It’s easy to see how the idea of ‘free cards’ can tempt you away from the path of reasonable play. The allure is understandable: by their very definition, free cards seem to promise something for nothing. Of course, when it comes to poker, you never get something for nothing. Free cards, for one, aren’t actually free. They do come at a bit of a discount, though.
Free card play is achieved by semi-bluff raising our opponent’s continuation bet on the flop rather than calling. Our hope is that they’ll check the turn to us expecting us to bet. Their hope is that they can check/raise their monsters and build a bigger pot. However, we don’t cater to their expectations: we check behind and get two cards for the price of our flop raise.
Free Cards: Your Fair Weather Friends
Sounds great, right? Well, it is. In theory, free cards are just about as good as it gets. If you want to keep the deal sweet, however, you’re going to want to understand how free cards can work against you if you don’t learn to make them work for you.
Here are the most important free card considerations:
Free Cards & Position
Free card play doesn’t work so well out of position (i.e. if you are one of the first to act in a round of betting). After all, if our opponents call our flop raise, how do we get the free card? By checking the turn to them and hoping they check behind? You don’t want to – and can’t – count on this happening.
Free Cards & Not-So Friendly Fire
The risk of going for a free card is that our opponent may come over the top of our flop raise with a re-raise themselves, so it’s best to implement this strategy against opponents who like to slow play in the face of active betting and/or players who are not particularly strong and aggressive.
Free Cards & Game Type
The free card play is more effective in limit hold’em where the amount your opponent can raise you back is capped. This way, they can't price you out of your draw.
The Real Cost of Free Cards
It’s imperative to recognize that raising the flop doesn't always ensure we get a 'free card'; we do pay for that card. If we didn’t raise, we would alternatively call a turn bet to see the second card. Our assumption is that our flop raise will be less than a turn bet would have been, and - more importantly - that we may free-roll some folds from our opponent on the flop, which we can't accomplish by just calling.
Remember: free cards aren’t really free, they’re just discounted!