Equity and No Limit Hold'em

Equity in a poker hand is the actual value of that particular hand whereas value can be measured in many different ways. For example, there are two different types of equity in poker - fold equity and hand equity. Each type of equity describes your hand value in winning the pot in a certain way.

Folding for QuittersYou can only win a pot in one of two ways. Either the hand goes to showdown or players fold leaving a winner without the need to turn cards. Hand equity is important for winning the pot at showdown while fold equity is important for winning the pot without. Looking at equity in this double pronged way is highly instructive because it shows us how value is looked at in any given hand. Because fold equity is just as important as hand equity then we need to base a large part of our game play on winning the pot without holding the best hand. This is even more important when the games are very tight and aggressive, meaning that most pots are played either heads up or three way.

So the equity of a poker hand (value) is measured in a less than accurate way simply because we cannot get to see our opponent’s cards and so we need to use whatever experience we have to assess the situation when it arises. Let us look at a hand like A-K and compare it to a hand like 9-3. Now if I were to ask you which hand is the better hand you would say the A-K…..you wouldn’t be exactly right but you would be broadly correct. The A-K out performs the 9-3 in many situations but let us now compare the two hands in two different situations.

You raise with A-K and get three callers to your left and the flop comes 8-4-2 rainbow. Meanwhile in another hand it is folded around to you on the button and you make an aggressive raise with 9-3o and you are called by the big blind. The flop comes 8-4-2 rainbow and the big blind checks. Here it is pretty obvious that the A-K is the hand that stands the better chance of being the best hand at a showdown but that is massively offset by the fact that this hand has to get through three opponents while the 9-3o only has to get through one opponent to win the pot.

So the 9-3o has the greater fold equity despite the flop being the same in both instances. This example clearly highlights the value of fold equity along with pot equity (hand equity). This is why games like limit Hold’em are dominated by hand equity because so many more showdowns are seen than in games like no limit Hold’em. This is down to the betting structure in limit Hold’em where the limits are fixed on each street.

In aggressive no limit Hold’em games far fewer showdowns are seen and so the value of big hands is much lower because there are fewer opponents to pay you off when you make them. Any player that has played no limit cash games will know the frustration that you encounter when you see hands like aces and you get no action or you raise with a hand like pocket nines and flop the top set only to see your opponents fold time after time. This should highlight the fact that fold equity plays a pivotal role in your game strategy whatever form of poker that you play.

A big thanks to Carl “The Dean” Sampson for this submission. Carl is a 888 poker pro who spends his time playing at www.888poker.com. You can find his Google+ page here.


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