While aggression is a key part of a winning poker player strategy, knowing when to take a free card is just as important. Allowing a card to come for free, either to trap an opponent or realize some of your equity will make you a lot of money on turns and rivers.
A free card or free flop can be gotten by either checking behind when in position, or checking with the intent to check-raise if we're out of position.
What Is a Free Card in Poker
A free card, or a free flop, is when you get to see the next card(s) without having to invest any extra chips. It occurs when you are in the big blind and the action limps round to you or when you check-in position post-flop.
When To Make a Free Card Play
A 'free card play' is made when you're out of position, ideally heads up, and are looking to try and get a free card with your draw but will combat a bet from your opponent with a check-raise, followed by a check on the turn. This allows you to either see the turn for free or if you check-raise and check the turn you're likely to see the river for free as your opponent will be worried about a second check-raise.
This play is often made with a draw as it allows you to either hit your card for free on the turn or potentially get your opponent to fold a better hand if you check-raise versus a bet. Even when your check-raise gets called some of the time you hit your draw on the turn and if we check we're likely to get a free river.
Benefits & Risks of a Free Card Play
There are positives and negatives to using the 'free card play' which you should be aware of when deciding whether or not to go for it in-game.
Benefits to using a free card play in poker include:
- Get to realize your equity when it goes check/check.
- Opportunity to win the pot if you check-raise versus a bet.
- Provides balance for when we want to check-raise our strong hands.
- The threat of the check-raise allows us to realize more equity when we check marginal hands.
On the other hands, free cards and free flops do com with some drawbacks:
- There is a danger of getting 3bet and having to fold our draw.
- When flop checks though we don't build the pot for when we hit our draw.
- Allows opponents to realize equity with marginal hands that may fold to a bet.
- If our check-raise is called, playing turns can be difficult if we miss our draw.
How To Play a Free Card in Texas Hold'em
There are a couple of scenarios based around getting/giving free cards in Texas Hold'em so let's look at those in more detail.
Limped Pots In The Big Blind
You'll commonly find yourself in these scenarios when playing live games or micro stakes online.
When we're in the big blind pre-flop, and the action has limped to us, we need to decide if we want to raise or take a free flop. When players limp, they normally limp to call a raise unless they're particularly weak, so given we're likely to see a flop we want to make sure we're raising a strong, value-heavy range.
With our weak/marginal hands we benefit greatly from checking and seeing the flop for free as we get to realize a good amount of our equity with a hand we would have likely folded to a raise.
Once we get to the flop with these marginal hands we mustn't overplay them if we make a pair with a hand such ason as we can easily be dominated by a weaker player limping a hand like .
It's wise to proceed with caution when playing limped pots unless you have a very strong hand as ranges aren't as well defined as they are in raised pots. There's an old saying among poker players, "Don't go broke in a limped pot". When ranges are wide and undefined it's so much easier for players to have flopped the nuts or a hard to see two pair, so if you're putting a lot of money in post-flop in a limped pot it should be with a very strong hand.
Getting A Free Card (Free Card Play)
This is where we have a draw and are looking to get a free card to make our draw without having to put chips into the pot.
The free card play will always start with a check, we're looking to try and get a free card so starting with a bet would be counterproductive!
We're hoping our opponent will check back and we'll get the opportunity to hit our draw on the turn for free, but if our opponent does bet we need to move onto the second part of the play.
If our opponent does bet, we have a great opportunity to apply a lot of pressure by executing a check-raise. By doing this we can sometimes get a better hand than ours to fold which is a great result.
Sometimes our check-raise will be called and then we can extend our free card play by checking the turn. After we've check-raised the flop our opponent may be more wary of betting, fearing another check-raise, which will allow us to get a free card on the turn.
However, sometimes our opponent won't call or fold but will instead take the third option.
If we face a re-raise after our check-raise then we have a pretty good idea that our opponent has a very strong hand. At this point, it's a matter of pot odds and potentially implied odds depending on our draw. If we have the odds to continue it's definitely worth it as we're likely to win a big pot when we hit our hand.
Giving A Free Card (Trapping Your Opponent)
Sometimes we want to give a free card if we have the board crushed, in order for our opponent to improve to a hand that will pay us off on later streets.
An example of this slow play would be if we have on . There are far fewer Kx combos our opponent can have when we hold two of the kings so this would be a good spot to check and hope our opponent hits a pair that can call our bets on the turn and river.
If we check out of position then there's a chance our opponent will bet into us and we have to decide whether to call or raise. We want to be raising more on boards where our hand is more vulnerable or there's more possibility for our opponent to also have a strong hand.
An example of this would be if we were holdingon . Our hand is quite vulnerable on this board as there is a flush draw, better straight draw and the board could pair giving our opponents a potential full house. There are also lots of hands our opponent can have that will call our raise such as top pair, two pair, sets, and draws so we can get plenty of value with a raise.
However, a hand likeon isn't vulnerable at all so we don't have to worry about being outdrawn. There are also far fewer combos of hands that our opponent could call a check-raise with, so the best play would be to call the flop and evaluate what our opponent does on the turn.
If we check back in position and we see our opponent check the turn we need to make sure we start betting for value. It may be tempting to check again and hope our opponent starts betting on the river but with our strong hands, we want to get as much value as possible. We'll make more money in the long run by betting the turn and setting up a bigger pot on the river than by checking again on the turn.
If we're out of position we have to react more to what our opponent does. If they check then we can bet the river for value. If they bet then we need to decide whether we call or raise. This will come down to hand reading and how strong you think your opponent is, the stronger they are the more likely they are to call your raise.
Mixing up your game and utilizing the free card play in Texas Hold'em is a great way to keep your opponents guessing, and make you harder to read.