Counter Strategies to the Free Card Raise

Although raising for a free card is a powerful strategy, there are counter strategies available. A sharp player who can detect his opponent's free card raise can use these counter strategies to thwart his opponent's plan. Here are some counter strategies against the free card raise. The late position player is denoted as LP and the early position player is denoted as EP.

1. Re-raising on the Flop

If there is a draw on the Flop and you are sure the LP is a player who would definitely raise for a free card if he had a draw, then you may consider re-raising on the Flop. This thwarts the free card strategy as it makes the free card raiser put in more bets rather than fewer bets. Instead of getting a card for "free", you have made it expensive for him.

2. Betting out on the Turn

After the LP had raised on the Flop, the EP can bet out on the Turn and force the LP to put in more chips than the LP was hoping for. There is value in waiting until the Turn for the EP to bet (compared to re-raising on the Flop), as the EP can see if a dangerous card has come on the Turn.

There can still be value for the LP to raise for a free card, depending on how likely the EP is to employ the counter strategy of betting on the Turn. The value of raising for a free card by the LP is determined by the percentage of time the EP will bet out on the Turn (when he has a better hand) even after the EP was raised on the Flop. If the EP bets out on the Turn all the time, then the strategy of the free card raise by the LP has backfired. If the EP never bets out on the Turn, then the strategy of the free card raise by the LP has worked. This chart shows that percentage in the Breakeven Point column. The Breakeven Point is determined by the number of outs the LP is drawing to. The fewer outs the LP has, the lower the Breakeven Point will be. The chart assumes the pot size was 5 big bets before the LP raised on the Flop.

Type of Draw by LP

Outs

EV of free card raise when EP

EV of calling

Breakeven Pointa for

always checks on the Turn

always bets on the Turn

on the Flop

raising

Flush

9

+1.99

+1.50

+1.65

69.5%

Straight

8

+1.69

+1.15

+1.33

65.7%

Overcards

6

+1.06

+0.41

+0.67

59.9%

Lower Split Pair

5

+0.73

+0.04

+0.33

57.6%

a Probability of the EP betting on the Turn with a better hand after the LP raises on the Flop that would make the EV of a free card raise the same as the EV of just calling.

a Probability of the EP betting on the Turn with a better hand after the LP raises on the Flop that would make the EV of a free card raise the same as the EV of just calling.

The EV of the free card raise is dependent on the frequency that the EP will bet on the Turn when he has the better hand. In the chart above, it shows that if the EP always checks on the Turn when the LP raises for a free card on the Flop, then the EV of raising for a free card is significantly higher than the EV of calling. (For example, if the LP has a straight draw with 8 outs, the EV of a free card raise if the EP always checks on the Turn is +1.69. If the LP just calls on the Flop, then his EV is +1.33. In that case, a free card raise has gained the LP +0.36.) This is true in all situations no matter the type of draw by the LP, although the value of raising for a free card will vary depending on the number of outs the LP has.

However, if the EP can play back and bets out on the Turn all the time when he does have the better hand, then the EV of the free card raise for the LP is lower than the EV of calling on the Flop. (For example, if the LP has a flush draw with 9 outs, the EV of a free card raise if the EP always bets on the Turn is +1.50. If the LP just calls on the Flop, then his EV is +1.65. In that case, a free card raise has lost the LP -0.15.) This shows that the value of the strategy of raising for a free card is partially based on the EP's aggressiveness.

The EP's aggressiveness can be expressed as the probability that he will bet on the Turn with the better hand after he is raised on the Flop. The breakeven point is shown on the chart above. For example, if the LP raised on the Flop for a free card with a flush draw, the EP has to be willing to bet on the Turn with a better hand less than 69.5% of the time for the free card raise by the LP to be a better option than just calling on the Flop. On the chart, it shows that the fewer outs there are, the lower that breakeven point needs to be. This means with fewer outs, the aggressive level of the opponent becomes a bigger factor in the value of raising for a free card.

Here are a few key points to consider regarding raising for a free card:

  1. You should use the free card raise less often against aggressive players and more often against passive players. Passive players will check on the Turn more often, thus giving you the benefits of raising for a free card. Aggressive players will bet on the Turn more often and make your free card raise backfire. However, for "advertising" value, it can still be useful to raise for a free card against observant aggressive players if you play against them on a constant basis. If your observant aggressive opponent thinks you will raise for a free card against him, then he will play back against you as he would against anybody else in that situation. You should use that information to raise him when you have a made hand but it looks like your raise was a free card raise (such as when there are two cards of the same suit on the Flop). If you never raise for a free card against him, then he may not play back at you when you have a made hand, because he may think your raise is more likely to be with a made hand instead of a draw. Against an observant opponent like this, your free card raises could be termed as "advertising" plays or loss leaders. You may be giving up a bit of edge when you are raising for a free card, but you will be able to gain it that edge back (and hopefully more) against the opponent during the hands when you are raising with a made hand.
  2. If your opponent is passive, you should use the free card raise more often when you have fewer outs (see column below titled "Increased EV of raising vs calling when EP always checks"). When your opponent is aggressive, you should use it more often when you have more outs (see column below titled "Decreased EV of raising vs calling when EP always bets"). So you should attempt your "advertising" free card raises against aggressive players when you have more outs.
This chart assumes your opponent has middle pair and cannot be bluffed out of the pot.

Type of Draw by LP

EV of raising for a free card ...

EV of calling

Increased EV of raising vs calling when EP always

Decreased EV of raising vs calling when EP always

...when EP always checks on the Turn

...when EP always bets on the Turn

checks

bets

Flush

+1.99

+1.50

+1.65

(1.50-1.65)

Straight

+1.69

+1.15

+1.33

+0.36

-0.18

Overcards

+1.06

+0.41

+0.67

+0.39

-0.26

Lower Split Pair

+0.73

+0.04

+0.33

+0.40

-0.29

  1. Against aggressive players in EP who may think you are raising on the Flop on a draw, you should play even more aggressively when you have a made hand in LP. The aggressive EP will play back at you thinking you are on a draw, this means when you have a made hand, you can win more bets from them due to their own aggressiveness.
  2. Against players in LP who are constantly raising for free cards on the Flop and then checking on the Turn when they have not made it yet, you should be betting out on the Turn.
  3. Against aggressive players in LP who are not only raising for free cards on the Flop but continuing with semi-bluffs on the Turn, you can wait for the Turn to check-raise them.
  4. Betting on the River after the free card raiser has checked on the Turn.

If the LP checks on the Turn when he does not catch his draw, then it is easy for the EP to see that the LP was on a draw when he raised on the Flop. A counter strategy for the EP to use at this stage is to bet out on the River if the River card does not look dangerous. The EP can bet out even with nothing and still win the pot because the LP has a busted draw. On the other hand, if it looks like the River completes a draw, then the EP can have more confidence that he is beat and check with the intention of folding.

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