Cardrunners cash strategy: Why giving free cards can sometimes save you money

CardRunners pro and Matthew Janda explains why giving a free card to your opponent on certain boards can sometimes save you money                         

In the past we have talked a lot about why it’s very risky to slowplay on wet boards with a nut type hand, but what we haven’t talked about is that giving free cards with a non-nutted hand on a risky board may actually let us dodge a bullet. In other words, sometimes we’ll think the turn or river card was very bad when it, in fact, saved us a bunch of money.

Here’s an example. Let’s say the cutoff opens and we call on the button. The flop comes T-9-7 and he bets. What’s an example of a hand you would always raise here and why? The answer is probably a hand like T-9 because it can be outdrawn by better two pairs and if my opponent is betting a hand like A-J he can hit an Eight on the turn or a diamond so I would want to raise T-9 now. The main reason why we raise is two-fold; we don’t want to get outdrawn later or lose value. Even if we know our opponent will sometimes overbet on later streets not only can we sometimes get outdrawn but we really want to get value if our opponent has something like pocket Queens. Imagine if we just call and the turn is the K. Now that card will kill all of our value! It’s often tempting to slowplay sets and two pairs but when it is a wet board the answer is almost always no. Play it fast. 

Dare to raise

Nobody will disagree that raising a hand like T-9 in that spot is best. If we had just called then a Jack, 8, 6 or any diamonds are all potentially crappy turn cards for us. So why shouldn’t we raise A-T here too? Unlike with T-9, a turn King and Queen are also very bad when we hold A-T. Remember that we’ll be outdrawn more with A-T because we only have one pair and a King or Queen can easily give our opponent a higher pair.

Most players would probably say, ‘A-T isn’t strong enough to raise. It can’t value bet the turn and river on most turn and river cards, and it sucks when we get three-bet on the flop.’ Of course, this is all true. But our raising range may not need to consist of only super strong and weak hands – there’s another key reason here. If we think about A-T on this same T-9-7 board you’re right that it’s hard to raise this hand, value bet other streets and still win a lot of the time. But it’s still possible that we might raise A-T on this board, despite hating it when we get three-bet. A-T could be outdrawn on so many turn cards – King, Queen, Jack, Eight, Six and a diamond turn – so it’s possible to make the argument that raising with it is better.

If you hold A-T on the T-9-7 board and the turn comes the K, you’re of course going to sigh since the opponent easily could have outdrawn you with A-K, K-Q, Q-J, a flush etc. It’s not a turn card you want to see against your opponent’s overall range. 

What people often forget is you also might have already been beaten on the flop, and that turn card actually saved you! Maybe your opponent had 9-9 and now you’re not going to pay him off like you would have if you raised. It’s very easy to forget. A-T on this board is a good hand but we still lose to sets and overpairs. If our opponent isn’t c-betting too much this turn card may have saved us. It’s easy to get upset with certain turn cards because you do now lose to more hands but it’s important to think of the hand as a whole. 

Comparing the two hands

In the first instance we have T-9 and the main reasons not to slowplay are that we may get outdrawn and we may lose value. When we hold A-T we again may get outdrawn and may lose value (but there’s less value to lose) but it’s also key that we may get a ‘bad’ turn and save money against our opponent’s better hands. Of course, it’s also true that we may get a turn card which saves us money when we hold T-9 but this is beat so rarely on the flop that for the most part if we slowplay this hand we have never saved ourselves value.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to raise with strong and vulnerable hands. But what people often forget is a lot of the time even if it’s easier to just raise on the flop (to prevent our opponent from outdrawing us), sometimes the ‘bad’ turn or river card will save us money. It’s important to keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to raise. As you become a better player you are probably going to become more aggressive so it’s easy to forget. Yes, when you do just call you are allowing your opponent the chance to outdraw you but you are also saving money on some occasions. 

Spots where I hate giving free cards

My definition of a ‘free card’ is after my opponent bets – by not raising I am giving him a free card because he doesn’t put any more money in. 

Example 1
I’m on the button with A-J, the cutoff opens and I call. I then call the flop and turn on a J-T-7-6 board. The first thing to think about is: does this J-T-7 flop favour the button’s range or the cutoff’s range and why. I would say it favours the button’s range overall because position is very valuable and the button will have many hands that hit top pairs, sets or straight on this type of board. People probably c-bet in the cutoff too often here but their c-betting range will usually be strong and include overpairs, top pairs and so on.

When the turn brings in the second flush draw I absolutely hate calling the turn and river with A-J because there are a million river cards I am going to be disappointed with. Still, I have to bear in mind that it does suck when I call on the turn and the river card comes the K and my opponent bets – I won’t know if he outdrew me with a flush draw or his A-K got there – and I will probably have to fold. But even though my gut reaction will be one of pain there is a chance that the K could actually save me value as there are better hands already in my opponent’s range. I can’t realistically raise this turn, I have to call and let him see the free river card. Despite how vulnerable my hand is I have to call this turn still and hope to see a 3 on the river! 

Example 2
It’s button versus big blind and a four-bet pot. I’m in the big blind with A-T and the flop comes T-8-5. This is a very reasonable situation to be in – if the button opens and we are in the big blind with A-T it’s probably best to three-bet. Yes, it sucks to get four-bet but our hand will still do well enough against our opponent’s three-bet calling range, plus if we get him to fold something like 9-6 suited that is good too as that type of hand will outdraw us some of the time. We three-bet, the button four-bets really small and we probably need to call. On this flop the pot will already be big and we immediately notice that any King, Queen or Jack turn will unfortunately outdraw us a lot. This tempts us to want to check-shove the flop but when we think about it, it’s really not that great of an idea. Notice that our opponent has a ton of overpairs here since it’s a four-bet pot. Woe is me if the turn is one of those bad cards but along with outdrawing us he may have already been ahead! The bad turn cards may again save us money. 

Example 3
The cutoff opens, I am in the big blind with 9-9 and just call. The flop comes 8-6-3. I won’t make flush draws fold when I check-raise, and he has too many overpairs, sets and draws for me to check-raise very effectively. It’s possible that check-raising some hands could make sense here but for the most part giving a free card is better. I am beat so often on the flop that check- raising will often hurt me. 


As you improve and get more aggressive, don’t start recklessly raising just because giving free cards is risky. When you get better of course you will raise more with random bluffs (that have equity) and be much more comfortable getting all-in more and more, but you can’t get too reckless.

Remember, that free card you gave may have saved you money if you have a non-nutted hand. It’s of course bad to get the turn or river card you don’t want, but you’re against a range of hands and he may have already had you beat. Keep that in mind when you have to make a fold that you really hate doing. 

For more strategy content, check out PokerPlayer magazine, available on iTunes here. 

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