" I had a pair of aces, and the flop came AJ2, then an 8, then a 3. I just can't believe he played to the river with 45. I swear this internet poker is rigged."
This may sound familiar as the kind of bad beat story you often hear in an online or casino tournament. An unlucky hand indeed, but before we have any sympathy with our man with cracked aces, we need to know the missing information in his story. Did he commit the mortal sin- did he give away free or cheap cards?
The idea of giving a free card extends beyond the obvious, to actually any situation where you are ahead in the hand, and fail to make a bet or raise. Some of these situations are of course unavoidable, as you may be ahead with a very marginal hand, but even on these hands, you have technically made a poker mistake.
In technical terms, you have given a cheap card when your bet is small enough that the other player is getting the correct odds to draw at his hand.
Why is this such a sin?
In basic terms, you can view a poker hand as a series of bets between you and your opponent. Just as you must correctly choose which bets to accept, you must offer bets to your opponent that are in your favour, not his. The theory is this:
If you make a bet which does not offer your opponent odds to call, you win both ways. He either folds and you pick up the pot, or he calls without having the correct odds to do so.
How do people give free cards, and how can I avoid it?
• A very common mistake is that a player flops a very big hand, and fails to bet it properly. There are of course some situations where the slow-play works a treat. Your opponent may bet and trap himself, or sometimes the hand you flop is so big that you can give a free card without risk. In general, however, it is right to bet these big hands properly. This protects you from all the possible draws your opponent may have, and the danger of the fact that you do not know what he is drawing to.
• Remember, even if you flop a strong hand like a set, there are always a number of draws on the flop to hands that will beat you. If you flop even a set of aces on a board of A87 with two spades, then any hand with two spades or any J10, J9, 109, 106, 96, 95, 65, 64 or 54 are one free card away from outdrawing you.
• In fact, a very good rule to implement is to never slow play any hand where there are two of the same suit on the board- it's just too dangerous.
• The biggest reason to bet your hand properly is of course to get money into the pot. It is always so disappointing to flop a big hand and lose your opponent- to make cheaper or fewer bets may guarantee that you win a small pot. However, betting big from the start gives you the chance of winning a massive pot, and you will actually come out better in the long run if you take the risk of losing your opponent.
• Look again at the example where we flop a set of aces on the board of AJ2. Our opponent holds 45 for a gutshot straight draw. In this situation, there is actually no value to be had at all from making small bets against our opponent's hand, as he has nothing but a draw. In fact the right thing to do is to make a bet big enough that he cannot call with his gutshot.
• The trickiest occasion to avoid giving a free card is when you happen to be ahead, but have a marginal hand. One of the marks of an expert player is that he can sniff out these spots, and deny the opponent a chance to regain the lead in the pot.
• One very sound technique in this respect is to combine getting your opponent off the drawing hand with bluffing him off some hands that are beating you with a big bet. An example would be if you hold AK on a board of Q92. A big bet will not only secure you the pot if your opponent holds a weaker hand than you, but it may well make him fold a low pocket pair, or a small pair on board.
Getting a Free Card
Of course, if we reverse the situation and give ourselves the drawing hand, we are interested in getting cheap and free cards. A technique some players use is this:
• If you are in position (last to act) with a good drawing hand, raise your opponent's bet on the flop. He ideally will pass here, but if he does call and check the turn, you can check behind and have secured a free card.
Of course, this is a very risky play. If your opponent instead re-raises on the flop, you have achieved the opposite effect, and made things very expensive for your draw. This move is best executed when your sense your opponent's hand is either weak enough to pass, or marginal enough that he will slow down in the pot.
There is one common "technique" your may see your opponents using in live play, if they are looking for a free card. They grab hold of their chips when the action is on you, in an attempt to stop you from betting. Look out for this "tell" from opponents, and avoid the temptation to use it yourself.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you deposit