Free Card – A card delivered after a betting round in which no betting occurred.
Most poker games have a forced bet or an established wager on the opening betting round. This ensures that a pot is built and that the
hand is not checked down to the river. For example, in a stud game, the opener has a forced wager and must bring it in. In a flop or
draw game, the large blind typically establishes the minimum wager needed to continue. This forces players to make a conscious
decision to invest in their hand, and prevents players from checking on the opening betting round. However, on every betting round
after the initial betting round, betting is typically optional. So long as they are not facing any wager, each player may choose to
check rather than bet.
In many cases, someone will like their hand enough to make a wager. This action prevents any further checking during the betting
round. Occasionally, it will “check around,” which means that every active player on a particular betting round chose to check rather
than bet. This results in the next card being delivered without any money going into the pot. This situation is commonly referred to
as a “free card.”
The texture of the game will affect how many free cards are given. In an aggressive game, free cards will occur less frequently. In a
passive game, free cards may occur with relative frequency. If you are in last position, and it checks to you, you are in the unique
position of deciding whether a free card will be issued. If you choose to bet, there will be no free card, but if you check, you will
have given all players a free card. This can be an important decision, as free cards can be dangerous.
It is widely accepted that being aggressive is a major key to playing winning poker. In short, aggression wins. Another way of putting
this is that playing with an insufficient level of aggression is a losing strategy. One way that many players fail to be aggressive
enough is that they give free cards when they should not. Free cards kill, because they give each of your opponents who otherwise
could not have called an opportunity to suck out.
If you are unsure about whether or not you still have the best hand, you should usually, but not always, err on the side of
aggression. It is often better to risk a check raise then it is to give a free card.
In the higher limits, and in tournament play, there is a significant amount of
heads up action. When it is heads up, it only
takes two checks to produce a free card. In this situation, checking after previously betting is a huge sign of weakness. Frequently,
when a player gives a free card in a heads up situation, they will not be able to call unless the free card helps them. This makes
bluffing a strong play when your opponent has given you a free turn card. Many players will automatically bet and try to take the pot
after a free card. If this is the case, and your opponent is bluffing too much after receiving free cards, it may be a good idea to
slow play a big hand, to slow them down. When you flop a powerful hand, you can intentionally give your opponent a free card to induce
them to bet. You then raise them and pursue the hand aggressively.
Free cards are especially dangerous in games with unstructured betting, where the bets get very large, as well as in tournaments,
where one mistake can cost you your whole stack. In these situations, you need to be very careful about handing out free cards. That
does not mean that you should always bet when facing the decision about whether or not to give a free card. If you bet too frequently,
you opponents will not hesitate to check-raise you. Plus, there are plenty of times when you benefit from taking a free card when it
is offered. You can avoid a check-raise when your opponent is strong, and sometimes you can suck out on a really thin draw. The
decision over whether or not to give a free card, like most poker decisions, can be approached from a risk management standpoint. You
can compare the risk of betting with the risk of giving a free card. In some cases, betting is clearly too dangerous, or your hand is
simply too weak to bet. In this situation a free card should be issued. At other times, you may be unsure about your hand, but giving
everyone a free card is more dangerous than betting. Here, it makes more sense to bet and to take your chances.
Usage: Gave a Free Card, Free Card On The Turn, Free Card Suckout
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