Improving your poker strategy is not just about focusing on your own game. Learning how to win poker tournaments involves a nuanced strategy. Too often, a player’s strategy to deal with hands - when they should fold and when they should raise - is based solely on the probability of theirs being the strongest hand. What is lacking in this strategy is an awareness of the opposing players.
Bluffing is also common practice in the hope of fooling another player into thinking you have a stronger hand than you do. But not many poker players (whether those who play poker online and/or live poker tournaments) know how to manage their fold equity. Additionally, not many players know that it should form part of their poker strategy. This guide will help you to understand what fold equity is, the mathematical side of it, and how to quantify and capitalize on it.
What is fold equity?
To put it simply, fold equity is a subjective calculated percentage of the likelihood that you can make an opposing player fold. If an opposing player folds, you’ll win the pot uncontested. If you can get opposing players to fold often, you’ll start to increase your profits drastically.
Identifying the different factors involved in building your equity will help you to know how to adjust your strategy - whether you enjoy a game of poker online or with friends and family.
There are many factors that will influence your equity in poker games online and in person. For starters, if you raise 100% of the time, your equity will be non-existent. The reason for this is that your opponents will know that you raise even when you have a bad hand. If you fold on bad hands, it shows that you know when to take risks and when you shouldn’t. Remember, this equity is your social currency that indicates that your hand is strong when you raise.
Therefore, you can’t bluff too often. If you continuously bluff, your equity won’t be very high. What this means in practice is that your opponent might match your raise because they believe you’re bluffing. This is not ideal. What you’re aiming for with a good bluff is for the opposing player(s) to fold.
Finding a good balance can begin by showing opposing players that you know a good hand from a bad hand. This makes your opinion on whether to raise or call more respected. Every player will vary in terms of their aggression and optimism, especially those who play poker online, so this balance will be up to you. The main point is that you should consider that the more your raise and lose, the lower your equity will be.
The amount of chips you have will also impact your equity. Your amount of chips will help to formulate your pot equity, which will be explained in greater detail later in this guide. For now, it’s important to know that if you don’t have a lot of chips, your fold equity will be massively important to your profitability over the long term. Taking both equities into consideration will turn your bluff into a semi-bluff. In other words, more of a calculated risk than a call to lady luck.
As important as it is to know your table image and your chips in relation to your bet sizes and the pot, it is equally important to study your opponents. After all, they are the players you want to fold. They too will give cues for how they bet, how they bluff, and if they are conservative or aggressive. Noticing who you are playing with will help you to know when to push them to fold.
While it’s easy to study one or two opponents, it gets more difficult when there are more players at the table. If the table is crowded, your equity will be lower because there could be at least one person at the table who calls you. It’s important to factor in the table size when considering how to use your equity.
How to calculate it
Now that you know what factors influence your equity, let’s look at how to calculate it. The first thing to remember is that it is not an exact science. As you would have seen from the factors that influence it, your equity can change from hand to hand.
There are many different websites that offer a calculator to work out your fold equity. Many can be used during games of online poker. At the base of all of them is the following formula: the likelihood your opponent(s) will fold x gain in equity if the opponent folds.
As you can tell from the factors and the formula, there are a lot of variables and estimations at play. Learning how to quantify the formula helps to understand it further.
How to quantify it
The formula, ‘likelihood your opponent(s) will fold’ is referring to an estimated percentage that the opponent is folding. You might not know this from the first hand, but over time you’ll see if an opponent is conservative or aggressive. You might, for example, see that they fold on average 1 out of every 5 hands, giving them a 20% fold percentage.
The ‘gain in equity if opponent folds’ is referring to the percentage that your opponent has in relation to you. In other words, if you have a 30% chance of winning with your hand, your opponent will by default have a 70% of winning. So in that case you would ‘gain’ 70% if your opponent folds.
In practice, you would then complete the formula as follows: 20% x 70% = 14%. So in this example, 14% means that there is a low likelihood that you will make your opponent fold their hand.
Capitalising on your equity
Using your fold equity is important when it comes to profitability. As an example, if you have an 80% chance of winning based on your hand, then your opponent has a 20% chance of winning. Although your opponent’s percentage is low, they could still win 1 out 5 hands. To squash those odds, you will try to get your opponent to fold so that you win 5 out 5 hands.
Apart from using it as an aggressive tactic, it can also be used in a wider strategy for profitability. To do so, you need to understand your pot equity as well.
Without going into too much detail, pot equity is a percentage amount of the pot that belongs to you. It is calculated as follows: pot equity = (pot size x percentage chance of winning) - the amount of chips you put in.
Your ‘percentage chance of winning’ is based on the strength of your hand. While this might be a challenging equation to complete on the fly, you can at least have a rough idea of what your pot equity is using this formula.
Now that you have both a field and a pot equity, you can complete the profitability formula: profitability = pot equity + field equity. As you can see, the two equities can compensate for the other depending on the situation.
For example, you’re playing online poker, potentially in one of the live poker tournaments, and your online poker opponent folds easily, you won’t need to use as much pot equity. You could bluff more easily. Similarly, if you have a lot of pot equity, you stand a good chance of winning by simply making your draw.
At the end of the day, having knowledge of both your field and pot equity helps you turn your bluff into a semi-bluff. While a bluff leaves a lot to chance, a semi-bluff is more of a calculated risk. It’s a great addition to your online poker strategy, especially if you’re wondering how to win poker tournaments more regularly.