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Psychology of the Fold in Poker: Know When To Fold ‘Em!

Dominic Field

Aug 11, 2023

Psychology of the Fold

Who doesn't love it when an opponent folds to a bluff? But what caused them to do it? What is the psychology of the fold? That’s the subject we’ll tackle in this article.

We’re not going to explain basic concepts like what folding actually means, or answer questions like “what is fold equity in poker?” Instead, we’ll delve into what influences the decision to fold and look at why some players find it harder than others.

Why Folding Can Be Tough

When looking into the psychology of the fold, we need to understand the mentality of a human, not just a poker player. All of us experience emotional swings and can be erratic. Sometimes, it is just really hard to fold your hand, even when you know deep down that you should. Here’s why.

Dead Money

The most obvious reason is that folding always feels like a loss. If you’ve paid to enter the hand, even just blinds and antes, throwing your hand away feels like losing money. But this is a psychological trick that you’re playing on yourself. It’s vital to move away from this mindset. 

If you know you’re beaten and you keep calling bets, that really is throwing away chips. A fold is actually saving you money in this situation.

Ego

The second psychological difficulty to overcome is not letting your ego run away with you. You might genuinely be the best player in the world, but you’re still going to get things wrong. Poker is a game of incomplete information. You can’t know everything all of the time.

Whether it’s falling in love with a pocket pair or convincing yourself the guy is bluffing, you have to try and remain objective. Don’t go seeking revenge on someone after a bad beat, either. Success is not determined by hero calls or ballsy four-bet shoves. The long-term profit comes from making good decisions consistently. 

Curiosity

We can’t discuss the psychology of the fold without mentioning curiosity. It didn't just kill the cat, but the bankrolls of many poker players too. We’ve all been in spots where we know that folding is the smart thing to do. But we’re just dying to know what they have. So we talk ourselves into a call to buy information.

Don’t throw away perfectly good chips. If you’re getting the right odds to call, by all means, do it. Otherwise, get out of the pot. Don’t let curiosity cost you money.

What Does It Take To Make a Big Laydown?

The psychology of the fold is complex and, like everything in poker, each situation is different. Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of big folds and analyse the decision-making process behind them.

Patrik Zidek (2023 WSOP Main Event)

Patrik Zidek - 2023 WSOP Main EventThis incredible fold from Patrik Zidek was unbelievable. The Czech player headed to the flop with Q7 and had to be delighted with the resulting 7 7 A flop. Although he didn’t know it, he had Jeff Frye’s 7 6 crushed, only for the turn to bring the 6. 

Zidek proceeded to bet the turn and Frye made the call. With nobody else in the pot, the flop was the 3 and it was Zidek’s turn to act. He found the check and when Frye bet 60,000 into a 148,000 pot, he made a big fold.

First of all, the Czech player showed no signs of ego here. He had a strong hand, which he bet on both the flop and turn. But he didn’t fall in love with it and refused to fire an aggressive third barrel. The small sizing of Frye’s bet probably also helped convince Zidek that it was for value, making the fold a little easier.

Daniel Negreanu (2018 Super High Roller Bowl)

Daniel NegreanuCanadian legend Daniel Negreanu is a master of poker psychology. The fan favourite is well-known for his uncanny ability to put players on hands with incredible accuracy. But he referred to this particular play as one of his “best folds ever”.

Having turned the nuts against Mikita Badziakouski, he got chatty, warning his opponent that he’d play back against a bet. As a result, both players checked. But on the river, Badziakouski’s set filled up and became the best hand, triggering the Belarusian pro to overbet 60k into a 47k pot. It’s quite likely that no other player would fold in this spot. But Negreanu somehow managed to produce a massive laydown. 

When interviewed afterwards, he talked about how he pieced Badziakouski’s range together. With all possible full houses in his value range, but only one potential bluff, he felt that he had no other option. Once again, the negative psychology of the fold was removed from the equation. No ego, no bravado, put curiosity to one side, and simply follow the logic.

David Diaz (2022 WSOP Main Event)

David Diaz - 2022 WSOP Main EventOne of the best folds ever seen at a poker table, Diaz started the hand with A Q. Unfortunately though, Jeffrey Farnes not only had K K, but the K Q 2 on the flop gave him trips. Farnes had raised pre-flop and bet the flop, with Diaz calling each time. 

The Q on the turn looked like a real cooler and Diaz took the initiative, betting into the full house. Farnes called, before Diaz led again on the turn. At this point, Diaz had now invested over 16 million chips, leaving around 12 million behind. After Farnes raised all-in, he spent a good six minutes thinking, before making an incredibly disciplined laydown. 

What is the psychology of the fold here? Undoubtedly, a big part of it would be trying to remain in one of the world’s most valuable and prestigious tournaments. A mistake here, and he would be out in 14th place for $410,000. However, that fold earned him an extra $115,000. 

When To Fold in Poker Games

Having looked at the psychology of the fold, let’s quickly think about when we should be doing it. Unless you have an extremely weak hand, it’s not always easy to know when to let a hand go. But a good poker folding strategy is essential if you’re going to consistently make any money. 

Understanding how to fold in poker requires you to consider several factors. These include the strength of your own hand, the relative position of you and your opponent, plus their perceived range. 

How Often Should I Fold?

Again, there are many factors in play here. But there are two key concepts you must understand to help you determine the right balance of calls, raises, or folds. 

Minimum Defence Frequency (MDF) is a GTO strategy that helps prevent you from being exploited when folding in poker. And then, of course, there’s the idea of pot odds. If you’re being paid the right amount to continue, then it’s the correct play mathematically. If not, fold. 

Mastering the Psychology of the Fold

Understanding the psychology of the fold is an important part of learning how to play poker. Your results will not improve until you master the ability to remove ego and curiosity from the equation, so let's get cracking and start practicing getting your mindset and folding strategy right at the Natural8 tables.

Image Source: Pokernews.com