Fold Equity Explained

When people talk about fold equity, they are talking about the chances of their opponent folding when they bet or raise.

Commonly you will hear experienced poker players making statements like, “I shoved all in because I had some fold equity”. What the typical player means by saying this is that they estimated that their play was profitable because they thought their opponent would fold a large amount of the time.

Short Stacked Example:

The concept of fold equity can be applied to virtually any situation in poker.  But it the most common and obvious examples are when you shove all-in when you are short stacked in a tournament.

Let’s say you are on the button with JQ suited and you are short stacked in an MTT with 10 big blinds. You decide to shove all-in not because you think you have the best hand when you are called; you do so because you think you have some fold equity + when you are called you have some pot equity against your opponents range.

Most of the time when you are called your opponent will have you beat (You cannot imagine your opponent calling with JT or worse); however against your opponents range you should have some good equity. Maybe 35-40% against his overall calling range. What makes your play profitable is that you have fold equity. Every time you shove all-in your opponent will not call, so the dead money in the pot from the blinds and antis makes your play profitable.

Fold Equity and Pot Equity

The more pot equity you have (The amount of equity your current hand has against your opponents range) the less fold equity you need to be aggressive.  This is why you frequently see strong players playing combo draws and ace high draws extremely fast and aggressive. Having good pot equity allows you to play aggressive and capitalise on whatever fold equity you may have.

Inversely, the less pot equity you have, the more fold equity you need. Quite simply put, if you have a weak hand and want to bluff, you must be reasonably sure that your bet has a large amount of fold equity.

Hand Reading and Examples

In order to be aggressive and bet with little equity, you have to be certain that your play has a lot of fold equity. If you don’t have fold equity and your opponent always calls you down, obviously betting with weak hands is a bad idea. However, if you can push your opponent out and make him fold most of his hands, the amount of pot equity you have can be irrelevant.

A common situation I like to talk about is when scare cards come down and your opponent cannot be strong, whereas you can. Let’s take an example from a 6-handed cash game I played a few weeks ago.

My opponent raises the button and I make an advanced play by 3-betting 89 suited from the small blind. The reason I did this pre flop was because I had a stat that my opponent folds 80% when I 3-bet his button open. IE – I have a lot of fold equity pre flop and some post flop equity if called.

Anyway, my opponent calls and we go to the flop. The flop is a pretty dry board of 349 rainbow, I bet on the flop because I think I may have the best hand (A pair of 9’s). My read was that my opponent could sometimes call with a worse pair and he would fold every single unpaired hand on the flop (Since he was fairly tight).

My opponent calls on the flop and the turn brings an ace.  At this point many players would check their hand and try to get to showdown. I however decide to bet it as a bluff/merge. What I mean by this is that I expect my opponent to never have an ace or a strong hand here ever (My read was my opponent would fold AJ on the flop and 4-bet AK pre flop), if my opponent floats the flop with AQ, that is the only possible hand that I think he can have that is strong. On top of that, I have a read that my opponent folds to a lot of continuation bets, so there is a very good chance he would fold AQ on the flop.

I decide to bet on the turn because I think I have a lot of fold equity, even against the top of my opponents range.

My opponent tanks, types JJ in the chat and then folds.

Had my opponent called the turn, I was going to shove all-in on the river. My read was that my opponent could virtually never be strong here and I was going to follow through on the river, I thought there was a good chance he would call with a hand like TT-QQ on the turn and then fold to my river shove. Evidently I was wrong with this read since he folded the turn with JJ. That being said, if he is making folds like this on the turn, chances are he is not floating the flop with AQ.

In this spot, if I got called on the turn, my hand was almost always not the best hand. I had some equity with a pair of 9’s and should I improve two trips or two pair I can shove all-in for value. However, I felt that I had so much fold equity on the turn against this straight forward player that I would be able to bet it profitably.

As it turns out, luck favours the brave and I won the hand. If I was called on the turn I would have had very little pot equity, however I made this bold bet to capitalise on my perceived massive fold equity.