Why Fold Equity is Important to Your Poker Strategy

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If you’ve played poker for a while, you’ve probably heard the term fold equity.

In this article, I am going to explain what fold equity is and why it’s important to understand if you want to maximize your winnings at the tables.

What is Fold Equity?

Fold equity is the probability that a player will fold versus a bet or raise. For example, if there’s a 33 percent chance your opponent will fold to a bet in a $100 pot, you have 33% fold equity (worth $33) in that pot.

If you’ve ever considered the chance that your opponent will fold to a bet, you’ve already employed this concept at the table (even if you didn’t realize it at the time).

Note: Some people use the term fold equity to mean this formula instead: [the chance our opponent will fold] * [opponent’s equity in the hand]. However, Upswing Poker does not think that’s a helpful or practical definition.

Definition from our poker term glossary.

Why Does Fold Equity Matter?

Fold equity helps shape the optimal strategy on all streets. Whenever you do not have a solid made hand, you need to take into account your fold equity to make the highest EV decision.

The most important use of this concept is for determining profitable bluffs. Fold equity is the main variable in the Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF) formula used for determining the breakeven threshold of a certain wager (bet).

MDF is the minimum percentage of time you must call (or raise) to prevent your opponent from profiting by always bluffing you. If you fold more often than the MDF indicates, your opponent can exploit you by over-bluffing when they bet.

The formula for MDF looks like this:

MDF = [Bet Size / (Bet Size + Size of the Pot Before the Bet)] x 100

Which can be written in shorthand as:

MDF = [B / (B + P)] x 100

Example MDF Calculation

Let’s say you bet $50 bet into a $100 pot:

MDF = [50 / (50 + 100)] x 100

MDF = 0.33 x 100

MDF = 33%

In this case, assuming your bluff has 0% equity when called, your $50 bet needs more than 33% fold equity in order to be profitable over the long run.

The more equity you have, the less fold equity you need in order to have a profitable bet. This is because you have not one, but two ways to win — you can either hit your hand or force the fold.

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Example of Fold Equity in Action

Suppose you’ve reached the turn on a T 7♣ 5♠ 2 board with $100 in the pot. You have an open-ended straight draw with 9♣ 8♣ and are considering a semi-bluff of $50.

If you decide to drop in the $50 bet, you have two ways to win:

  1. Your opponent calls and you hit a straight on the river*, which will happen around 18% of the time.
  2. Your opponent folds.

*Hitting a 9 or 8 may give you the best hand as well, but let’s put that possibility aside for the sake of simplicity.

According to the MDF calculation in the previous section, this bet size requires more than 33% fold equity to be profitable…

…but that was when your bluff had 0% equity.

This time, you have (at least) 18% equity to win when called. So, even if your fold equity is only 20%, your bet is a profitable one because you will win the pot a total of 38% of the time (20% fold equity + 18% straight equity).

Note: Keep in mind that this calculation, while helpful for understanding fold equity, leaves out one important factor: equity realization. Read this article to learn how equity realization comes into play in poker.

Wrapping Up

Fold equity is your best friend when you’re bluffing. Even a 2% difference between the required MDF and your opponent’s actual folding frequency is enough to make a bet go from losing to profitable.

I’ll leave you with an easy exercise that will sharpen your fold equity estimation skills:

Whenever you’re not in a hand, put yourself in the shoes of one of the players and consider how much fold equity different bet sizes will have. Ask yourself questions like “will a much bigger bet size render much more fold equity?” or “will a smaller size have similar fold equity to a large one?” Over time, you should start to get pretty damn precise, which will have majorly positive impacts on your game.

That’s all for this article. I hope you enjoyed it and that you learned something new. As usual, if you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below!

If you want to learn about more key poker concepts, read Polarized Ranges vs Linear Ranges Explained.

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

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