What does fold mean in poker?

Poker.Org Staff
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Last updated: August 16, 2022 2:22 pm EDT

What does fold mean in poker? That’s a simple answer on the surface, but there’s far more to this question. We’ll give you both the easy answer and the deeper one in this article. First, the easy:

Folding simply means to let go of your cards and surrender the pot to another player. This applies to all forms of poker, not just Texas hold’em. To surrender your cards, or to fold them, simply toss them face-down into the “muck,” a term used for the pile of cards that are no longer in play. That term is why some refer to folding a hand as “mucking your hand” or “mucking your cards.” You can also verbally announce “fold,” which is a binding comment, and then throw your cards into the muck.

The moment you toss your cards in the muck, your hand is dead and you can no longer win the pot. If the community cards then come out advantageous to your hand, you can’t ask the dealer to give back your cards, unfortunately. Never have what’s called “fold remorse,” which is when a player gets upset over folding because they would have ended up hitting a big hand. You can’t predict which cards will come out, so focus on making the right long-term decisions, not on the hands you missed out on.

When to fold

Speaking of making the right moves, knowing how to fold and what folding means is the easy part. Knowing when to fold can sometimes be difficult. But if you aren’t willing to fold your hand at the right time, you’ll lose money.

Be flexible and keep a clear head

The first rule of thumb you should follow is never to get married to any hand. That includes pocket aces, the best starting hand in Texas hold’em. One thing you’ll quickly learn as you gain some playing experience is that the best pre-flop hand doesn’t always win. In fact, pocket aces only win about nine times out of 10 against any random hand, meaning they’ll lose 10 out of every 100 times you’re dealt them, on average.

Folding during the flop, turn, and river

When the flop, turn, and river get a bit dicey for your hand (i.e. four cards to a flush out there), don’t be stubborn with your hand. It’s okay to fold big hands from time to time if your hand is vulnerable.

Many poker players think they need to wait until later in the game to fold. However, if you can save yourself some money in a cash game, it’s a good idea to fold earlier if things look dire.

If you waited until the river and you still haven’t folded, you may as well stick it out. After all, you may just scare your opponent into folding their poker hand.

Folding during the pre-flop

Another time to fold is pre-flop when you have a mediocre starting hand such as 7-2, 2-3, 10-4, J-5, etc. You can’t lose money you don’t put into the pot. That’s a motto you should live by. Lousy pre-flop hands rarely lead to big wins. When you have one of these hands, just fold before you ever put chips into the pot. You’ll save yourself money.

Understand the odds

One other instance when you should just muck your cards is when you don’t connect with the board and don’t have any draws. Let’s say you have J-10 off-suit and the flop comes out 4-7-K. You have nothing but jack-high, and only a backdoor straight draw, which is less than 5% to hit. Unless you have a good read on your opponent who bet out, and are confident he’s bluffing, just fold your hand. There’s no reason to put more chips into the pot with a hand that has very little chance of winning.

Does that seem like Greek to you? Let’s put it more simply: if your hand is terrible and you’ve got nothing, and little hope of drawing something, fold.

Which hands should you always fold?

When playing Texas Hold’em, there’s a range of hands that you’d be wise to fold before betting. These cards will rarely amount to a strong hand, so you’re better off bowing out and saving your money for the next hand.

Unless your hole cards include a pair, or a suited ace, you should always fold a hand with a card of six or less. When it comes to sevens, eights, or nines, unless you have a pair, a suited ace, or consecutive suited cards, you should also consider folding.

Some players, hoping for a straight flush, like to hold on to nines if they also have a suited face card.

When you shouldn’t fold

Folding a hand means to surrender the pot, which means you can’t win money in that hand. It’s far more enjoyable to play a hand with the chance of scooping some chips. And there are plenty of instances where you absolutely should refrain from folding your cards.

The pre-flop

One of those times is pre-flop when you have a premium hand such as pocket aces, kings, queens, or jacks, or a hand such as A-K, A-Q, and certain other pocket pairs depending on the situation. In games like Omaha hold’em, starting hands with a pair and double-suited cards should almost never be folded, at least until the flop. You’re going to make more money by playing premium starting hands, so don’t fold them.

The flop, turn, or river

You also shouldn’t fold when you connect heavily to the flop, turn, and river. So, if you’re holding A-K and the flop comes out A-K-3, it would be unwise to fold to a bet in this spot. You have top two-pair, which is a monster hand in Texas hold’em. As a matter of fact, not only should you not fold, you should probably raise the bet.

The showdown

One last situation in which folding would be a poor decision is at a showdown before you’ve seen your opponent’s cards. Even if your hand isn’t all that strong, you just never know, it could be good. Don’t assume your opponent has you beat until you’ve seen their cards. If you throw your cards face-down in the muck before the other players have shown their hands, you automatically lose because, as we mentioned before, your hand is dead immediately after it hits the muck.

There are situations where one player will say they have a certain hand (for example, a flush) before actually showing their cards, and the other player will just snap-fold. But what if the other player was lying or misread their hand? You may have just lost out on the pot because you were too impatient to wait until your opponent showed their cards.

Know your opponent

Most poker players either fold too frequently at the poker table, or they don’t fold frequently enough. While it’s important to understand which category you fall under, you also want to assess your opponent’s behavior.

Beginners usually haven’t developed their poker strategy yet and are more hopeful they’ll get unlikely connectors to turn a weak starting hand into a stronger one. If you notice that your opponent rarely folds with a weak hand, then you’d be wise to stick it out even with a marginal hand. 

If your opponent folds a lot of the time, then they’re clearly waiting for the best hand possible and you can bluff them out of the game more easily. A common move like a check-raise may be enough to scare them into folding.

Try to assess your opponent before deciding on something drastic like going all in or folding. The more you can gauge their gameplay techniques, the better off you’ll be.

The takeaway

Rather than immediately jumping into real-money games, new poker players should consider practicing in friendly games with low stakes. Experience is crucial for navigating all the poker rules effectively while learning how to play weak or strong hands.

The more time you spend in a poker room, the better. Study up on poker news and watch televised poker tournaments to see how experienced players strategically bet and fold. Look for behavioral patterns and try to understand why players make the decisions they do about folding.

Remember that it’s better to be reserved about folding when playing in a poker tournament so you can make your chips last as long as possible.

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