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Folding Your Way To Victory

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Oct 05, 2022


Jonathan Little If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out Jonathan Little’s elite training site at

Many players think that the goal of a poker tournament is to win the tournament, but assuming you care about money, your goal should instead be to make the most profitable play possible. Sometimes, that will lead to you winning the tournament less often.

To illustrate this concept, I will use a hand from a $5,000 buy-in tournament I played.
With blinds at 400-800 with an 800 big blind ante early in the event, I raised to 2,000 out of my 100,000-stack from first position at an eight-handed table with ADiamond Suit QClub Suit.

While you should make a point to play snugly from early position, A-Q is definitely strong enough to raise, especially if you want to have a loose image that will make it easier to get paid off in large pots later in the event.

A 50-year-old player with 30,000 chips called from middle position. Then an excellent, loose-aggressive kid three-bet to 7,800 out of his 85,000 stack from the small blind.

When the small blind (or big blind) three-bets against a first position raiser, it is usually a sign of extreme strength because the first position raiser should have a strong range. Also, the players in the blinds will usually elect to call, given they either are or are close to, closing the action.

However, my opponent in the small blind is a loose-aggressive player, which means he is likely capable of bluffing in this situation some portion of the time. That said, I did not expect him to get too out of line, given I generally play a tight range from early position that is not too susceptible to being bluffed. I was also concerned that the 50-year-old caller could have a premium hand that he did not plan to fold.

All of this taken into consideration, calling doesn’t seem like a great option because I could be crushed by the small blind and the 50-year-old caller may also have a strong hand. Calling will result in me playing a large pot against two ranges, one of which should be strong. Against a range of the best hands, A-A through 10-10, A-K, and A-Q, my A-Q only has 34% equity, which is quite poor. If you add another player to the mix, even if he has a relatively wide range including suited connectors and small pairs, A-Q only has 25% equity.

Since there would then be three players in the pot, I would like to have at least 33% equity to break even, not accounting for my poor position. In general, when significant money goes into the pot (as it clearly is likely to in this situation), you want to have a reasonable amount of equity, assuming you are not deep stacked such that you can expect to win a huge amount of chips when you happen to get lucky to flop a premium hand.

Four-betting also does not seem like a good play for the same reasons, although A-Q is a decent bluffing candidate due to having two extremely relevant blockers. Making it something like 22,000 with the intention of calling the 50-year-old’s all-in and folding to the small blind’s all-in would be a viable play, but when the 50-year-old happens to be trapping, I double him up every time.

All of this analysis led me to make a snug fold. Much to my surprise, the 50-year-old player instantly went all-in with 8-8 and the loose, aggressive kid called off with A-K.

Fortunately for me, I sidestepped a setup situation where if I got involved, I would have invested a significant amount of money with a hand that was severely dominated.

While I typically do not look to make big folds especially when I have an aggressive image, from time to time, folding is the prudent play that will ensure you stay in the tournament and have additional profitable opportunities to capitalize on. ♠

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at