The majority of Texas holdem strategy you find in books and
on popular web sites focuses on the offensive side of play. The
offensive and aggressive side of the game is important, but it’s
also important to learn when you need to fold.
Every bet you can save is a bet you can use to win more money
in the future. Of course you don’t want to fold when you have a
good chance to win, or when you’re receiving the correct pot
odds to call, so it’s important to find the line in every hand
between folding and continuing with the hand.
Like every other area of your Texas holdem play, you need to
base all of your decisions about folding on the play that makes
the most money in the long run, or the play that loses the least
amount of money.
The two places where you make the most important folding
decisions are your starting hands and on the river. These two
areas are covered first, and then the flop, and finally the
turn, is covered. We finish the page with a section about
folding decisions in tournament play because it’s different than
cash game play.
Bad Starting Hands
Some Texas holdem starting hands should be folded all of the
time, some should never be folded, and many should be folded
some of the time. One thing that’s hard to find is exact advice
on which hands to play and which ones shouldn’t be played.
In this section we list a group of starting hands that should
be folded all of the time. Then we look at most of the hands
that should be folded sometimes and can be played sometimes. You
may or may not agree with all of our suggestions, and that’s
fine. If you play in a game where one of the hands we list as
unplayable can be played for a profit, feel free to play it.
But if you’re a beginning player and / or aren’t turning a
regular profit at the Texas holdem tables you can safely fold
all of the hands in the first section without worrying about it
costing you any money in the long run. These hands should even
be folded in the blinds. If you see the flop for free with one
of these hands and don’t flop a solid hand you need to check and
fold as soon as an opponent bets.
Always fold these hands:
Any hand with a two except a pair of twos and an ace two
Any hand with a three except a pair of threes and an ace
Any hand with a four except a pair of fours and an ace
Any hand with a five except a pair of fives and an ace
Any hand with a six except a pair of sixes and an ace
Any hand with a seven except a pair of sevens, an ace
seven suited, and a seven eight suited.
Any hand with an eight except a pair of eights, an ace
eight suited, a seven eight suited, an eight nine suited,
and an eight 10 suited.
Any hand with a nine except a pair of nines, an ace nine
suited, an eight nine suited, a nine 10 suited, a nine jack
suited, a nine queen suited, and a nine king suited.
As you can see there’s quite a large list of hands that you
can fold every time you see them. By folding these hands you’ll
make more money in the long run because they all lose money on
average by entering the pot with them.
Even many of the hands you can play should be folded most of
the time. Low pocket pairs can be dangerous in many situations
and aces with suited cards below face cards can be trap hands
that cost you a great deal of money as well. The suited
connectors with a seven, eight, or nine are bad in many
In other words, just because you can play it sometimes
doesn’t mean you can play it for a profit often.
Most of the hands you should be playing are high pairs, high
suited cards, and high unsuited cards. These hands give you the
best chance to win by completing high pairs, flushes, and high
Position has a great deal to do with what hands should be
folded. In early position and in the blinds the only hands you
don’t fold are the absolute best ones. Pocket aces, kings,
queens, ace king suited, and possibly ace queen suited are the
only ones that can usually be played from early position.
You can add a few more pocket pairs and a few more suited
high card hands in middle position but you need to continue
folding most hands. As you move into late position you can play
the other hands that aren’t listed on the fold list above, but
only in some situations. The smaller pairs and lower suited
connectors need to be folded in raised pots most of the time and
are dangerous in most cases so you end up folding most of them
after the flop when you can play them.
One of the most surprising revelations most players come to
understand on the way to profitable play is if you’ve made the
correct plays to get to the river, it’s rarely correct to fold
on the river. Of course if you completely miss your draw and
don’t have any chance to win you should fold when facing a bet,
but if you have even a small chance to win it’s rarely the
correct play to fold.
Here’s a simple example that helps illustrate why a call is
You’ve been calling with a flush and straight draw, have
missed both draws, but paired your top card on the river, giving
you the second highest possible pair. Your opponent is
aggressive and could have been betting a draw or semi bluffing
throughout the hand.
The pot has $200 in it and your opponent bets $20.
Before we continue analyzing the hand recognize how small
this bet is in comparison to the size of the pot. This either
screams weakness or a monster. If your opponent has a monster
she may be betting small hoping to get a little extra out of
you, but most of the time it’s a feeble stab at the pot trying
to get you to fold for as little as possible. This is clearly a
You have to call $20 for a chance to win $220. This is a
situation where you’re being offered 11 to 1 pot odds. You only
have to win the hand roughly 9% of the time to break even. Is
there any chance you don’t win the hand over 9% of the time?
You’ll find that most situations that come up on the river
that don’t involve all in bets offer odds that are favorable if
you can win 25% of the time or less. You’ll find that even many
all in situations offer favorable odds if you can win a third of
Once you start factoring in the chances of an opponent
bluffing and of your hand being best you rarely find a situation
on the river where it’s best to fold.
If you’ve never thought about it, it may come as a surprise,
but when you miss your draw the only way you can usually win on
the river is by betting and hoping your opponent folds. So don’t
be surprised when an opponent bets on the river, even if you
think they’re weak. It might be the only way they can hope to
win the hand so instead of giving up they bet.
Do you bet on the river when you miss your draw? The short answer is yes.
The long answer involves some of the same thinking that we
just covered about calling bets on the river.
If you miss your draw and find yourself in a situation where
the only way you can win is if your opponent folds you need to
determine how often they need to fold for a bet to be
You miss your draw and have a jack high hand with a board
that has an ace, king, and queen. The pot has $200 in it and if
you see the show down you have no chance of winning. How many
times, or what percentage of the time, does your opponent need
to fold if you bet $20 for the play to be profitable? What about
if you bet $40 or $50 or $100?
This is fairly easy to determine with a few mathematical
calculations. Practice figuring this out at home and you’ll find
that you can quickly make an accurate estimate at the table.
In the first example, you risk $20 to get back $220. If you
do this 100 times your total cost is $2,000. Divide your total
cost by the $220 you get back when you win and you find that if
your opponent folds 9% of the time you break even. So out of 100
times you make the bet they only have to fold 9 times. This is
such a small number that you have to bet in this situation
unless you’re 100% sure your opponent will call every time.
Here are the calculations for $40, $50, and $100.
When you bet $40 you only have to win 16.67% of the time
to break even.
If you bet $50 you need to win 20% of the time to break
Betting $100 makes the break-even point 33.33%
As you can see betting in this situation is almost always
profitable. A $100 bet into a $200 pot on a missed draw may seem
dangerous, but look at it from your opponent’s point of view.
They have to make a large commitment and if they aren’t
convinced their hand is best you stand a good chance of
pressuring them into folding. It can easily look like you just
hit a set instead of missed your draw when you make a strong bet
And as you can see from the numbers above, you only need to
make them fold a third of the time.
Our Advice: Unless you’re clearly beat, you should rarely
fold on the river. You should always try to determine if a call
is a positive expectation play, but if you have a doubt you
should usually call. And even when you’re beat a bet may be the
best play instead of a check and fold.
After you see the flop you’ve seen five out of the seven
total cards that will make your hand and you should be able to
make a good decision about where you stand at this point in the
hand. While almost anything can happen before the flop, the
lists of possible outcomes for the hand are greatly reduced
after the flop.
At this time you need to decide if you’re going to fight
until the end or exit the hand. You see player after player
chasing a hand, seeing one more card on the turn before folding.
This habit ends up costing players enough to wipe out any
Players call a bet on the flop so they can try for that
inside straight or try for a higher pair, even when they’re
clearly behind in the hand.
You have to base all of your decisions on the long term
profitability of your hand.
Don’t ever take a card chasing a hand that doesn’t offer the
correct pot odds. Folding a losing long term hand here saves a
bet. Any bet saved is extra ammunition you can use at another
time to win more.
Texas holdem is never just about the current hand or
situation. Everything you do is a combination of the game that
has lead up to the current situation, the present hand, and
everything in the future that’s tied to the current hand.
Just because most strategy advice focuses on aggressive play
and the offensive part of holdem doesn’t mean folding can’t be
profitable. Here’s a list of flop situations where folding is
the most profitable long term play.
You see the flop with ace king and the flop is jack, ten, and
three. A tight player fires a bet of $20, making the pot $120.
Unless the board pairs you’ll win the pot with a straight and
you may or may not win if you pair your ace or king.
The problem with pairing your ace or king is it makes a
possible straight for your opponent. So in this situation you
can usually count half of the cards that pair one of your cards
as outs. So you’re looking at four outs for the straight and
three more for pairing one of your cards for a total of seven
outs. The problem is if you pair your ace and an opponent hits a
straight how much will you lose before you get away from the
While the pot odds make a call close, the negative implied
odds make it a situation where you need to fold and wait for a
better situation where you can invest your money.
You make a pre flop raise with a pair of jacks from late
position and get called by an early position limper and a middle
position limper. The flop has an ace and a king, the first
player bets and the second raises. It’s always good to be
optimistic, but it’s difficult to imagine two hands your
opponents can possibly hold that doesn’t have at least one of
them dominating your jacks.
The truth is you’re probably behind both hands at this point
and instead of throwing good money away you need to fold. You
were the aggressive player before the flop and not only has one
player improved their hand enough to make a bet into you, the
other raises. These are both clear indications of the strength
of the other hands compared to yours.
A single bet may not be enough to make you fold, though in
this case it might, but the bet and raise are just too much to
In a no limit Texas holdem game you call an early raise with
a pair of eights. The flop is three, four, seven, and the pre
flop bettor makes a continuation bet on the flop. Even though
you have an over pair, when you play for a set against a raise
you have to be able to fold when you don’t hit your hand.
While it’s possible you could have the best hand, the odds
are against it. And if you’re dominated by an over pair, which
is likely, you’ll end up losing a big pot. The best play is a
The turn is listed last because if you’re playing the best
Texas holdem as possible and folding on the flop when you should
the turn generally plays itself.
If you’re ahead on the flop you’re generally still ahead on
the turn and need to continue building the value of the pot.
When you’re behind on the flop but getting the correct pot odds
to call if you haven’t improved your hand on the turn you
usually still have the correct odds to see the river.
Rarely will you find a situation where a call was correct on
the flop and a fold is correct on the turn unless your hand
value drastically changes.
Have you ever read the statement that if you do a good job
selecting your starting hands and make the best decisions on the
flop that the rest of the hand plays itself? This is a fairly
If you find yourself in a situation where you should have
folded on the flop but wanted to see the turn, don’t compound
the mistake by chasing a bad draw to the river. Of course you
should try to avoid this situation, but never make it worse just
because of your prior mistake.
Here’s a couple of situations where seeing the turn was
correct but a fold becomes correct at this time.
You have second pair and a flush draw and make a semi bluff
on the flop, but get called by two opponents. Your hand doesn’t
improve on the turn and you face an all in that creates a
negative expected value when you determine the pot odds. A semi
bluff is usually a profitable play, but learn to recognize when
one doesn’t work out and cut your losses.
You have top pair with top kicker against two opponents and
the board pairs and puts the third suited card out on the turn.
Both opponents seem to come alive and start a betting war. Even
though you may have had the best hand entering the turn it’s not
likely that you still have the best hand. And if you’re behind
to either opponent at this time you’re probably drawing dead.
Everything we’ve talked about so far deals with cash or ring
game play. Tournament play requires a different thought process
when it comes to folding. You often have to fold in a positive
expectation situation to conserve your chips for situations
where you’re the favorite to win.
If that sounds like it is a rare situation, bear with us for
a minute. We’ll show you how you’re often in a positive
expectation situation where you aren’t the favorite to win. When
you see what we mean you’ll realize you already knew this.
In a cash game a positive expectation situation is almost
always one where you want to invest as much money as possible.
In the long run you make money from these situations, even if
you lose sometimes. The wins over time more than make up for the
losses and show a profit. But this doesn’t mean you’re the
favorite to win any single hand.
You have an open end straight draw and two over cards on the
turn, the pot has $300 in it, and you have to call a $50 all in
bet. You have 14 outs which mean you have over a 30% chance to
win the hand. This is clearly a situation where you aren’t the
favorite to win the hand, but you still have a positive expected
value. You only have to win 15% of the time to show a long term
Let’s compare this to a different situation.
You have two pair on the turn against a player with a flush
draw. They have a 19.57% chance to win the hand, making you a
favorite of over 80%.
In both situations you’re going to make money in the long
run, but in the second situation you’re going to win the hand a
much higher percentage of the time.
In a tournament you have a limited number of chips so you
have to protect them while trying to make them grow. The only
way to win more chips is to risk the ones you have, but you need
to risk them in situations where you have the best chance to
It’s fairly easy to see that even in a tournament the long
term profitability of both examples described above is positive,
but in the first example you’re only going to win a hair over
30% of the time.
So if you’re in a tournament situation where you can play for
all of your chips in a positive expectation hand but only have a
25% chance of remaining in the tournament what are you going to
Three out of every four times you play the situation you get
knocked out of the tournament but the one time out of four it
sets you up nicely for a run that should help you finish in the
money. Only you can decide which way you want to play, but an
argument can easily be made for both sides.
On the other hand if you have an 80% chance to win a hand in
a tournament you have to make the play. You rarely find a
situation where you have a larger edge and you can’t fold.
The only way you’d ever consider folding in the second
situation is if you’re on the bubble and are in danger of
missing the money if you lose. And even in this situation you’ll
almost always need to call because of the large edge. With an
80% chance to win you’ll win the hand four out of every five
times you play.
Unless something tragic is going to happen, like being
evicted, unless you finish in the money the best play is to
It can be a difficult balancing act for Texas holdem
tournament players to choose between long term expectations in
short term negative situations and waiting for more certain
short term results. Everyone wants to only play hands where they
have a large edge, but these situations don’t come up often
enough to make it feasible to always wait on them.
Of course even when you find situations where you’re a big
favorite often enough you can still end up losing a hand. You
just hope that you’ve made enough of a cushion on the other
hands to take the loss and remain alive in the tournament.
If you’re an 80% favorite to win a hand it means you win four
out of every five times you play it. In simple terms this means
if you’re in the situation five times in a tournament you’re
going to lose one of them. So if you’re all in all five times
you’re out of the tournament.
Most Texas holdem players look for reasons to call instead of
reasons to fold. Most Texas holdem players lose money in the
Do you think these two things could be related?
We’re not saying these two things are directly related, but
they do appear to have some connection. Good players look for
both reasons to call or raise and reasons to fold. Then they
weigh the benefits and long term profitability of each action
and make the correct decision more often than not.
If the only thing you do is look for reasons to call you need
to start looking for reasons to fold as well. Only by looking at
the current situation as realistically as possible and not
through rose colored glasses will you be able to play the most
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