When to Fold Big Hands in Poker Games
Folding good hands can seem like the opposite of great poker strategy. After all, your profit comes from those times when you have a solid hand – and get paid off! As you gain experience in the games you will find many situations where you need to reluctantly fold strong hands. Yes, even aces can be folded before the flop in some extreme situations.
This strategy guide covers the many aspects of knowing when to fold good hands – both before the flop and after it. The core concept is that hand strength in poker is relative, not absolute. There are also situations with specific prize structures and opponents which could cause you to fold very strong hands.
Here is what you will find below:
Here is a classic thought experiment involving a huge hand pre-flop. It is the first hand of the World Series of Poker Main Event. You are in the big blind, holding pocket aces. Lets assume you are a good player – and have a skill edge over everyone at your table. While winning the tournament is hard, you are backing yourself to at least make a deep run.
Now the under the gun player moves all in for 300 big blinds. The next player then goes all-in, and the next… The action gets to you holding those pocket aces and you have a decision to make.
If you call, then you will win the pot approximately 20% of the time. In that scenario, you will 9x your starting stack – a fantastic start. The dilemma here is that 80% of the time, you will be out of the tournament. You will have no time for your skill edge to show – until next year at least!
This spot divides opinion. Some players would call in an instant, though many others would lay down those aces, and live to fight on in the tournament – what would you do?
Of course, this is an extreme (and hypothetical) example – laying down aces pre-flop would never happen in a regular game. It does demonstrate that even with the best possible starting hands, there are situations where you have to consider your options carefully.
In a cash game, or regular tournament, there is no way folding aces pre-flop is a good idea. This hand is a big favourite against anything your opponent might hold. There are other hands which are also strong, where specific situations might lead you to fold.
Pocket Kings: Most of the time your strategy with pocket kings will be to get the money in. You can chalk up those times you run into aces as a cooler situation. The hands will be reversed (you will have the aces and someone else the kings) just as often – balancing things out over time. In the small stakes, never folding K-K would be a perfectly good strategy. If you are playing more experienced players, raise and get re-raised by an absolute nit, then 4-bet and get jammed on you might be able to get away. You’d need a very good read on your opponent (perhaps along with a poker tell) before considering this option.
Pocket Queens: Things are less clear with pocket queens, which are dominated by both kings and aces – and flipping against ace-king. In a small stakes tournament or cash game, you will not be making a huge mistake playing them as if you had the best hand. If you see a raise and 3-bet in front of you from tight players, then you can consider playing this hand more cautiously. If the flop comes without an ace or king, you might be ahead – though depending on your opponent’s betting you can still consider a tight fold.
Ace-King: The third premium hand gets a lot of smaller stakes players into trouble. It should be played aggressively, though is dominated by kings and absolutely crushed by aces. The problem with ace-king, especially when suited, is that you’ll need to re-raise and face a big re-raise yourself from a tight player before you know for sure whether you are at risk. Against loose players who will play ace-queen (or worse), jacks and so on this way, you should stay aggressive – you may well have found a profitable situation.
In Texas Hold’em, the flop is the single most important part of a hand. Here you will get an idea of whether your hand has improved, whether you have a draw to a flush of straight – and whether the flop is more likely to have improved your hand or those of your opponents.
There are several factors to consider when you have a strong pre-flop hand.
You can start off with a medium strength hand and make a strong hand yourself on the flop. A common example would be a small pair. If you make a set, then you have a powerful holding. If your opponent is tight, and only raises with big pairs – then a lot of money will likely go into the pot.
There are few situations where you would fold a hand as good as a set on the flop. If the board is wet, with a lot of draws possible, you should make sure you play aggressively. Charging opponents to draw is profitable – and you have the backup of the board pairing, giving you a full house.
If you have a strong draw yourself, then the pot odds and implied odds come into play. For example, if you have the nut flush draw, and an opponent puts you all-in, you need to look at the size of their bet and compare that to your chances of winning the hand. If you are not getting the correct poker odds, then calling will cost you real money over time – another situation where you have to fold a strong hand.
As the board is completed, you’ll know whether the likely draws get there or not. A common spot where you’ll need to fold those monster pre-flop hands is when 4 of one suit appears by the river. If you have aces without that suit, then even using them as a bluff catcher can prove to be very expensive.
Other situations are player dependent. Even on a ‘safe’ run-out, an opponent who has been calling your bets all the way and suddenly leads out (even all-in) on the river may well have been slow-playing a monster. You’ll never know for sure, though as you gain experience and note what other players make this kind of move with – you can narrow down the chances.
If you are facing a big bet with a monster hand, pot-odds come into play. If an opponent bets the size of the pot on the river, and you are holding aces, you are being offered 2-to-1 on the call. Based on your read of how this player approaches the game, the likelihood of them bluffing with a missed draw, and the chances they might have a second-best strong hand – you can decide whether to make the call.
Here is another example of when you might consider folding aces before the flop. This involves a satellite qualifier. You are at the bubble, and you have a huge stack. One player has 3 times your stack, and the others have been 2x and 5x the big blind. There are a few tables, and one more player needs to bust before everyone gets entry into a big buy-in tournament event.
You have A-A, and the player with the giant stack shoves all-in (as she does every hand!). You need to consider your option. Here I would fold. You will win the hand at least 80% of the time. The problem is that you are almost guaranteed a win by folding. Those small stacks can only last a couple more orbits, while you have plenty of chips. Your chances of winning a ticket are 95% or higher if you fold – so there is simply no need to take the risk.
This is an extreme spot once again, though there are times at the bubble of regular poker tournaments where you can consider folding strong hands too. Those involve having a comfortable stack, and a hand like jacks or queens. There is a raise and re-raise ahead of you – maybe with a micro-stack all-in on another table. There are arguments for going for it here – after all, min-cashing will not bring you much profit in the long-run. You can also fold these good, though not premium hands, and find a better spot to get your money in.