How to make hero folds and play like a poker god

Making big folds in the right spots is just as important as any skill in poker. Ross Jarvis explains how to fold your way to victory

Nobody likes to fold. We don’t play poker to muck hand after hand. We want excitement, big pots, kamikaze bluffs and superhero calls with third pair! However, if you’re serious about taking the step from recreational player to consistently printing money at the tables then you have to embrace the art of the hero fold.

Making a correct fold in a tough spot saves you money that you would otherwise have lost, and money saved is just as important as money won in the long run. Any competent player can fold a marginal hand that is clearly beat, but it takes a special understanding of the game to make a real hero fold.

So what is a hero fold? It is when you have a very strong hand but feel like your opponent has you beat. It could be that you hold a Queen-high flush and fear the nut flush, or it could even be folding pocket Kings preflop because you just know your opponent has Aces. Hero folds should be made sparingly as you must have a lot of information on your opponent from various sources, such as betting patterns or even live tells, in order to not make the ‘standard’ call.

We are going to look at some tricky situations and help you deduce the occasions when all may not be as glorious as it seems…

Preflop heroes

When you play in aggressive six-max cash games or you’re late in a tournament (and stacks have got shallow) you should very rarely fold A-K, Q-Q or K-K preflop. Unusual circumstances can arise though where this is the right play. For example, let’s say you’re playing a six-max $1/$2 cash game online and a tight player raises under the gun. A nit then three-bets him UTG+1 before you make a four-bet from the big blind with K-K. Now both players move all-in before the action gets back to you.

Because of the player tendencies (both tight), the positions at the table and the extreme strength that your original four-bet showed you should fold. It’s incredibly likely one of them has A-A. As you can see, it takes a lot of separate variables to come into play for you to consider folding K-K.

A much more common scenario where you may have to consider making a big fold will be when you hold Q-Q or A-K. If you’re playing online you should be using tracking software and be aware of your opponents’ three-bet and four-bet percentages. If both are very low then you can fold to a four-bet and feel confident you have made the right decision. This is especially true when holding A-K as these sort of predictable, passive players are simply unwilling to either four-bet bluff or get all-in with worse Ace-x type hands. Therefore, your best case scenario will be to get the money in as a slight dog in a race, which is never good.

Folding Q-Q is more complicated as even poor players will sometimes play A-K aggressively preflop. It’s down to you to use your judgement in these situations. A huge bet-sizing tell weaker players make is to do a tiny five-bet instead of moving all-in, whenever they hold A-A. If you ever see this from a recreational player then make sure you consider folding any hand you have except Aces!

Quite frankly, in online MTTs where relative stacks are below 30BBs you should never be folding J-J or better preflop. Again, the only time to consider it is if you see your opponents making very suspicious small bets. In live tournaments, however, you can grasp a much better read on your opponents preflop. You will be able to pick this up easier if that player is the type to only ever three-bet A-A and K-K or if they are aggressive with a wider range of hands. As such, you can sometimes fold relative monsters such as A-Q, T-T and so on that you would usually love to get it all-in with.

Postflop heroes

Knowing when to make a tough fold postflop requires a solid appreciation of hand reading and ranges, along with a lot of discipline. I played a hand this month that included a lot of factors you should look for when considering a hero fold.

In a six-max $2/$4 cash game the table fish raised to $12 under the gun, an average reg called and so did I on the button with 8-6. The flop was A-Q-T, the fish bet $28, the reg called and I called behind with my flush draw. It’s possible that my flush draw is dominated on this flop but, with the board completely smashing the fish’s UTG opening range I felt quite confident that I’d be able to stack him a lot of the time if a heart came on the turn.

The turn was the 3, giving me a flush. The fish checked and now the reg bet $90 into the $126 pot. Under most circumstances I’d be quite happy to raise and just get the money in. After all, it’s not generally a good idea to fold flushes in a six-max cash game! However, the fact that this reg was betting so strong in a multi-way pot with a fish (who is still likely to call) severely reduced the chances that he would be bluffing.

Once we’ve deduced the reg’s range is weighted towards value hands we can see that our eight-high flush isn’t doing too well. We beat his sets, straights and two pairs but then he wouldn’t always be betting these. That leaves only his flushes, many of which we lose to.

I just called the turn, the fish folded and now the reg bet $225 on the 2 river into the $306 pot. With my hand no more than a bluff catcher at this point, it’s one of those spots where I have to make the hero fold. He may sometimes have misunderstood my range and be value betting a straight but those times are far outnumbered by the times he has a higher flush. His large bet sizing is very indicative of a strong hand too as it’s exactly the bet size he should make if he thinks I have a lower flush. I folded and felt pretty good about it.

Heroic checklist

When considering a hero fold there are more generalised factors you must always consider. First, a good rule of thumb in poker is that the more players in a pot the more straightforward people play. In other words, they give up with their air and value bet their big hands.

So if the pot is multi-way and you have a strong non-nut hand there is a higher chance it is no longer good. Also, to make a call in a big pot your hand has to be able to beat some of your opponent’s value range (that they think is ahead) or there has to be a decent chance they are bluffing. If neither of these conditions exist you should consider folding.

Most important of all is you should rarely fold a strong hand versus a fish. This may seem counter-intuitive but a major leak fish have is to perceive their hand as stronger than it really is. For example, a fish may value bet A-T on an 8-9-T-J-T board simply because they have trips and view it as strong when it really isn’t in this circumstance.

Making hero folds is not going to fill you with joy. No matter how strong your read is you can never be 100% sure that your big fold was correct (unless you sweet talk your foes in the chatbox afterwards) but you must not let this sense of self-doubt ever affect your game. All the best players make mistakes but the decisions they make are the most informed available to them at the time.

The aim of this introductory guide to hero folds is not to get you to lay down massive hands whenever there’s a small chance you are beat. Instead it is to remind your poker brain that no situations are completely standardised and no hands should be played on auto-pilot. By just entertaining the notion that you may be losing in a spot where before you would have snap-called it shows that your hand reading skills, and your overall game, are developing.

Once we reach this point of self-awareness you’ll find that the decisions you make about whether to call or make a tough fold get much more accurate.

Hero fold gone wrong

In this hand from the High Stakes Poker TV show Daniel Negreanu attempts to look like a hero and gets it wrong. Todd Brunson raises to $1,500 with J-8, Sammy Farha calls from the small blind with K-5 as does Negreanu with A-9.

The 5-J-5 flop gives Farha trips, but is checked around. Sammy overbets $10,000 into the 9 turn, and Negreanu calls behind with a pair and flush draw. Brunson also makes a very loose call with top pair. The Q river brings in Negreanu’s nut flush. Sammy checks, Negreanu then inexplicably checks.

At this point Brunson decides to bluff bet $21,000. Farha folds and, weirdly, Negreanu starts persuading himself that Brunson must have J-J for a flopped full house. While Todd may have played that hand in this fashion he’s equally likely to have raised the turn in an attempt to bloat the pot, especially with a player like Sammy in the hand who doesn’t often fold.

Also, surely the main reason for Negreanu checking was to control the size of the pot in case Brunson had J-J, giving him an easy check-call. Brunson could also be betting a King or Jack-high flush for value. Negreanu overthinks the hand and makes an incorrect hero fold. A better line would be to bet the river and fold to a raise. If Brunson is good enough to bluff in that spot then he deserves the pot.

Hero fold gone right

Roberto Romanello gives a folding masterclass in this hand from the 2008 WSOP Main Event. Romanello, amateur Greg Geller and Mike Matusow see the A-J-K flop holding J-J, K-K and 9-9 respectively.

It gets checked around to the T turn where everyone checks once more. The T river pairs the board and Romanello bets full pot with his full house. Geller re-raises to 6,000 and Matusow folds before Romanello asks Geller: ‘Will you show if I pass?’ Geller warns says no and briefly stands-up before quickly saying ‘OK, I’ll show’. It’s all Romanello needed to hear. He makes the fold and Matusow flips out saying: ‘How can you fold that?’.

So how did PokerPlayer’s own Romanello make this great laydown? It comes down to a mix of poor play from Geller and great physical reads from Roberto. If Geller just bets the flop then Romanello is certain to pay him off on at least two streets and there’s also a possibility they could get all-in on the flop.

By checking he reveals his hand to be either a monster or complete air. By the time they get to the river and Geller makes a re-raise Romanello can be fairly sure he is not bluffing. Of the value hands that make this raise A-A, K-K and T-T beat him whereas he beats A-T, K-T and J-T (which may just call).

It’s a fairly even decision but Geller’s inexperienced speech play leaves Romanello to believe he’s so strong that his hand is now often behind.

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