Fold equity is probably the main reason that makes aggressive poker play so profitable. Understanding how fold equity works and being able to use it to your advantage can drastically boost your game!
What is fold equity?
Fold equity is the value that a player expects to gain on average, from the times his opponents fold to his bet. When an aggressive player bets, he has fold equity working on his side. In every bet he makes, there is a chance that his opponents will give up their hand and fold. When someone gives up his hand, he also gives up whatever equity he has in the hand! In other words, by betting or raising, you force opponents out of the hand and, therefore, increase your chances of winning what is in the pot.
So, what about the cost of your bet?
Nothing is free, and being aggressive comes with a cost. When you bet, you are risking money, as your opponent may reraise you out of the pot, or you can eventually lose it at showdown. When pondering whether to bet or not, you have to compare this cost to the expected gain from fold equity. Let’s analyze two different scenarios and check if betting is profitable.
A couple of examples
You are facing a single opponent. You have K♠Q♣, the board is J♥J♣10♠3♠ on the turn, and there is 100$ in the pot. You have an open-ended straight draw with two overcards, so you are considering a semi-bluff. Your opponent checks, and you are thinking of betting your last 60$.
In the first scenario, your opponent holds A♠2♠. With one card to come, you have 25% of winning if the hand goes to showdown. Therefore, your current pot equity is 25% of the pot, or 25$.
Let’s consider that, if you go all-in, your opponent will fold 40% of the time. This means that 40% of the time, you increase your equity from 25$ to 100$! The fold equity is, therefore, 40% of 75$ (the increase of equity) or 30$.
When your opponent calls your bet, it costs you as you are putting more money in the pot as an underdog. You place 60$ and will get back 25% of 120$ (total bets on the turn), or 30$. So 60% of the time, when your opponent calls, you lose 30$. Therefore, the cost of your bet is 18$ (0.6 x -30$).
On total, you lose 18$, your bet cost, and win 30$, the fold equity. This means that on average, you win 12$, so a semi-bluff is profitable!
For our second example, in the same scenario, you have 7♥6♥ , and your opponent has 8♥8♠. Now you are drawing dead, and your pot equity is zero!
Let’s consider that this time, your opponent folds 30% of the time when you go all-in. As you have zero pot equity, fold equity is 30% the amount in the pot, or 30$. When your opponent calls, you lose your turn bet, 60$, as you have no chance of winning at showdown. Therefore, your bet cost is -42$ (0.7 x -60$).
On total, you lose 42$, your bet cost, and win 30$, the fold equity. This time making a semi-bluff is unprofitable.
Keep in mind that in general, when you estimate fold equity, you do so based on your opponent’s hand range and not on his specific holding. From the examples above, we can notice that fold equity varies depending on the specific conditions. Let’s take a look at how different factors can affect fold equity.
Number of remaining players
The number of remaining players plays an important role when assessing fold equity. In general, the more players remain in the pot, the less fold equity you have. This is because forcing many players to fold is very difficult, so you do not expect a radical increase of your pot slice.
With a trash hand, if you bet against a single opponent, you have a significant chance of winning the pot. However, if you bet against many, even if only one calls your bluff, your equity remains close to zero. So you do not gain much.
A common mistake is trying to bluff against several opponents. Understanding how the number of players influences fold equity can save you from making similar mistakes!
Opponents’ playing styles
The playing style of your opponents affects your fold equity significantly. For example, when your opponents are rocks, so very tight, they will fold most of their hands. Against them, you have a lot of fold equity, and aggression becomes even more profitable.
On the other hand, when your opponents are calling stations, so very loose, it can be challenging to make them fold, even sub-mediocre hands!
Against them, your fold equity decreases substantially. So lean towards playing your hand straightforward, value betting more and bluffing or semi-bluffing less.
Fold equity and pot equity
Fold equity corresponds to the increase of value you get when one or more players fold. As a consequence, fold equity is more substantial when your pot equity prior to betting is small. For example, someone with 40% pot equity can increase it by 60% when his opponents fold. On the other hand, someone with 10% pot equity can augment it by 90%!
Fold equity and bet cost
As discussed above, when you have little pot equity, you can gain more fold equity by betting. On the opposite side, when you bet with a weaker hand, your bets cost more. This is because you put more money in the pot as a bigger underdog. For example, when you make a bet heads-up with a hand that has 50% of winning at showdown, your bet does not cost you. However, when you bet with a hand that has 25% of winning at showdown when your opponent calls, on average, you lose half the bet!
Flop texture is essential in assessing your fold equity. It determines the likelihood that your opponents have connected with the flop. If the board is dry, there are more chances that your opponents have air and will not call a bet. As a consequence, in dry flops, your fold equity is more significant. On the contrary, on draw-heavy boards, it is more likely that your opponents have enough, a made hand or a draw, to justify a call. In such boards, fold equity is generally more limited.
Some boards are particularly dry, making it even more difficult for someone to have caught a piece. For example, paired boards, like JJ5 or K44, are particularly suitable for a continuation bet, as they present fewer possibilities for your opponents to have connected. In such boards, fold equity is even greater.
Does your bet make sense?
To maximize fold equity, your bet must be convincing. It must make sense, be part of a plausible story that you have a strong hand. For example, let’s say that you raise preflop from middle position with Q♥10♥ and get called by the big blind. The flop comes A♣8♠7♠, and when checked to you, you decide to make a continuation bet. In this scenario, your bet makes sense as it tells the story that you raised preflop with an ace and hit the flop! Now consider that in the same situation, you check on the flop, and the turn is the 3♥, a blank. Your opponent checks again. If you bet now, your bet is much less convincing. It less credible because if you had an ace, you would have bet most of the time on the flop for value and for protection against draws.
There is a second, more straightforward definition of fold equity that does not take into account the current pot equity of the bettor. Under this alternative definition, fold equity equals the probability that opponents fold multiplied with the amount in the pot. So, if opponents fold to a bet 30% of the time, fold equity is 30% of the pot. This definition does not calculate the increase in equity but is the same no matter how much equity the bettor possesses when betting.
Even if this simplistic definition can be useful, it does not take into account the current pot equity of the bettor and is incomplete. In our examples, we used the first definition to analyze situations and better comprehend the value of fold equity.
In a nutshell
Fold equity corresponds to the gained equity from betting when opponents fold. When you bet, you have fold equity working on your side, and this is what makes aggression so profitable. Using fold equity correctly to your advantage can improve your game immensely!