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Freeroll Opportunities in Cash Poker Games
by Sam Braids
I have a deal for you! It’s a no-lose investment opportunity. The worse that can happen is you get your money back. But, there is a significant chance of doubling your investment or more if things work out. Want to buy in?
I sound like a huckster offering a deal that’s too good to be true. But there are equivalent opportunities that arise in cash poker games that allow a no-risk chance to double up on the money you bet. You might have heard of tournament freerolls where you can enter a tournament with cash prizes for no cost. What is a freeroll in a cash game? It is hand where you make your opponents risk their money to pay for your draw. The draw is risk-free to you.How do you get a risk-free draw? Usually it’s the other way around. Your opponent has a made hand and bets to protect it. The odds are usually not in your favor to make your draw so opponents with made hands are loath to give free cards. But there are situations where at no risk to your bankroll, you can charge your opponents for your draw. It is good to be aware of the situations where freerolls can occur in cash games; both so you can take advantage of them and avoid becoming trapped in them.
Consider the following situation in Pot-Limit Omaha. You hold A-Spades, Q-Hearts, J-Diamonds, 10-Spades. Your opponent holds A-Diamonds, 3- Diamonds, J-Hearts, 10-Spades. The flop is 9-Spades, 8-Spades, 7-Hearts. Both of you flopped the nuts. But your opponent’s hand cannot improve. Yours can improve to the nut-flush if any Spade hits later on, or a Queen-high straight if a 10 hits. If a Queen hits you both have Queen-high straights but if it’s the Queen of Spades you have made the nut-flush. Your opponent’s nut-flush possibility in Diamonds is dead. That means if you raise all-in against each other, the worse that can happen to you is a split pot where you recover your investment. But you get two additional cards that might improve your hand so that you can take the entire pot. Your opponent risks his entire stack for half the pot. You risk nothing for a significant chance of taking the entire pot.
Free rolls occur frequently in Stud-Hi/Lo. In Stud-High, it is difficult to know if you have the nuts. After all, in Stud it is possible for an opponent to have a full house or quads without showing an open pair on the board. But in Stud-Hi/Lo it is possible to know if you have the nut low. That often puts the player with a made nut-low in the drivers seat with a re-draw to a possible high. Consider having A, 4, 5, 6, 7 against K, 4, 10, 10, K. If this were Stud-High the player with the open-ended straight would have to call bets from the player with the two-pair in hopes of improving. But, in Stud-Hi/Lo the situation is reversed. The player with the two-pair can never make low and the player with the made low knows that. With the low already made, that player can bet and raise with no risk because half the pot is assured. If the straight hits and the two-pair do not improve the entire pot goes to the straight.The situation in Stud-Hi/Lo can get more interesting with multi-way pots. Consider having A, 2, 5, 6, 8 against two opponents with, A, A, J, 10, 10 and Q, 9, 9, Q, 9. Your opponents with well-hidden high hands might start a raising war that you can encourage with additional re-raises at no risk to yourself. You know that you get half the pot no matter which high hand holds up. Put in all the raises you can because the hand is guaranteed to make you money.
Defending against freerolls
To avoid being freerolled against, it is worth examining the assumptions behind some common plays. In Pot-Limit Omaha, many players assume that you should raise all-in anytime you flop the nuts. The problem with this thinking is that nut-straights can be vulnerable in Omaha, especially in multi-way pots. If two suited cards are on the board, players with flush possibilities will be tempted to draw against you. If you don’t have suited cards that can make a flush, risking your entire stack with two cards to come is a questionable play.
The problem with straights can be worse in Omaha Hi/Lo. Imagine holding A-Diamond, 2-Clubs, 10-Clubs, J-Hearts and after the turn the board has 2-Spades, 3-Hearts, 4-Spades, 5-Hearts. Yes you have the nut-low but chances are you’ll be quartered for the low half of the pot because anyone with A, 3 or A, 4 or A, 5 also has the nut-low. For this board it is easy for someone else to have a higher straight because 5, 6 and 6, 7 both make higher straights and two-flush draw possibilities exist that your hand cannot make. Believe it or not, folding the nut-low in this situation could be the correct play if one or more players raise all-in.
In Stud-Hi/Lo players set themselves up to be freerolled when they routinely play medium pairs such as 9, 9, 10, 10, and even JJ against large fields. In fact QQ and KK can be trap hands in Stud-Hi/Lo. In multi-way pots with a many low cards surrounding you on the board, a starting hand such as KK9 that improves with an additional 9 can have multiple hands freerolling against it. Starting cards with zero chance of making low are potential trap hands in any split-pot game, even if the cards are currently the best hand. Believe or not, folding two-pair is a correct play if the alternative is to get caught up in a raising war against multiple lows with draws to a better high. Remember, if your hand holds up you only get half the pot.
Freerolls are golden opportunities in poker so be on the lookout for them. After all, if you could freeroll in every cash hand you played, winning money would be guaranteed.
Sam Braids, physicist and author of The Intelligent Guide to Texas Hold'em Poker, has for decades studied, researched, and played poker and chess. His poker experience is widespread, including time in West Coast cardrooms, Mississippi riverboats, and Atlantic City casinos. He holds a doctorate in physics and teaches advanced physics and mathematics. His technical proficiency includes a great deal of expertise with computers and the Internet.
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