The Free Card Play
The free card is a term used in poker for when you or your opponent are able to see the next card without having to call a bet. For example, if you and your opponent are in a pot and you are first to act, by checking you are giving your opponent the opportunity to see a "free card". There are two main reasons for using the "free card" in your game.
- To save more money when on a draw
- To extract more money from your opponents.
The free card play.
A free card play can be made to prevent our opponent from betting in to us on the turn, which will save us more money than if we were to call a bet on the flop and another bet on the turn to see the river.
- When to make a free card play.
- You should ideally be heads-up against an opponent (2 or more opponents makes it trickier).
- You should be first to act.
- You should have a strong drawing hand.
In this example we have the nut flush draw, and we are heads up with our opponent. We are also first to act.
Free card plays can prove to be very successful if you hold a drawing hand (like a straight or flush draw).
This is the perfect situation in which we can make a free card play. This can be done by checking this flop when we are first to act. Now one of two things will happen:
- Our opponent will bet.
- Our opponent will check behind us.
The optimum play from our point of view would be for our opponent to check, as then we would be getting our free card on the flop. But if our opponent bets, when the action comes back to us we should re-raise.
By using the check-raise it disguises the strength of our hand and gives us a strong opportunity to take a free card on the turn if our opponent calls the re-raise. When the turn card comes, and you check once again, our opponent is less likely to bet because of our aggression on the flop. However if they re-raise once again on the flop we can be sure they have a strong hand and we should only call the bet if we are getting correct pot odds for the draw.
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This should save us money because if we called the bet on the flop, our opponent could easily put us on a drawing hand and overcharge us on the next round of betting to see the next card.
- Advantages of the free card play.
- It allows us to save money on future betting rounds.
- It disguises the strength of our hand.
- It gives us the opportunity to take down the pot on the flop.
Giving a free card.
In other situations we would want to allow our opponents to have a free card. However, this would not be for the same reasons as above. Let's take the following hand as an example:
Here we have a dream flop; we are currently holding the nuts and there are no straight or flush draws. However, if you were to bet this hand it is doubtful that any opponent would call. This is because it is unlikely our opponent would have a King, and probably would not call a raise with a 7 or a 2. If we are last to act we can check and allow our opponent to see the turn for free.
If you have the deck crippled, it is very unlikely that you are going to get any money from your opponent on the flop.
We are hoping that a card will come down to improve their hand and allow us to take money off of them on future betting rounds. In addition, by checking we are once again disguising the strength of our hand. Unlike in the previous situation where we check raised to show strength when we did not have a hand, in this situation we are trying to win extra money from the hand through deception.
Even if the next card does not help our opponent, we are now giving them the opportunity to bluff by showing weakness.
Now after we check, what should we do on the next betting round?
If the turn comes…
…then we should definitely bet or re-raise when last to act. We still have the nuts but we would now want to protect it from any potential flushes or straights.
Don't forget to bet the turn. The only way to build the pot is by betting or raising, so don't be afraid to bet out. If your opponent folds, it's very doubtful that you would have got any money from them on the river anyway.
In most situations you should bet on the turn to protect the hand you have. This is because it is your last opportunity to extract money from your opponent if they are on a draw and gain an extra round of bets from them if they have a half decent hand. If your opponent does fold then you have to accept that you probably would not have made much money from the hand no matter how you played it.
Deciding whether or not to give a free card.
In some spots, it is not going to be a good idea to give a free card to our opponent. Ask yourself this question when deciding whether or not to give your opponent the free card:
"Am I going to make more money from my opponent by giving them a free card, or am I going to lose more money?"
If you feel that you are giving your opponent the opportunity to catch up with you and make a better hand by giving them a free card, then you definitely should not be allowing them to see the turn for free. If there is a chance that the turn could give them the winning hand, you should be betting out and making them pay.
Don't give a free card to an opponent if that card could give them a better hand than you.
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There is no room to try and get clever if your opponent has the opportunity to make a better hand than you, so leave the free card play for when your opponent is a long way behind in terms of hand strength.
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