The Gap Concept and Fold Equity

Poker GapThroughout this guide you will have heard me constantly go on about fold equity and we have touched upon it a few times.

In this article I want to discuss it in a bit more depth as it is of such importance in a poker tournament.

I also want to introduce the Poker Gap Concept which is very much related to fold equity and becomes more and more apparent as you progress into the middle and late stages of a tournament.

Fold Equity

When you play poker there are two ways to win a hand, either you get to the showdown versus one or more opponents and show the best hand, or you make a bet which no opponent calls.

That is what makes poker such an interesting game once you realise that you don’t actually need the best hand in order to win a pot.

Now a lot of players when they realise this think “Great! I’m just going to bluff every hand now”. Well that is not the way to do it and not the real benefit I’m trying to teach you here. Sure, well timed bluffing in the correct situations plays a part for a good poker tournament player, but the concept of fold equity is so much more important.

Fold Equity is the word for the added value that you get when you are the aggressor in a hand and making the bet. By making this bet you are giving yourself the chance to win the hand by your opponent folding.

Illustration of Fold Equity

To try and illustrate this lets look at a theoretical example. Lets say you are playing a hand and you happened to know that  you were a 60% favourite to win the hand versus your opponent. So in this situation if you both just checked throughout the whole hand and saw all 5 cards to the river then you would win 6 out of 10 times and your opponent would win 4 out of 10 times.

Now lets say that if you were to make a bet after the flop then there is a 30% chance that your opponent hasn’t hit anything and would just fold to your bet. Now 3 times out of 10 you win the hand by your opponent folding. The remaining 7 times would be won 60% by you with the best hand so 4 times out of 7 and your opponent would win the other 3 times out of 7. So now if you add these up, by betting you have increased your chances of winning the hand to 7 out of 10 and reduced your opponents chances to 3 out of 10.

A pretty crude example, but it illustrates the point well. By being the aggressor and making a bet, you have added fold equity into your chances of winning the hand and increased it from 60% to 70%.

Folding to Maintain Fold Equity

When you are folding you are minimizing your risk because your chip stack stays the same. A secondary effect of this is that you maintain your future fold equity for when you need it.  Even when you fold in the small or big blind to a raise you are preserving fold equity.

Fold equity refers to your chances of causing your opponent to fold so it stands to reason that the less chips you have the less fold equity you have.

By folding and preserving your stack means maintaining or even increasing your fold equity because other stacks are decreasing in size.  A simple example would be if your opponent has 2,000 in chips and you have 1,000, your opponent has to risk 50% of his stack to call an all in from you, a hefty chunk. Now lets say you just had 100 chips, suddenly your fold equity is pretty useless as now it is only 10% of his stack and a much less intimidating decision for him.  The less chips you have decreases the chances / percentages of your opponent folding.

Look at hands that will get you into trouble and discard them quickly.  If you play A-x suited or other speculative hands as I do you have to learn to fold if you don’t hit the flop and save the chips you would of spent chasing on the turn and river for your fold equity.

The Poker Gap Concept

The Gap concept states that a player needs a better hand to call a raise with than to make the bet/raise themselves. Noted poker author David Sklansky first introduced this concept many years ago.

The gap between the kind of hand you need to open a pot with and what you need to call with increases as the tournament goes from the early stages to the late stages. You don’t even notice the gap to much early on in the tournament as you get a lot of players playing junk hands or certainly less than premium hands. A lot of these players are usually eliminated as the tournament goes on.

You really start to notice this gap more and more as you start to approach the money bubble. At this stage if a player opens a pot with a raise holding A-10 for example, it is likely that opponents will fold better hands than he holds such as A-J maybe even A-Q.

Of course this all depends on your read of other players and their relative chip stacks. Of course a short stack will push with a lesser hand like K-J for example. There are always exceptions to poker concepts in general and the gap concept is no different.

Remember that poker is very much a situational game. You can have the same cards ten times and play them differently ten times. There are no hard and fast rules as to how to play. There is no ‘right’ way to play. There is only your way and that way should be constantly fine tuned as you understand more and more about poker.

Gap Concept + Fold Equity

So, now you understand each of the concepts, hopefully you can see how these combine and play a big part in the middle stages of a tournament. You need to maintain fold equity for as long as possible. If that means that you have to change gears and use a riskier strategy and make an earlier move with a weaker hand, then that is what you must do.

You cannot afford to let your fold equity get so low, that all you are left with is playing an all in situation with a nothing hand, because you have been forced into a corner and ran out of time.

You have to take control much earlier than this occurs and take the extra odds that fold equity and the gap concept gives you to win a hand. A successful player in poker is normally the aggressive player who takes full advantage of these concepts.

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