AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 27.08.2021 · last updated 27.08.2021

Folding is, obviously, a fundamental part of the game. If we don’t have a good enough hand to continue, we simply throw away our cards and await the next hand. Different people view folding in different ways. Some hate it; they think that every hand is a possible route to profit, and when they do fold it’s begrudgingly like an opportunity lost. Others see folding as confirmation of their deeper understanding of poker compared with their opponents, and they derive a certain amount of pleasure from folding marginal or even decent hands. Even more prudent – they’re extra proud of folding strong hands.

We can simplify things by saying that some players fold way too much, others fold way too little, and somewhere in the middle sits a smaller group who are able to find that productive level at which they fold when it’s necessary but maintain an appropriate continuance frequency in accordance with an effective range.

Typically, we don’t fold anywhere near enough when we’re initially learning the ropes but then overcompensate by folding too much once we become aware that we play too any hands! Again, despite this being the most common learning curve, it isn’t necessarily a meaningful progression because it leaps from one extreme to another. I little knowledge, as they say, can be a dangerous thing, and the problem with becoming aware of our weaknesses often means that once we’ve addressed that particular problem we move on to the next one, and fail to give the matter any more thought. Moreover, so-called Tight Aggressive (TAG) players, for example, tend to be guilty of this and, once they’re happy with their overall nitty strategy, blissfully fold more than they should.

But this is the wrong approach. No aspect of the game can be arbitrarily filed away to gather dust, with no prospect of being studied and tweaked and reviewed again. The more dedicated players constantly revisit every element of their game, and one such is honing folding skills.

A good way to find the right balance is to re-examine which hands – which parts of our range – present the most difficult problems in deciding where we might draw the line when it comes to folding or continuing in a hand. And it’s important to consider this because there are definite downsides to folding.

First comes the totally obvious result – we’re out of the race for the pot! Given that this is final, and too much folding equates to too much stepping aside (often for others to simply steal chips just by virtue of daring to bet), this poker truism alone should be inspiration enough to prompt us to consider this subject. Crucially, by continually folding hands which nevertheless give us some equity – even if it’s a gutshot straight draw, for instance – we’re literally reducing the chance of success to zero. Any equity is at least worth contemplating – apart from hitting, we might, for example, be able to apply pressure as the hand progresses and, as a result, bully our way to picking up the pot.

I’m not advocating blindly refusing to fold every hand that has even a hint of a chance of success – that would be an extreme tactic. But I am saying that thoughtlessly folding when circumstances would support making a stand is going to have a significantly detrimental effect on a player’s overall long-term bottom line. We can’t habitually fold every ‘not-strong-enough’ hand – equity and implied odds need to be respected.

Folding too often makes us predictable which, in turn, leaves us susceptible to being exploited. We want to do our utmost to avoid this happening because as soon as observant players start to push us off pots there’s a danger they will engineer situations in which we’re more likely to give more and more ground. The more we get used to folding, the more likely we are to adjust our range in the wrong direction, thus losing out on yet more equity.

Being too passive also gives opponents an easier ride in that they’re under less pressure to fight for pots. Every time we obligingly roll over, that’s another bet they don’t have to drum up the courage to make.

Remember, too, that players bluff! They try their luck, and once they get away with something they’ll keep at it until they come up against resistance. It would be a poker sin to be folding with a range that’s ahead of the range our opponents are betting with!

Good luck at the tables!

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