STRATEGY

Fold Equity Explained – Understanding Poker Equity

In poker, you are trying to win as much as possible as often as possible. While it is not likely that you will win all of the time (or even the majority of the time), there are ways that you can ensure that when you do play you will win. That means that you may fold 60% of the time, but the 40% that you play through will have a high chance of winning. Having knowledge of fold equity will help you to up your chances of winning further still.

The best poker players make sure that when they make bets, they are doing so by making informed decisions. Sure, instinct and feelings can play a part, but would you rather rely on stats or your gut? One of the most common stats in poker is hand equity. If you’re not familiar with it, it refers to the likelihood of your hand winning at any given time. Your equity will change as more cards are shown, and you will want to call or raise if that percentage is more than 50%.

What you have to keep in mind though is that your equity is based on the assumption that you will have to showdown. But what if your opponent folds? In that case, you win the entire pot, regardless of how strong or weak your hand is. If you could determine the likelihood of your opponent folding, couldn’t you add that to your overall equity? Yes, you can, and that’s what we’ll be talking about today. Fold equity is not an exact science, as it requires you to know your opponents well and make educated guesses as to how they will react to your moves. Nonetheless, it is a helpful strategy that can give you an edge when you need it the most.

What is Fold Equity? How Can You Calculate It?

In the simplest terms, fold equity refers to the percentage chance that your opponent will fold. Thus, if your opponent never folds a hand ever, you will not have any fold equity. Conversely, if he mucks his cards at the slightest provocation and never goes to the river, then you will have 100% fold equity. Realistically, neither scenario will be likely on the tables, but that should give you an idea of how it’s calculated.

While using a formula for fold equity is not ideal (because you can never get a precise percentage), it looks like this: (chance of folding) x (equity in the hand). Thus, if a player has a 75% chance of folding in any given hand and he’s sitting with 45% equity, then the formula looks like this.

.75 x .45 = .34

Once we figure that out, we add that percentage to our own equity. So, in this case, we had 55% equity to start (based on a showdown), but when we add the fold equity (34%), then that brings our total percentage to 89%. That means that we will want to force our opponent to fold as we have a high chance of claiming the pot.

Margin of Error

What you have to realize, though, is that fold equity is not an exact science. Also, to get any equity at all you have to be playing aggressively and making sure that your reputation reflects that. Thus, if you only call and never raise, then you will never have any fold equity unless your opponent folds his hand without provocation.

The other thing that you should keep in mind is that your reputation does matter. If other players perceive you as loose, then they will be more likely to call and showdown, rather than fold. Conversely, if you play tightly and aggressively, then you can increase your fold equity as your opponents will be unlikely to call your raise.

Finally, the last thing you should factor into fold equity is that it works best with semi-bluffs, rather than total bluffs. If you have nerves of steel and can picture your opponents cards with crystal clarity, then you can win a hand based on fold equity alone. Realistically speaking, however, you aren’t a poker god and will thus have to rely on semi-bluffs to carry you through. We’ll go over specific examples later.

Math of Fold Equity

To get the full picture of fold equity, you first have to understand regular poker equity. If you don’t know what that is or how to calculate it, then you won’t need to bother with fold equity as it won’t apply to your calculations.

We suggest you use poker calculators to determine your poker equity, as doing so in your head can be too complicated and take too much time. Essentially, though, this percentage will tell you the odds of winning the hand.

For example, if you have AKs and your opponent has KK, then your equity in the hand is 34%, and his is 66% pre-flop. As we mentioned, equity will change as the cards come out, so if the flop looks like this: Q♠, T♥, 5♣, then your equity percentage changes to 31%.

Once you have mastered poker equity, then you can start to add fold equity to it. As we said, this will never be an exact science, as it is based on your best guess as to what your opponent will do. Various factors will come into play, such as your reputation on the table and the betting strategy of your opponent.

Where math enters into play is when you can figure out how strong or weak your opponent’s range is compared to your perceived range. For example, if he is betting with a pocket pair and you have a flush draw, he has a weaker hand than you if he thinks that yours is made. You can increase the fold equity percentage because he knows his hand isn’t that strong, and will most likely muck his cards if he thinks that you have a made hand. This can get rather complicated and difficult to calculate, but if you can do it, more power to you.

Practice Equation

When it comes to fold equity, you can turn a weaker hand into a stronger one, as long as you know what you’re doing. We said that fold equity works best on a semi-bluff, which means that you are acting like you have a better hand than you really do, but you still have the potential to pull something off by the river. Straight and flush draws are the best examples of semi-bluffs as they are weak until they become made hands. As always, Position is a great help, too. So, let’s look at an example.

Example

Let’s say that your hand is TJo and your opponent’s hand is 99. Realistically, you will want to give him a range, but for now, we’ll assume a specific hand to keep things simple.

Currently, your poker equity for this hand (preflop) is 46%. However, you have a straight draw, and he is playing with a middle pair. Let’s say that he raises and you call.

On the flop, you’re looking at Q♠, 8♥, K♦. Now your poker equity is 45% to his 55%. However, you now have an open-ended straight, and he still has a middle pair. In his mind, he thinks that you could have a top pair to beat him or a potential straight.

So, looking at this information, you will want to incorporate fold equity. Even though you don’t know exactly what he has, you do know that you can potentially make a straight. Thus, you will raise after the flop and see what he does.

If you think that your opponent has a 30% of folding from your raise, then you will determine fold equity like this: .30 x .55 = 17%. So, adding that to your current equity of 45%, that gives you a total percentage of 62%. Knowing that, you should raise even though the chance of him folding is not that high.

Making Life Easier

If you want to make things even easier for yourself, there are fold equity calculators that will allow you to determine what percentage is profitable. Thus, if we assign dollar amounts to everything and plug in the information, it will look like this.

  • Total Pot: $50
  • Raise: $25
  • Total Stack: $100
  • Poker Equity: 45%

In this equation, we will be profitable if your opponent has at least a 35% of folding. If we think that that number is much less, we are risking too much money.

Benefits of Fold Equity

Overall, fold equity is there to help you gain an edge on your opponents. However, because it relies on your ability to know how likely he is to fold, as well as maintain a solid reputation on the table, this calculation can be wildly inaccurate if you don’t know what you’re doing.

That being said, the main benefit of fold equity is to determine if your semi-bluff is worth the raise. As we mentioned, you don’t want to use this equation for a full bluff, as it will require that your opponent folds 100% of the time.  You can read more about bluffing here.

Otherwise, you shouldn’t rely on fold equity unless you know your opponent well enough to tell when he will fold, regardless of the cards you have. As long as you can make him think you’ve got a great hand, then fold equity will work to your advantage.

Highlights of Fold Equity

So, what have we learned so far? Let’s break it down.

  • The equation for fold equity is written out like this: (chance of folding) x (poker equity in hand)
  • Once that percentage is calculated, you add it to your own equity to get an overall total
    • It’s easier to find your hand equity by using a poker calculator like this one.
  • Fold equity is ideal for semi-bluffs, meaning straight or flush draws
  • To get an accurate calculation, you have to know your opponent well enough to determine the chance of him folding in any given situation
  • Your reputation on the table matters as it can affect your fold equity
  • Using this equation for full bluffs is not recommended unless your opponent folds more than half the time

Fold Equity Conclusion

Overall, while this strategy can be useful on the tables, you shouldn’t rely on it too much. We recommend that you practice calculating fold equity without using it and track how often your opponents fold, and to what hands. The more information you can glean from them, the better off you will be in the long run.  We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on Fold Equity, and we’d love to hear what you thought in the comments.


I'm a tech geek who enjoys extreme sports, computing and, of course, an avid poker enthusiast.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *