The free card

Giving free cards is often a big mistake, here is an article telling you why.

"I had pocket rockets and the flop comes AJ2 rainbow, followed by an 8 and a 3. I cannot believe he managed to stay in the hand all the way to the river with 54s. Sure, online poker is rigged!"

This kind of "bad beat" story at an online tournament or a casino should certainly not be unknown to you. A bad beat you say, but before beginning any lamentations for our player with pocket aces cracked, let's hear more details about this story. Did our player commit the mortal sin of giving free or cheap cards?

Why is it bad to give free cards?

Giving a free card generally evokes the situation in which, though you are ahead, you do not bet or raise. This may happen with a very strong hand if you slow play or with a marginal hand as well. However, by giving a free card, you have actually committed a strategic error.

Even if you bet but only make a small bet, you granted your opponent a cheap card, and if you gave the other player sufficient odds for a draw, then your bet is not enough.

Basically the question is about what bets are profitable to call for you and what bet size you should make so that it is not profitable for your opponents to call them. The theory is, if you make a bet such that your opponent does not have the odds to call, you win. Either he folds and you take the pot, or he calls without the proper odds to do so.

When do poker players give free cards?

The classic error is a player who flops a monster hand, but does not bet correctly. There are cases when slowplaying works best. Your opponent can sometimes bet himself and fall in the trap, or you may flop such a huge hand that there is no risk to lose to a drawing hand.

However in general, it is useful to consider how this hand should be bet, knowing that you are working both to protect your hand from any possible draw, and from the danger of not knowing what type of hand your opponent may be holding.

Keep in mind that even if you flop a big hand like a set, there is always a number of draws on the flop that may crash you. If for example you flop a set of aces on a board A98 with two hearts, then any hand with two hearts, any connectors like QJ, JT or 76, many one or two gapers like 85 or QT will get a chance to complete their draw if given a free card.

The general theory is to refrain from slowplaying with a big hand when there are two cards of the same color on the board, as this course of action is considered way too risky.

Yes, it is always frustrating to flop a big hand and to only collect a small pot after making a large bet, for fear of letting your opponent draw to a stronger hand. But remember that the original purpose of putting money in the pot is still achieved, however small the pot.

Also note that making a big bet early increases the size of the final pot. This gives you the chance to win a big pot, so in the long-term this is a more profitable approach.

Almost never give free cards

Let's review the example discussed above where we flop a set of aces on a board AJ2 and our opponent has a gut shot straight draw. In this situation, there is no reason to bet low since he only has a draw. The correct play here is to make a bet large enough so that he cannot draw profitably.

Another similar case is when you are ahead, but this time with a marginal hand. The expert player will stand out here, as he will be able to discern and prevent any opponent from attempting to take the lead with a draw.

A related technique consists in combining the idea of making a huge bet to scare your opponent with a drawing hand with a bluff against the few hands that could beat you. For example you have AKs and the flop comes J82 rainbow. A large bet will give you the pot if your opponent has a weaker hand than yours, but it can also lead him to fold his small pocket pair or his pair of jacks.

How to get a free card?

On the other hand, here is a technique to get a free card:

If you're on the button or last to bet with a good drawing hand, min-raise your opponent on the flop. Ideally he will fold, but if he calls and check on the turn, you will have gained a free card (note that turn bets are larger than flop bets, so overall you pay less to see the turn card).

Of course it is risky. If your opponent reraised the flop, you have put yourself in a difficult spot. It is best to perform this move when you feel the hand of your opponent is weak enough to be folded or somewhat marginal so that he slows down his aggression.

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