Folding for the Win

Today I am going to share with you a situation that occasionally comes up in No-Limit Hold’em tournaments that you must master if you want to succeed. To illustrate this concept, I will use a hand from a $3,500 buy-in World Poker Tour event I recently played at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

With blinds at 400/800 with a 100, I raised to 2,000 out of my 100,000 stack from first position at a nine-handed table with Ad-Qc. While you should make a point to play snugly from early position, A-Q is almost always strong enough to raise, especially if you want to have a loose image. A 50 year old player with 30,000 chips called from middle position. An excellent loose, aggressive kid reraised to 7,800 out of his 85,000 stack from the small blind.

When the small blind (or big blind) reraises against a first position raiser, it is usually an extreme sign of strength because the first position raiser should have a strong range. Also, the players in the blinds will usually elect to call, given they either are, or effectively are, closing the action. However, my opponent in the small blind is a loose, aggressive player, which means he is almost certainly capable of bluffing in this situation some portion of the time. That said, I did not expect him to get too out of line, given I generally play a tight range from early position that is not too susceptible to being bluffed. Also, I was concerned that the 50 year old caller could have a premium hand that he didn’t plan to fold.

All of this taken into consideration, calling doesn’t seem like a great option because I could be crushed by the small blind and the 50 year old caller may also have a strong hand. Calling will result in me playing a large pot against two ranges, one of which should be strong. Against a range of the best hands, A-A – 10-10, A-K, and A-Q, my A-Q only has 34% equity, which is quite poor. If you add another player to the mix, even if he has a relatively wide range including suited connectors and small pairs, A-Q still only has 25% equity. Since there would then be three players in the pot, I would like to have at least 33% equity to break even, not accounting for my poor position. In general, when significant money goes into the pot (as it clearly is in this situation), you want to have a reasonable amount of equity, assuming you are not deep stacked such that you can expect to win a huge amount of chips when you happen to get lucky to flop a premium hand. 4-betting also doesn’t seem like a good play for the same reasons, although A-Q is a decent bluffing candidate due to having two relevant blockers. This analysis led me to make a snug fold.

To my surprise, the 50 year old player instantly went all-in with 8-8 and the loose, aggressive kid called with A-K. Fortunately for me, I dodged a bullet as I would have invested a significant amount of money with a hand that was severely dominated. While I typically do not try to make big folds, especially when I have an aggressive image, from time to time, folding is the prudent play.

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17 thoughts on “Folding for the Win”

  1. I think that is the correct play in tournaments as well as cash. My grandson started playing a couple of years ago. He studies your posts and books as well as Doug Polks. We play mostly cash. 1-3 with Mississippi straddle. I think the younger players waste a lot of money trying to play too many hands OOP Based on the preflop charts RFI recommendations. Raising to 5BB usually results in at least one caller.

  2. I always have difficulty in determining the amount of my raise in first position with a premium hand…I recently had jacks in first position in a 2/5 cash game…I raised to $20 an aggressive player called and the action went to the big blind who called…the flop came 9-jack-queen all Spades…the big blind checked I bet $60 the middle player called and the big blind went all in for $350…I hestitated the aggressive player had a sizable amount of chips so I decided to just call the middle player took some time and folded showing a ace-jack…the turn was a 3 and the river was the case 9 giving my opponent quads…my question should I have raised to $60-80 range per flop …the player who won was new to the table…so no history…also I have your latest book but find it a little confusing with all the different ranges of hands you talk about and the diagrams…you’re an interesting player but I need a less confusing explanations on certain hands and stragegys

    1. I only adjust my raise size based on the strength of the players in the big blind and button (raise smaller to keep bad players in and raise larger to keep good players out). I do not adjust my raise size based on my hand’s strength as that makes you really easy to play against.

  3. Thanks Jonathan for the inside. Can you also speak to the other two players hands? It seems like 7800 although a little under a quarter stack for the person with 30k, it would seem like a good calling spot to take a flop w/88 to reassess afterwards, as even if all large cards came out a fold post flop to a bet would still leave them with 30 bigs. However, also over betting all in pre seems to have merit too, as playing against a loose player puts them in a difficult spot with sub premium hands, even though in this spot the SB did have a good hand.

    I often find myself in spots where if the loose players do not face difficult decisions, or played back backed against often enough, they sometimes seem to me, compelled to run over the table, as they probably should. What is your take on moving AIP with 88 in that spot?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. The 88 is in a tough spot because he is not getting proper implied odds to call to set mine (you need about 10:1 and he is getting 5:1 or so). I would have probably folded the 88, but calling with the intention of not folding on many flops beside A-x-x, K-x-x, and Q-x-x may be ideal.

    2. Going all-in would essentially be as a bluff. Your odds aren’t too relevant when you are bluffing if you expect to get called almost every time. Given we are somewhat deep, I would essentially never bluff in this spot due to what I perceive to be a lack of fold equity. Of course, if you think you have a decent amount of fold equity, pushing all-in could easily be profitable.

  4. Though your hand ,( A, Q), was very tempting to stay in, not only because it was a good hand but because of the pot size as well, I too agree with the fold. Just another example to remind oneself not to fall in love with your hand. Check the variables. Lots to think about.

  5. What was the purpose of your opening raise of $2000 ? Build a pot? Take it down? With FTA
    it was almost certain to get called or RR. What was your plan ? The other option would have been to just fold in early position w/AQ and not risk any chips.

  6. Smart fold, sir. This post is refreshing to read in an age where every site seems to advocate constant aggression, signs be damned.

    Sometimes…you are simply beaten.

    Live to fight another day.

  7. Lots to think about indeed! What strikes me about this post, in addition to avoiding a passionate attachment to your hand regardless of context/variables, is the importance of figuring out the equity for each scenario. It’s not enough to consider your A Q a strong hand. That’s only part of the story. To succeed — or in this case to avoid losing significant $$ — you have to calculate the equity variables. Great lesson, Jonathan!

  8. I’d actually be tempted to 4 bet here given we know the SB is loose aggressive, I’m thinking the 4 bet gets rid of the tight player a huge percentage of the time and ensures the SB cannot get too out of line as we have position on him post flop anyway. Obviously knowing the hands we are behind and I do agree a fold isn’t a bad play either.

  9. What about if you just change this to AQs, where there is just a slightly better way to have the nuts post flop? i.e.; Not much more equity but more potential post flop play.

    Does that change your decision at all.

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