How to Play

When to fold

In this section, we talk about one of the hardest but most important poker skills, folding a good hand, including:

Winning with great cards is one thing, but knowing when to make a ‘laydown’ (fold a good hand) is the real key to consistent success in poker.

This isn’t about folding a terrible hand – anyone can do that. We’re talking about finding yourself with a lovely, shiny set, only to drop it when the flush card arrives. Here’s when and how to do it.

Trusting your instincts

You're sitting at a table and you feel that your hand is no good. Now, ‘feel’ is an overused term in poker, so let’s say your subconscious is telling you something. Did you pick up on a facial tick? A slight delay when betting? Doesn’t matter. You should listen to those instincts.

Some people do this naturally with complete accuracy. For most of us, it's a skill you need to work on. Okay, two skills: first, hearing the voice that tells you you're beat; and second, acting on it.

Spotting the danger signs

There are some basic moves that count as warning signs (hello check-raises). When you come up against these, your opponent generally has something big, or could well have by the next card.

Look at the chips. If a player has paid over the odds for a flush or straight draw, maybe even called out of position, they’re doing it for a reason.

If they've called your bets all along, even though you’re projecting a tight table image (you have a reputation for only playing strong hands), chances are they’re feeling very confident, something you need to take seriously.

Doing the maths

Of course, you can also make your decisions easier with some poker science.

The first sum you need to do is simple: add up your chips. If you’re looking a bit short, don’t risk them on anything but a great hand. It might not be fashionable advice, but in poker, it pays not to follow the herd.

The next bit of stat-gathering involves your opponent. What’s their raising range? How much are they betting on a good hand versus a great hand? This will help you read the strength of their cards and stay out of trouble.

Finally, what’s your table position? Semi-decent hands aren’t worth it in the blinds – it’s too easy to get trapped. Remember, a lot of mistakes and difficult decisions are down to calling with a marginal hand pre-flop.

Odds, I call

Pot odds are an extremely important part of judging when to make a good laydown. Basically, it’s the price of your bet, versus the value of the pot. If your chances of winning are the same or more, call. If not, fold.

Let’s say you're playing against a weak, predictable player. You've been betting two-pair and he's been calling. On the river the flush card arrives. You check and he bets.

So does your opponent have the flush or not? Say there’s a 10% chance he’s bluffing, plus a 10% chance he has a weaker hand (that he’s playing because you checked). That’s a 20% chance there’s no flush – it’s not enough. So you need to lay the hand down.

Powers of reasoning

Making laydowns is a hard thing to do – no one likes to think they're folding the winning hand. And you don’t want to go too far the other way and play scared. So practice these skills, focus on what you’re saving in chips or cash, and you’ll soon gain confidence that you’re doing the right thing.