Folding is the least sexy topic in poker. Folding is just so…final. Your cards hit the muck, you concede the pot to your opponent, and you’re off to the next hand. But the honest truth is that poker players fall into two main categories:
- Players that fold far too often
- Players that fold far too rarely
There is a third type of player though. A rare breed of player that folds a correct amount of the time and keeps their continuance frequencies and ranges during a poker hand right on track.
The average poker player goes through a very similar path of progression.
They start as a fish who calls too often and folds too rarely. Then they get punished for that and eventually learn that they need to fold some of those junk hands. And then eventually they learn how to put those junk hands back into their ranges, at least sometimes, in smart spots to generate extra profit. The issue is that most TAG and Nit players are stuck in the middle – folding too often for their own good. So either push play and/or continue reading and let’s break this down…
Why Is It Wrong To Fold So Much?
There are times to fold. But those times are less plentiful than most players would assume. Thus why most players have massively incorrect folding frequencies.
So then, you are most certainly wondering, how often SHOULD you fold?
Well first let’s understand what folding really does:
1. You Relinquish 100% Of Your Equity
A gutshot is a poker hand that most players fold facing bets or raises on the turn. But even against a strong pair, or even two pair, that gutshot has some equity – some chance of winning the pot. By folding, you take the percentage chance of that gutshot winning the hand and make it a big fat 0%.
This isn’t a license to never fold at all. Rather, consider how many times per session you fold away equity or a chance to call now and apply pressure on a future street. Letting these pots go too easily can slowly bleed your winrate and miss valuable implied odds along the way.
2. You Make Yourself A Target
If you only get to showdown with monster hands, you likely fold too often early in hands. Good players are always looking to attack players who fold too often, since they are easy to bluff and pressure.
3. You Don’t Force Them To “Prove It”
Let’s be honest, with only 2 hole cards it’s tough to make a pair – yet alone a big hand!
By folding against barrels you don’t force your opponent to get to showdown and actually prove that they have the big hand they are representing. By folding on the flop or turn you don’t force your opponent to fire the next barrel to really prove that hit something.
The Math Behind The Fold
Say villain bets ⅔ pot into you. Even without looking at the board, your cards, or hand reading them – they make an auto-profit if you fold more than 40% of the time. This is just a function of breakeven betting math, and you can read this entire BE poker math guide if you have no idea what this is.
If you only give that bet action with strong hands and chuck the rest away, chances are you are certainly folding more than half the time, and thus you allow villain to make an easy profit against you. Well, that’s not going to be a winning strategy.
Don’t believe me? Here is a clear example of a spot where most players are folding too often. Are you folding in this spot as well?
Playing $2/$5 you raise preflop to $20 and only the BB calls.
They check the flop, you CB, and they CR to $90.
Say you opened with 40% of hands preflop and then CB your entire range. If you only give the BB’s CR action with these hand strengths you would be folding this often:
- TP+: 82% folding frequency
- Middle Pair+: 68% folding frequency
- Any Pair/Any BDFD: 44% folding frequency
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How Often Should I Fold?
In essence, folding is for quitters. And most tight TAG players quit too often, especially near the turn & river. Most fishy players quit too rarely, and they bring WAY too much junk to showdown.
Your goal is to be in the middle.
First, how often is too often? Of course, there is a large difference between folding 80% of the time, 50% of the time, and 25% of the time. In general, if you allow somebody to generate outright profit from you (meaning you fold more often than the BE of their bet size), you are folding too much. Especially since some of your folding range would actually either be ahead or have a chunk of equity, I’d say if you are routinely folding more than a third of the time you are doing so too often.
If you’ve read Ed Miller’s Poker’s 1% he actually outlines only folding an average of 30% of the time in many situations. So if you are consistently folding more than half the time (and many tighter players do), you are leaving money on the table.
One of the 2 poker rules you need to live by is that if you call on one street, you should usually continue on the next street. If we take ‘usually’ to mean ‘about 70% of the time’, that inherently means we should be folding around 30% of the time when facing bets. These numbers are ballpark numbers averaged over ALL possible flops and/or runouts – so keep in mind that really bad cards/actions may increase your folding frequency and really great cards/actions may increase your continuance frequency.
But are most players really doing that?
Let’s look at another example, this time from a hand posted on the Red Chip Poker Forums. In this situation, hero has TT and faces a cbet and barrel on a Jack-high board:
Pocket Tens here is right on the cusp between folding and continuing given the number of combos that hero would gladly continue with from their range (including top pair, pair+draws, flush draws, etc.). But a little bit of information about villain’s frequencies (like a tendency to over or under bluff in spots like this) can quickly jump your TT on or off the fence.
Why Do Players Become Nitty?
This folding issue stems from the fact that players have lost hands in the past and now they see monsters under every single bed. Remember, we are playing against a range of hands and you have to think about your opponent’s entire range. Does their range really consist of only monster hands? Maybe if they are a nit. Maybe if they have zero bluff frequency. But not in most situations…
And here is the honest truth: you need TONS of solid info before you can pinpoint a player’s range at only being super-nutted. That doesn’t mean that super nutted hands aren’t in your opponent’s range. It just means that there are likely other hands in their range as well, and since there are only so many combos of super strong hands in a given range, any extra hands in their range begin to quickly drop in value.
So before you say “well, that raise can only be made with the nuts – I guess I’ll fold top pair here” again, think deeply about what they would really raise with.
Sure, if they 100% only raise with the nuts you actually exploit them by folding (since you never pay them off). But this is not the case as often as players think it is. Your opponent might raise TP to keep you from betting the river again. They might semi-bluff. They might think they spotted a tell on you…
You could fold and make the likely-false assumption that they only have the nuts when they raise. But you will only know that if you call it down more than a few times and see it.
And you want to know a little secret? Nits, TAGs, and risk-averse people LOVE folding in these spots for a very simple reason: they prefer a small loss over a big loss. But by implementing that mindset they also make it extremely difficult to generate big wins since they aren’t comfortable sometimes being wrong and feeling the sting of losing a buy-in. If you fear losing buy-ins, you are either under-rolled or dealing with a mental leak that you may not be aware of. Either way, recognize the issue and start patching it ASAP.
Fixing Your Over-Folding Issue
The quick fix here is simply to stop folding so much! Focus on their range, focus on their frequencies, and stop assigning ONLY the nuts in spots where there is no proof to back up that claim.
Of course, you do not want to fold 0%. But you can begin by continuing with marginal hands that have equity that you used to fold, but now recognize you are dumping too much equity. Hands like overcards, gutshots, and BDFDs fit the bill nicely. Especially when you are on the flop and have a variety of chances to fight for the pot, improve, etc.
Also remember that “not folding” doesn’t mean you have to just call!
You can also look for spots to apply the pressure right back to your opponent and re-raise them. Of course, consider the basic math and if you represent anything by re-raising – but remember that you have lots more options than just folding.
Let’s look at a few examples where other players are folding too often (and if any of these spots seem like spots where you used to fold too often as well, we can keep that secret between us):
Folding Against Flop C-Bets
This is a very common spot. Jared raises preflop, Greg calls. On the flop Greg checks to the aggressor, Jared makes a typical CB, and Greg normally folds.
If Greg calls preflop with a pretty typical BB defense range including hands like A5s, ATo, 22-TT, T8s, etc. and only continues against this CB with pairs & decent draws – Greg would actually be folding 63% of the time.
But remember a moment ago when we said people should only be folding around 30% of the time if they called on the previous street?
On top of that, think about the equity that Greg leaves on the table. AJo has 26% equity against 88 and 14% equity against QQ. But AJo has 0% equity when it hits the muck.
Takeaway: In order to fold less often, you need to defend with hands you would have otherwise folded in the past. Bluff players who refuse to defend properly.
Folding Too Often Against 3-Bets
In this situation, you use your button and 3bet vs Brian, who opened in MP1 in a $2/$5 game.
If Brian opens 22+/AJ+/KQ and only gives your 3bet action with TT+/AK:
- Brian is folding 69% of the time
If Brian opens 22+/AT+/KJ+/87s+ and only gives your 3bet action with TT+/AK:
- Brian is folding 75% of the time
And if you hold an Ace or King blocker in your hand (like A4 or K9), Brian folds even just a bit more often…
Most players fold WAY too often facing preflop 3bets. Think about it. Even if we show up with AKs, one of the stronger hands in our 3betting range, Brian is folding hands like 66 (52% equity), AQo (25% equity), and AJs (29% equity).
Relinquishing 100% of your equity that often is a surefire way to not only leave part of the pot out on the felt – but also to make yourself a huge target for competent players.
Folding Against Double Barrels
Say Adrian calls a little wide preflop. Adrian, facing a CB on the flop, decides to continue with Ax, Tx, AT, 33, flush draws, and gutshots like 54 and KQ.
But on the turn, when facing an $80 bet, Adrian decides to only continue with top pair or better, flush draws, and 98/54.
Any idea how often Adrian is folding?
54% of the time on the turn!
Is that anywhere close to the ~30% fold frequency Adrian should have?
In order for Adrian to continue at a closer-to-correct number, he would need to add some extra hands to his continuance range. Hands like JJ, KT, QT, etc. fit the bill. But again, these are all hands Adrian is folding on the turn – hands that could easily be ahead, or at least have equity the times they are behind.
If Adrian only gives action on the turn & river with top pair or better, a very common thing for players to do, Adrian will constantly show up with a folding issue.
Adrian simply never forces Bryce to fire the third barrel with a bluff, or to show up with a better hand than JT at showdown.
And that’s an issue in Adrian’s overall strategy…
Those are only 3 spots, but there are tons more like it. Everything from steals & 4bets preflop, to folding too often against check-raises, to folding too often against overbets on the river.
Here is the biggest takeaway I can give you. Write it down:
Stop making decisions about whether or not to continue solely on some arbitrary hand strength (like “top pair+” or “middle pair+ and draws with 8+ outs”). Be sure that you continue often enough that you don’t allow your opponent to bluff you with impunity. Force your opponent to either fire the next shell (which happens less often than most players assume) or show up with the winner at showdown – all while actualizing your complete equity far more often.
OK, that was a lot to write down. But if you fully digest it, it will change your entire outlook on the game and prepare you for playing against more aggressive players as you move up.
Also, be sure to look for players who are almost certainly not folding correctly. Bluff a ton when players give up too often (either in most spots, or just on specific textures), and bluff rarely when your opponent never folds and continues with too much trash.
A player’s folding frequency tells you everything you need to know about them, and tailoring your strategy to exploit them becomes a breeze.
And as for folding less yourself, remember that your goal is not to become a spewy fish.
You just want to protect your frequencies so that you don’t become an easy target AND choose the hands that you don’t fold with some poker intelligence. Prioritize higher-equity hands over hands with zero hope of winning, and only increase your fold frequency as a response to a frequency-issue in your opponent – not folding more because your hand “isn’t TPTK+.”
Over your next few sessions I want you to ask yourself two questions in every hand that you play:
- Am I folding way more than 30% of the time here?
- Is my opponent folding more than 50% of the time here?
Giving honest estimates to both will keep you focused on the right stuff.
Good luck out there!