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Country music star Kenny Rogers had it right when he said “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” Taken from his iconic song, “The Gambler”, these lyrics deliver words to live by at the poker table. A big part of poker is understanding your limits and that means knowing when to walk away from a hand. There will always be the temptation to see what the next card will be, but it’s important for poker players to recognize when the odds are not in their favor. 

A game of Texas Hold ’Em features 169 different starting hands ranging from AA all the way down to 7-2. Yet even with all of those different combinations, most experienced poker players only play the top 15-20% of their starting hands and simply fold the rest away. It may seem counter-intuitive but all that folding should actually save you money in the long run. Whether it’s Texas Hold ‘Em or Omaha, a cash game or a tournament, freerolling or high stakes; knowing when to fold is crucial to a poker player’s overall success at the table.

Money saved is as good as money earned at the poker table, so focusing on the defensive side of the game can be beneficial. With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the more common poker scenarios where you may want to consider folding your hand. 

Bad Cards

The most obvious reason to fold your hand in poker is if your pre-flop cards are simply no good. Calling is an easy decision when you have the goods, but knowing how to handle the lesser starting hands is just as vital to your success on the felt. As mentioned earlier, most experienced poker players only call with the top 15-20% of the available starting hands. This means playing mostly face-card combinations and mid-to-high pocket pairs. By focusing on premium poker hands such as these and folding the rest, you should be able to increase your win-rate and grow your chip stack.

Dangerous Community Cards

Commonly referred to as ‘the board’, community cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table for all to see and use in their hands. While these community cards can make your hand stronger, always remember that it may be doing the same for your opponent. Imagine you’re in a five-way hand with Ace (spades) & K (diamonds) and holding top pair at the turn. However, the first four community cards are all clubs. This would mean that if any of your opponents are holding a single club, they would now have a flush and beat your top pair. As you can see from this example, the strength of your hand is all relative to what’s on the board and this can often impact your decision to call or fold.

Low Chip Stack

In the game of poker, the amount of chips you have stacked in front of you has a direct correlation to your strength at the table. While a large chip stack allows you to play more aggressive and see more cards, a low chip stack will often have the reverse effect. When your chip stack is low and you’re trying to build it back up, it’s important to be extremely selective when it comes to your opening range. When playing No-Limit poker with a low chip stack your goal should be to double-up, so don’t call a hand unless you’re ready to go all-in. 

Expected Action

Nobody enjoys being bet off a hand in poker but it’s simply a part of the game. You must take ego out of the equation and focus on your cards, the board and your opponent. There are times when it may be in your best interest to fold your cards, not because of the current bet, but the ones to come on the flop, turn and river. Your hand may be good enough to call a small pre-flop raise, but what if you’re expecting a lot more betting throughout the rest of the hand. Sometimes it’s better to get out early, rather than throw away chips calling a hand that you’ll be forced to fold on the next round of betting.  

Low Pot Odds

Poker and math go hand in hand, with the truly great players able to calculate their odds on the spot. The term ‘pot odds’ refers to the ratio between the size of the bet you’re facing and the amount of money in the pot. For example, let’s pretend there’s $100 in the pot and a player bets $50 after the flop. At this point, the pot is now $200 ($100 pot + $50 bet + $50 call) and the cost for you to call is $50. To get your pot odds, simply divide the bet amount by the total pot ($50 ÷ $200 = 25% pot odds). If these pot odds outweigh your hand’s odds of winning, you should consider folding your cards.

Reading Your Opponent

Being able to read your opponent can be a major advantage at the poker table. While this often leads to same bold bluffs, it can also help you learn when to fold. For example, if you’re playing against a very tight player who only calls premium hands, you may want to think twice about calling their raise. By reading opponents based on their past behavior, you would know that this player only raises if holding a very strong hand and you’re likely already beat. Therefore, your best option is to fold.

Reaching the Bubble

When it comes to poker tournaments, it’s always important to keep an eye on the bubble. Nobody wants to be the ‘bubble boy’, which is the nickname for the last player to get knocked out before reaching the money. It’s for this exact reason that you may want to consider folding some hands as you approach the bubble. While you may call that same hand under normal circumstances, it’s often not worth the risk of calling and getting knocked out right before reaching the bubble.


Sign up to Bovada today!

Now we have covered some tips for when to fold in poker, it’s time to put your knowledge to work. At Bovada, you can play online poker for real money. There are plenty of poker games to choose from, including knockout tournaments, jackpot sit and go, turbo tournaments and more.