How to Correctly Fold in Poker: Strategy 101

How-to-Correctly-Fold.jpgThere is a reason the classic song “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers contains the lyrics, “You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em.” You fold more poker hands than you play preflop - by far - so folding is an important early lesson to learn. A weakness for many players is playing too many hands, some with weak starting values, and then they chase them on draws for too many streets and just leak money from their bankroll. You need to learn what starting hands to avoid preflop early in your poker experience.

Folding Ranges to Consider

Obviously you’re going to play big pocket pairs like Jacks or higher, and fold unsuited connectors like the dreaded 7-2 offsuit, but learning how to change your folding ranges for all the hands in between - adjusted for your position in the betting order - is where the real strategy of the game takes place. There are tons of charts online for the 169 possible starting hands in No-Limit Texas Hold’em that can serve as a good starting resource. 

Generally speaking the range of hands you play is wider in late position when you fold less, and grows progressively tighter the earlier you act in the hand - and almost always fold. For example - play pocket sevens and up, 10-9 and up suited, K-J and up unsuited at the tightest range in early position, and play any pockets pairs, any Ace or King, 5-4 and up suited, 8-7 and up unsuited at the widest range in late position. Please note your starting hand values may differ, this just to give you an idea of how to expand or tighten your folding ranges with position.

Even when hands are in obvious ranges to play preflop, you quickly need to be adjust their value and fold depending on what is dealt on the flop and beyond. Starting hands that can be particularly tricky to play postflop are pocket Aces and pocket Jacks, partially because players tend to overrate them postflop - even when the board suggests they've been sucked out on - because those strong starting hands are so rarely received. Pocket Deuces on the other hand are easy to play after the flop. If you don’t hit a set and face any kind of bet in front of you, then it’s a simple decision to fold when playing basic strategy.   

The Danger of Playing Bad Starting Hands

If you play bad starting hands, particularly in early position, then you’re already at a disadvantage before the flop has even been dealt. Even if you catch cards on the flop, if you’ve only paired one of your lesser starting cards you’re still probably not ahead of your opponents, and you are risking even more of your chips to chase a draw that only comes if you get lucky. Many beginning players lose money chasing straights and flushes with low suited connectors that are unlikely to hit, and might fall to higher straights or flushes even if they do make their draw.

When It's OK to Play Bad Cards

The best time to decrease your starting hand value range is in late position, the closer to the dealer button the better. You can always complete on the small blind, and check your option on the big blind with weaker hands, but only if no raise or just a min-raise have taken place before you; and if those hands don’t connect with anything on the flop it’s time to release them if you’re facing a bet. Another time you play bad starting cards is when you decide to bluff, but this should only be done sparingly against particular opponents in the right situations.

Defending from the Big Blind

As mentioned before you can play weaker hands if you’re on the blinds, but this takes on a different meaning when you’re on the big blind. You’re already committed for the initial bet before you receive your hole cards, not to mention the big blind ante, so you need to protect the chips you've already committed to the pot. If you get three-bet and four-bet and you have a bad hand by all means fold, but if you do this consistently the other players at the table will know they can take advantage of your big blind so they will do it against you regularly. If one opponent at your table makes a habit of raising your big blind preflop every rotation, you will need to call with worse cards or even reraise them every once in a while to keep them honest.