Fold Equity

It is likely that you have at least heard of the term fold equity. The concept is thrown around quite often in poker circles, but most players only have a basic idea of what it means. You will hear players say things like, “I don’t have much fold equity here,” or “I shoved all-in because I thought I had a lot of fold equity.”

There are a lot of definitions floating around out there. Some are vague or much too convoluted. Others are confusing as all get out. I will not get too complicated here because, in reality, it’s not as difficult to understand as many people think.

Every player has a range that is compartmentalized into two sections. With one part of that range, they will continue versus a raise. With the other part, they will fold to aggression. Generally, the wider a player’s total range, the more hands that make up the folding range.

Fold equity is the amount of dead money you win from the pot by betting or raising each time you run into the part of the range that the opponent is willing to fold. Thus, the more likely your opponent is to fold, the more fold equity you have.

If your equity is inferior vs. the opponent’s range, then the profitability of a bet or raise is based on adding in your fold equity. If the amount of fold equity you have is enough to make the play profitable, it is +EV. If the addition of fold equity does not make the play profitable, then the play will be -EV.

The most basic place fold equity comes into play is from stealing before the flop. Let’s say you steal from the button and, on average, both opponents fold 50% of the time. Since you win half the time you raise, you cut the winnings in half. So if the game is .10/.20, then you have .15(.30*.50=.15) in fold equity every time you raise the button.

Therefore, every time you steal from the button and are forced to fold to a 3-bet, you are only losing 50% of your initial raise minus .15. So, if your opening raise size is to .40, then you are losing .20 (.40*.50=.20) minus .15, or .05.

In the above example, you are never losing more than a nickel every time you raise any two cards, not the .40 you feel like you are losing. The implications of this should be a light bulb moment for some of you who have never truly understood fold equity. Let me put it this way. If your steal works more than 57% of the time with a min-raise, then you will win money if you fold to a resteal 100% of the time or insta-muck every hand on the flop. Now you can see why stealing a wide range against tight players is so profitable.

As a small stacker, another area you need to be concerned with fold equity is how it affects your all- in decisions either via a pre-flop 3-bet shove or a post-flop re-raise shove, both of which you will be doing quite frequently. Take the following two pre-flop ranges. In each case, our opponent will only call a 3-bet shove with QQ+, AQ+, and will fold all other hands.

7.5% opening range (99+, AT+): Calls shove 52% of the time

15% opening range (55+, A5+): Calls shove 25% of the time

When we shove against the wider opening range, we have twice as much fold equity. Keep in mind that when you get called by an opponent, you will often be behind, and it is easy to get frustrated in the heat of the moment and doubt your play. Try not to be results oriented. Just because your opponent happened to be holding a hand in his calling range this time, it does not mean you made a mistake. Always remember that the fold equity gained the times your opponent folds is what makes shoving profitable over the long term.

Fold equity can be expressed in an actual mathematical equation, but for the purposes of this book, I will not delve deeply into what can be a very confusing endeavor. For now, all I want you to understand is that when a player is more likely to fold to your bet, you should be more inclined to bluff, and when he is less likely to fold, you need to make sure your hand has very good equity before committing. By mastering board textures and opponent tendencies, you will begin to understand how to use fold equity without ever getting into the actual numbers, dollar amounts, or fancy equations.

If this stuff is not perfectly clear or seems overwhelming, do not worry. As you play and continue studying, at some point it will click. You will begin to gain an innate feel for when you have adequate fold equity and when you do not. Furthermore, once you become adept at reading board textures and opponent tendencies, then calculating relative fold equity will become second nature.

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