot odds if it’s high enough up in your range. This is referred to as the minimum defense frequency (MDF), which can be worked out by dividing the amount you need to call by the size of the pot and then multiplying by 100 to get a percentage. 

Example: Your opponent bets $100 into a $100 pot.

 $100/$200 x 100 = 50% 

Therefore, you need to defend 50% of your range against that bet to avoid getting exploited).

However, in practice, it’s doubtful you’ll need to use MDFs when you’re playing, as most players are too unbalanced for it to be worth it. The only time where it’s recommended you do so is when you’re playing against unknown players or in an unfamiliar environment. Even then, as soon as you develop reads/tendencies on your opponents, you should focus more on how to exploit them. This is why you look at other factors, such as your opponent’s range and playing style, to make your decision. For example, if your opponent is an extremely tight player who rarely bluffs, they will likely be extremely value-heavy when they make a bet. In these situations, you can disregard MDF and exploitatively fold more than you “should.”

Almost all players you face will either be overbluffing or underbluffing to a certain extent, so you need to use all the information you have on them to decide which way they lean, which then tells you how often you should be folding.

Why Is It Wrong To Fold So Much?

It’s important not to go overboard and fold too much. Folding too often can be just as bad as not folding enough, as you miss out on opportunities to make money. Not only that, but your opponents will quickly realize that you can be easily pushed around, and you’ll find yourself regularly bluffed off of pots you should win. So let’s take a closer look at why it’s wrong to fold too often.

  • Giving Up Equity – Almost all hands have some equity against your opponent’s betting range, no matter how bad. By folding your hand, you’re giving up that equity, allowing your opponent to win more of the pot than they should. While sometimes your hand will have so little equity that folding is far and away the best play, you don’t want to get into the habit of folding when your hand has decent equity. You can’t afford to wait until you have an equity advantage; even if your hand only has 25-30% equity, that’s often enough to continue depending on the size of the bet and your opponent’s betting range.
  • You Become Easy To Bluff – If you’re only continuing against a bet when you have a very strong hand, you will be folding most of the time. Opponents at your table will start to realize this and will bluff you more frequently. If you continue to wait for strong hands, you’ll be bluffed off a lot of pots that you should win, drastically reducing your win rate.
  • Gives Your Opponents Momentum – Poker is a game of the mind. We often find that confident players play better because they’re not worried about the outcome of their decision; they have the confidence that it’s the correct one, whether or not it works out. Suppose you’re making a lot of bluffs into your opponent, and they keep working. In that case, it will give you immense confidence in your decision-making, allowing you to play better in other areas of the game. This is precisely what happens when you let your opponent run over you. Alternatively, you’re constantly folding against your opponent. In that case, you’re giving them the confidence they need to play better in other aspects of the game, making your life much more difficult.

You need to find a balance with your folding to give yourself the best opportunity to make money without gambling too much and throwing money away on hands with no chance of winning. If you’re having trouble figuring out when to fold and when to continue, it’s handy to have a list of factors to consider before making your decision.

Things to Consider Before Folding

1. Betting Range of Your Opponent

Before you make any decisions, you should always consider the hand that your opponent could have. You can always make informed judgments on your opponent’s betting range and what decisions they are likely to make. You can do this by assessing how they have played their hands throughout the game, including which hands they have folded on, what they have bet on, and any previous bluffs they have attempted.

2. Pot Odds

Another critical factor in your decision is going to be the pot odds. Before you fold, you will want to work your pot adds against your opponent’s bet size. Understanding your pot odds will help you know what percentage of the time you will need to be correct. For example, in a full-pot bet from your opponent, you must be correct 33% of the time to win.

3. Strength of Your Hand

Understanding the strength of your own hand is a major factor when it comes to folding. Naturally, you want to avoid folding hands that give you plenty of winning potential. However, doing this can also lead to you being exploited by tougher opposition. Likewise, you also need to be able to recognize a weak hand early on and fold pre-flop. Players who learn and adopt a GTO approach should be able to master the art of this simply by sticking to the proven method.

4. Tells of Your Opponent

Of course, as with all poker strategies, you will need to thoroughly understand the people you are up against. Having a good idea of your opponent’s playing style and habits will help you determine the strategy you want to take. What are your opponents’ tells, and how can you exploit them? Being able to spot when your opponent is bluffing or not can get you out of a sticky situation or two.

When You Should Fold

Now that you know what to consider before making a fold, when do you do it? Unfortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer, as many different variables need to be considered before making your decision. However, to make things easier for you, we’ve laid out what to look out for when deciding when to fold preflop, postflop, and when you have top pair.

Folding Pre-flop

When it comes to playing hands preflop, the reality is that most of the hands you get dealt should be folded. Around 40-50% of hands should be folded in almost every scenario. On top of that, you should increase the number of hands you fold as you get further away from the BTN. In fact, in a 9-handed game, you should only be raising around 15% of your hands from UTG, meaning that 85% of the hands you’re dealt in that position will be folded!

Even if you’re in a later position, such as the CO, you should still be folding over 65% of your hands, and that’s if the action folds to you. If someone raises before you, you should be folding the majority of your hands, only defending by 3betting or calling with the top 5-15% of your hands.

If you’re a serious poker player, you should know your raising ranges for every position at the table. When the action folds to you, you should know before you look at your cards which ones you’re raising and which you’re folding. Not only does this help speed the game up and allow you to get more hands in, but it also gives you a clear starting point when thinking about postflop ranges. Preflop charts like the one below are a great starting point if you need help remembering your preflop ranges.

Poker Range Chart

Folding Post-Flop

When we get to postflop, knowing when to fold can be trickier as there aren’t predetermined ranges you can follow. Instead, you need to factor in your opponent’s range, your hand strength, and the pot odds you’re being given to determine whether a fold is the right option.

Those who like to take a game theory optimal (GTO) approach may find it easier to know when to fold. One method they can employ is called Minimum Defense Frequency. This is a method that players can use to determine how much of their range they should continue with, factoring in their opponent’s bet. Working out MDF is typically done using the following equation – pot size / (pot size + bet size).

We mentioned earlier that almost all the players you’re likely to face at the tables aren’t going to be playing balanced enough to make MDF a necessity. In fact, it can be more profitable to look for areas of imbalance from your opponents and try to exploit those. Here are common examples you can use in-game to make it easier to know when to fold postflop:

  • When you’re playing against a tight player who rarely bluffs who’s made a big bet.
  • When you’re facing a triple barrel bet on the river against a tight opponent.
  • When a previously passive player starts betting aggressively.
  • When a recreational player overbets the pot.

These are all scenarios that are extremely under-bluffed, so if you come across any of these in-game, you should be highly cautious about continuing against a bet.

Other scenarios where folding is recommended include when your hand is just too weak to continue. Unless your opponent bluffs far too often, it’s best to just fold the weakest hands in your range and only continue when your hand is likely best. Some of these examples include:

  • When you have a pocket pair, and two or more overcards hit the flop.
  • When you have bottom pair against a large bet.
  • When you have a draw but don’t have the right odds to call.
  • When you have a hand that has no pair and no drawing potential.

In these situations, it almost doesn’t matter how strong your opponent’s range is. As long as they’re playing a reasonable range, your hand is too weak to continue, so the recommended play is to fold.

Folding Top Pair

For many players, holding top pair in their hands and folding would feel wrong. There are many times, however, when folding top pair is actually the best thing to do, especially if you are following minimum defense frequency.

If, for example, you have an opponent that calls on the flop and turns and then makes a big bet on the river, there is a chance that you have a weaker hand and you should fold. A player becoming aggressive all of a sudden is often an indication in these circumstances. Likewise, if someone keeps firing massive bets in the game and you find yourself under pressure, folding the top pair may be the best idea.

Forcing Opponents to Fold

When you boil poker down to its basics, there are two main ways to win a game – beating your opponent in a showdown or getting them to fold their hand before this. Thus, knowing how and when to take an aggressive approach and force your opponent’s hand is essential to long-term success on the table.

A key element to this is understanding fold equity and how it works. In its simplest poker terms, fold equity is the value gained by you taking aggressive action that could result in your opponent folding their hand. To better understand fold equity, check out our detailed fold equity guide.

As with many skills in poker, forcing your opponent’s hand requires some successful bluffing. Experienced players will be able to understand their fold equity and use it to manipulate the game with some well-timed bluffs.

professional poker game. Green poker table with two games. poker player folds by throwing cards on the table

When You Shouldn’t Fold

We’ve spoken a lot about when you should fold in poker, but what about when you shouldn’t fold? Sometimes, knowing when not to do something is just as valuable as knowing when to do it, which is why we’ve covered some of the most common scenarios preflop and postflop to help you decide whether or not your hand is strong enough to continue with.

Preflop

Depending on your level as a poker player, you should have a firm idea of the hands you should be playing preflop. An experienced player will know what hands they’re raising from each position, what hands they’re calling against a raise, and what hands they’re 3betting against a raise. However, if you’re new to poker and don’t know your ranges by heart yet, these types of hands should not be folded preflop.

  • Big pocket pairs like AA, KK, QQ, and JJ.
  • Medium pocket pairs like 55, 66, 77, and 88.
  • Suited hands with two broadway cards.
  • Suited hands with an ace
  • Hands with an ace and a broadway card.
  • Two cards that are sequential and suited – aka suited connectors (for example, 8h9h).

Exactly what hands you should play will depend on your preflop position. We have a whole article on position, which you can check out here. The gist is that the earlier you have to act in the hand, the tighter you should play preflop, and the closer you get to the button, the wider you should play.

Some hands that don’t feature in the above list can be played as you get closer to the button, such as suited Kx, low pocket pairs, suited gappers, offsuit Ax, and many more. However, suppose you’re looking to play a tight but aggressive strategy when you’re just learning the ropes. In that case, we’d advise just sticking to our list until you fully understand the impact position has on your preflop ranges.

Postflop

Postflop is, in some ways, both easier and trickier to navigate than preflop play. There are certain scenarios where the strength of your hand dictates that you shouldn’t fold against your opponent’s bet. These are the easier ones to navigate, as all you have to do is look and see how strong your hand is. If you have any of these hands on the flop, you shouldn’t fold against a reasonable amount of aggression from your opponent across all three streets.

  • Good drawing hands
  • Top pair
  • Overpairs
  • Two pair

How far you take these hands will depend on the board texture. For example, if there is four to a flush and four to a straight, your top pair will look a lot weaker than on a board where no straights and flushes are possible.

Some hands are considered very strong in the right circumstances, but there are some boards where these hands go down in value. These hands are:

  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House

These hands will be best in most circumstances, but be careful on vulnerable boards. For example, if you have a flush on an unpaired board, you’re likely to have the best hand, but if the board is paired or even double-paired, the value of your flush goes down. In these situations, you should be careful if your opponent shows extreme aggression.

There are even some hands where you shouldn’t fold, no matter how aggressive your opponent is. These hands include:

  • Four of a kind
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

These kinds of hands are almost always going to be the best hand when you make them. You could go your whole poker career without folding these hands and be a profitable player. 

While it’s easy to only look at your hand to decide when to continue, you should consider how your opponent plays if you want to be as profitable as possible. Just as you should fold more often against players who are way underbluffing, you should call more often against players that are overbluffing.

Playing against aggressive players can be hard, as they put you in a lot of tough spots. However, there’s a fine line between being aggressive and being too aggressive. If you see your opponents bluffing too often, you can start to call more hands to exploit that.

You can include weaker hands, such as middle pair and even bottom pair, in your calling range against these players, as they’re far more likely to be good when you get to showdown. You can also play drawing hands more aggressively, as they’re more likely to have a weaker hand that will fold to your raise.

By considering your opponent’s playing style and the strength of your hand, you can find many situations where continuing against a bet is the most profitable play.

Conclusion

Knowing how and when to fold in a game of poker is crucial for saving your bankroll and boosting your overall winnings in the long run. That said, it’s always important to consider all possible outcomes in any given situation. In some cases, as we have discussed, there may be no sensible alternative to folding. In contrast, there could be other options depending on the kind of villain you find yourself up against.

Hopefully, this article has helped you work out the best times to fold and the best times to reconsider. As always, practice makes perfect, so good luck out there!

Fold Poker FAQs