Fold Equity – The What, Why, When & How

Fold equity – another concept that is important for you to learn. You’ll use it in any game, variation or format you play, from preflop 3-bets to post flop continuation bets to rive shoves.

It’ll come up in conversation a lot, too. You’ll hear about fold equity (or a lack thereof) in hand history reviews, coaching sessions, forum replies and on TV.

Anything that is used and talked about this much deserves your attention. So if you can give me a couple minutes of your time, I’ll tell you the what, why, when and how regarding fold equity.

What is Fold Equity?

Fold equity is how often you think your opponent(s) is going to fold. That’s it. For example, if you c-bet the flop, how many times out 5 or 10 do you think your opponent folds? What if he calls the flop; how often will he fold the turn? Knowing this will guide you to the right decision.

Fold equity is often based on best guesses and assumptions. There are no hard and fast rules or numbers to go by. Unless, of course, you have history, stats and so on.

Fold equity is your best guess, kind of like implied odds. For example, if you’re against a tight opponent on the flop (you raised and he called preflop), maybe you think a c-bet gets folds 7/10 times. Against a loose opponent, however, you assume you can induce a fold 3/10 times. From here you can assess your bet sizing and how often you need your opponents to fold to be breakeven / profitable. If the numbers line up, great, make your play. If not, you need to resort to plan b.

Why is Fold Equity Important?

This should be obvious. Everything you do (in poker) revolves around the amount of fold equity you have.

For example, if you want to steal the blinds, do you want the big blind to defend, or to fold?

If you continuation bet the flop, are you doing so in hopes your opponent floats the flop, or gives up the pot?

If you shove the river with a missed ace-high flush draw, do you want your opponent to look you up, or concede?

If you have 9 big blinds and are shoving KJs from under the gun, do you want to pick up the blinds or race against a reg in a 60/40 situation?

Simple answer, right? You want them to fold. But for them to fold there has to be fold equity. And fold equity comes in many shapes and sizes. Stack sizes, playing styles, blind levels, dead money, history, specific situations, etc. all play a role in whether you have fold equity or not.

The bottom line is that having fold equity means you can avoid the coin flips, make successful bluffs, build stacks, steal the blinds, reshove and more. Without it, you’re broke.

Where Do You Use Fold Equity?

All the time. Here are some examples:

  • When you steal the blinds.
  • When you continuation bet the flop.
  • When you double or triple barrel (bluff).
  • When you semi-bluff.
  • When you shove all in (with a short stack).
  • When you re-shove.
  • When you isolate short stacks.
  • When you isolate anyone.
  • When you steal blind-vs-blind.

How Do You Use Fold Equity?

Assessing how much fold equity you have takes some practice. With some experience you can look at the following factors and know whether you have fold equity or not, and how much you have.

Stack Sizes – Stacks of different sizes will mean different amounts of fold equity.

  • Small Stacks – The shorter the stack, the less fold equity you have.
  • Medium Stacks – The most fold equity. They’re not so short they have to gamble, but not so deep they can afford to splash around.
  • Deep Stacks – Less fold equity than medium stacks, but more than small stacks. You more fold equity with a (preflop) shove than you do a raise, since deep stacks can afford to play post flop.

Small, medium, deep, etc are all relative to the blinds.

Board Texture – You have more fold equity on boards players are less likely to hit. For example, paired boards, rainbow flops, flops with one face card and 2 baby cards or all 3 baby cards you’ll have fold equity on. You’re less likely to have fold equity on boards with 2-3 cards to a flush and all face cards.

Image – Tight players have more fold equity than loose players. Good players have more fold equity than bad players. Random players or unknown pros have less fold equity than pro players.

Various Situations – Some situations will have more fold equity than others. For example:

  • The bubble. No one wants to bust on the bubble. You’ll have more fold equity here than if there were more than 3-4 players before the bubble, or even after the bubble bursts.
  • In the money. Some players are focused on moving up in pay spots.
  • When there are multiple players in the pot. Since you don’t know what will happen after you act, players are more cautious/tight.
  • When you lead into multiple players. Players will assume you’re stronger if you’re opening into multiple players.

You can create more fold equity for yourself, too. For example, if you’re tight for a long time (say the early stages of a tournament) you’ll be viewed as tight or card dead. So when you finally do open a pot you’ll be more likely to get folds. This is useful for when you want to start (re)building your stack.

Additionally, if you always show up with the best hand you’ll have more fold equity than if you were to show up frequently with bluffs.

Then, based on all of this information, come up with a number. For example, say you’re going to shove all in blind vs. blind. You think your opponent will fold 50% of the time. Against his range you have 30% equity. So you can conclude that, out of 10 times, you’re going to win the pot 6.5 times. Then compare that to your pot odds to determine if the amount of fold equity you have is enough. If not, fold. If so, shove.


Where to Go From Here

Understanding fold equity is one thing. Applying it is another.

From here I recommend playing, and whenever you open, 3-bet, shove, etc, think about the fold equity you may or may not have. Then review your hands to see if your reads are right or wrong. I’m not suggesting you be results oriented, but instead determine if you’re basing your plays on the criteria above. If so, how are you doing? Can you find situations or opponents where you have fold equity that you weren’t otherwise noticing (and using) before? That could very well be the key to you unlocking higher hourly rates and ROIs.