When to Use the Free Card Play

The free card play is most effective in passive games. The premise of the play is that your opponents will behave in a predictable and passive way if you raise the flop. The more likely your opponents are to just call your raise and to check to you on the turn, the more frequently you should attempt a free card play.

For instance, if you could be totally certain that your free card play would succeed (your opponents will always just call your flop raise and check the turn), you should raise virtually every time you have a draw that you would call with. If your draw is worth seeing one card for one small bet, it is almost always worth seeing two cards for two small bets.65

As the game gets more aggressive, you should become more selective with your free card attempts. When you raise for a free card, you risk being reraised, or called, and then bet into on the turn. With strong draws like flush draws and quality open-ended straight draws, this prospect should not concern you. Since these draws come in so often, you can often raise them for value; getting a free card on the turn is just a bonus. But when you hold a weak draw like bottom pair or a gutshot, you cannot raise with impunity. You must weigh the chance that your play will succeed against the chance that it will backfire. Paying three bets to see the turn when you could have paid only one is expensive. Even paying two bets on the flop is bad if someone calls, but bets into you on the turn.

Against passive players feel free to try free card plays with these weak draws. Your opponents will check the turn often

65 There is a minor exception that involves hands with backdoor draws. With these hands you can be drawing live on the flop, but drawing dead on the turn most of the time (when you do not pick up your draw). For a backdoor draw, seeing fourth street is more valuable than seeing fifth street, so with a weak enough hand, you might want to sec the turn for one bet, but not the turn and river for two bets.

enough to compensate for the rare times that someone flops a big hand and plays aggressively. However, when your opponents are aggressive, stop trying for free cards with your weak draws. It will fail too often and end up being less profitable than just calling.

For example, you have on the button. One player limps. You raise. Both blinds and the limper call (8 small bets). The flop is

The small blind bets. The big blind folds, and the limper calls (10 small bets). You should raise if the initial bettor is passive, but call if he is aggressive. Your backdoor flush and straight draws and two overcards give you just enough hand to take one off. You will have to fold on the turn if you do not improve, and someone bets. If you are almost certain that a free card play will work, you should try it. A free card could win you the pot if the river is a queen or jack.

Against aggressive players you should just call. It is too likely that the flop bettor will reraise and bet the turn. You have the opportunity to call profitably and close the action. Take it.

If the flop were 947V3V (two hearts instead of one), you should certainly raise, even against aggressive players. A flush draw and overcards is a strong draw. You should no longer lament a reraise; your hand will improve to top pair or better over fifty percent of the time.66

In fact, if the reraiser is an aggressive player, you should probably make it four bets (especially if that is the cap). An aggressive reraiser could have as little as a pair or a straight draw. Your hand is very strong against those holdings. Your four-bet might cause your opponent to check the turn, allowing you again to take a free card if you miss.

To clarify, when your draw is weak, you prefer that the bettor be passive. When you have a very strong draw, though, you do not much care. In fact, an aggressive bettor is often actually better. Strong draws make money with each flop raise; you would like to be playing with someone who will often help you cap the betting. But if a passive player puts in three or four bets, he will often have a set (the one hand you fear with strong draws). An aggressive player has a much broader range of four-betting hands.

The more passive your opponents, the weaker your draw can be to try a free card raise. Against aggressive players try the free card play only if your draw is strong enough that you do not mind a reraise much.

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