Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
This is my 151st entry in the modern “A Word from the ‘Mad Genius’” series. Notice that I said “modern.”
That’s because there were hundreds more in the old incarnation of Poker Player that thrived in the 1980s. Anyway, while examining the new list of poker words we’ve explored so far, I noticed a glaring gap. There was nothing between “Flop” and “Formula.”
How can that be? That’s the place reserved for one of the most important words in poker: “Fold.” So, we’re going to fix the omission right now, because “fold” is the focus of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Nothing happens when you fold. You just sit there and wait for the next hand. So, why is the word “fold” so important?
Most of your poker profit is made by folding. I know that’s a stunning statement, but if you don’t fully understand it, you’re doomed. There are many decisions you need to make during the course of a hand.
Do you raise or just call? Do you bet or check? How much should you bet in a no-limit game? All those decisions are important and if you make them correctly, you’ll greatly increase your bankroll.
Fine. But each of those choices is subject to debate. Often, there isn’t a clear answer and you’re going to use subtle poker skills to choose the right tactic for the situation.
You’ll consider your opponents’ habits, look for tells, compute odds, and more. But, although making superior decisions like those matter greatly, you’ll still lose if you don’t fold correctly.
If you play a lot more hands than you should, you can’t win, even if you have superior skills and outplay your opponents during the race for the pot. Once you’ve committed to a pot unprofitably, the best you can do is use superior play to cut your losses. And reducing losses, when a hand shouldn’t have cost you anything at all, isn’t smart.
Beginners should immediately memorize this simple advice: When in doubt, fold.
Question 2: Are there some times when you should fold more often than others?
You should immediately fold hands more often, without entering a pot, when you’re losing. This has nothing to do with superstition or with hot and cold streaks.
I teach that there’s no such thing as a streak in poker, except looking in the rearview mirror. Yes, good or bad luck can go on for a long time, but while it’s happening, there’s no logical reason to believe it will continue to happen. It might or it might not, but the next deal is always a fresh new start.
Despite that, you need to be more cautious when you’re losing, because opponents have witnessed your misfortune and are motivated by it. They’re thinking, “Hey, that’s someone I can beat,” and they’re inspired to play better. That means that some of the edges you had when your image was dominant no longer exist. Fold more.
And you should fold more whenever aggressive opponents wait to act behind you, simply because they’re more likely to barge into your pot and interfere with your strategy of dominating weaker foes.
Question 3: When should you be less inclined to fold?
You should play more pots when your image is commanding. This often occurs when you’re winning.
You can also play more often when the table is very loose. Reduce your opening-hand requirements, but make sure you’re still playing more selectively than your opponents, on average.
Another thing: If opponents are very tight, attack more often, especially in late position. Bluffs obviously work better against tight opponents.
So, you’ll fold less often if your opponents stray from sensible strategy – either by being too loose or too tight. But, if they’re too loose, you’ll play more marginal hands, and, if they’re too tight, you’ll bluff more often.
Question 4: Should you ever fold out of compassion?
No. Never. Always play to win the most money. Once you’ve taken the chips to the cashier and have the money in your hand, then you can give it back, if you still desire to do so.
Question 5: Can you fold too often?
Yes. You can play too tight. Keep in mind that a typical player can play twice as many hands as another and make the same amount of money.
That’s because there are so many borderline hands that can either be played or folded without dramatically affecting your long-term results. That’s why you should decide whether to play more hands or fewer based on the image you’re currently trying to establish.
Question 6: What is your overall philosophy of folding in poker?
Those who play the most hands are poker’s biggest losers. In fact, those who win the most pots in full-handed games lose the most money. Remember, it’s easy to win a lot of pots just by playing a lot of hands. But many of the pots you’ll win will be unprofitable pursuits, averaged over time.
Those who play the fewest pots usually win, but often not as much as they could. You should normally play fewer pots than your opponents, on average, but extreme tightness doesn’t maximize your profit.
Once you’ve committed to a pot, that’s the time to consider being aggressive in pursuit of extra advantages. On the first betting round, your favorite word should be “fold.” — MC
Next self-interview: Pending