Knowing When to Fold in Online Poker

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In Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler” he sings, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Knowing when to fold’ em, especially in NL Hold’em, is just as important to knowing when to hold’ em. Unfortunately, when playing online, you don’t have as many clues as to what two cards your opponent is holding.

Review every one of your opponent’s actions

It’s one thing to know that you are beat, but another to actually fold when you’re beat. There is a big and unfortunate difference. For instance, say you are dealt pocket Aces. A player in early position limps in. You make a solid pre-flop raise and get the limper to call. The flop comes A ♠-K ♥-9 ♥. Fearful of the flush, you make a good-sized bet and are quickly called. The turn is a duck—the 2 of ♠. You bet big again and are quickly called. The river is the 7 of ♥. Scared of the flush, you check. Your opponent thinks a while, measuring his chips before making a small bet, about a third of the size of the pot.

This is one of the most difficult spots to be in. You’ve played your hand aggressively, trying to push your opponent to muck, but now, all signs point that he hit the flush. Let us review your opponent’s play:

Your opponent tried to limp in pre-flop. He limps in from early position, so it’s likely he doesn’t have a good hand, but perhaps a drawing hand, so he just wants to see a free flop.

  • He quickly called after the flop and turn. There isn’t much to think about when you’re going for a draw—either you’re committed to playing it until the river or your not. His quick call likely signals his eagerness to see the next card.
  • Your opponent makes a small bet after you check the river, almost enticing you to call. He thinks that you probably have an Ace, so he measures out a value bet. A value bet means betting as much as you think your opponent will call.
  • Of course, making a call would be easier in this situation if you have good pot odds. For the sake of making this a difficult decision, let’s say you don’t.

It is this type of difficult, pressure-cooker situation that is all too common in online poker. Players will chase cards until the very end because they want a big payoff.

Avoid calling out of curiosity, frustration and stubbornness

There are three reasons players have difficult folding: curiosity, frustration and stubbornness.

By curiosity, I mean the natural inclination to want to see your opponent’s hole cards. I’m sure you’ve heard or said it before: “If I fold will you show?” You want to be assured that he does indeed have you beat because you are leaning toward folding. A bad player will call just to confirm his suspicions. Make note if this happens.

You’ll likely be frustrated after your opponent has made a big bet into a pot when you believed he was weak. The bigger your hand is, the less likely you’ll be able to get away from it, even when you know you are beat. This can result in a call out of pure frustration, rather than logic. Think through your opponent’s actions, like in the first example, and you will have a better read on them.

Stubbornness is usually a result of being involved in a previous pot where with the same player, where that player either caught a lucky card or won a big pot. I see players calling all the time out of stubbornness, especially after taking a bad beat. This is akin to being on tilt. We all want to put fish or donkeys in their place, but it becomes a problem when their off-the-wall playing style lures you into calling.

It’s always more difficult to fold a good hand, but here are some opponent tells/plays to be on the lookout for:

The long pause, then a raise

This is hardly ever a bluff. Players tend to only do this when there is the possibility for a big hand on the board, such as a flush or trips. There are very few times that an opponent doesn’t have it in these circumstances. Fold anything but gold here.

The insta-raise

The insta-raise happens when a player has checked the “bet/raise” button. If their bet is double your bet, you can usually be sure that they checked the button and have a very strong hand. This action should send off the all alarms and almost never should you re-raise.

I’ve found that when players make an insta-raise, it often induces others to come along. It’s used as a set up bet. In other words, a player will raise twice your bet with an insta-raise, and if you call, then they will bet big on the river. In some ways it looks like a bluff, but it usually means they have a big hand.


If you’re an avid online poker play, you know that it’s hard to sit around and wait for the next hand. Avoid calling out of boredom at all costs! It’s one of the easiest ways to lose your money. Table positioning is everything, and calling out of position is a quick way to lose money as well. You’ll find yourself calling raises because you already have money in the pot, and then losing large amounts because you are out kicked and outclassed. Sometimes you can’t avoid a big loss, but if you play using proper bankroll management, use table positioning strategies, avoid calling under duress and look for signs of strong hands, you will save a lot of money.

Have you ever made a particularly difficult fold? Do you know if it was the right fold?

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