Fold equity can seem like a rather nuanced poker strategy, but in reality, it is quite straight-forward. Fold equity simply refers to what you, as a player, stand to gain by an opponent folding under your bets. Fold equity is often not a consideration until your stack starts dwindling and you need to start calculating specifics to help you stay safely in the game.
Before we look further into fold equity, let’s first understand that equity, as it exists in poker, is not exactly the same equity we think about in legal context. Poker equity refers to a player's respective share of the pot based on his or her chances of winning long-term. Thus, fold equity applies to a player’s share of the pot when that player’s bets persuade the competition to fold.
Like anything in poker, calculating fold equity is part reliant on math and part reliant on less static variables - in this case, your opponent. Is your opponent a strong player, or a weaker player who folds under aggressive betting? While you can quite easily determine the exact amount of your equity once your competition folds, it is a little trickier to predict human nature. Tricky, but hardly a lost cause. You can still use your observations to help you calculate the human-element of your fold equity.
Let’s look at an example:
The Human Element of Fold Equity
Dave is playing against Susan, an opponent who generally folds under pressure. Based on his experience, he’d say this happens about 85% of the time. Dave is short-stacked, but there are still draws ahead. While he might normally check, Susan’s track record leads him to believe he stands a good chance of getting her to fold to a solid bet.
You can calculate the second part of the formula by determining the total current pot (i.e. pre-raise) and subtracting your equity in the post-raise pot in the event your opponent(s) do actually call. Due to the fact the pot post-raise will be larger than the pre-raise pot, the fold equity could be positive as well as negative.
An example to illuminate the equation:
Dave holds A♣ 8♥ and is up against one other opponent, Susan. She has a 4♥ 7♦. The flop comes down with 10♠ 4♣ J♦.
At this point in the game, Dave and Susan hold pot equity of 26.26% and 73.74% respectively. Essentially, this means that if the players simply showed their hands and the turn and river cards were dealt, Dave would have a 26% chance of winning and Susan would have a 74% chance.
As it stands, Susan’s hand is pretty average (bottom pair with a weak kicker) and since she doesn't know what combination of cards Dave could be holding, let’s say she has a 85% chance of folding if confronted with a hefty bet. (We’re calculating this percentage based on her pre-determined playing style.)
With this in mind, Dave’s fold equity would be 62.68% (i.e. 85% * 73.74%). As a result, if Dave bets his hand equity will be 16.46% (26.26% * 62.68%). Of course, Dave can’t be sure his equity will actually benefit from this move because he cannot see his opponents cards.
In the end, calculating fold equity is a best guess scenario peppered with some solid math to back it up. It is definitely a worthwhile strategy to employ when it comes down to the crunch since it can help make informed, logical decisions and diminish the reliance of luck.