In fixed limit Hold’em, especially in the lower limits, it sometimes seems that all you’re doing is seeing who’s getting the best cards to win at showdown. That’s certainly the case when you’re playing $5/$10 or lower, but even if you are, there is one move every limit player should always have in his poker arsenal, no matter what limits he plays: the free card.
Simply put, the free card is when you have position on a better on the flop and then raise him with a drawing hand, enticing him to check to you on the turn, thus allowing you to check behind if you didn’t hit your draw. This way, you see the river “for free.”
You’re playing $10/$20 and you’re on the button with KhJh. You call a middle position raise and the Big Blind comes along for the ride. Three of you see a flop with $40 in the pot. Flop comes: Ah5h4d. BB check, Initial Raiser leads out.
This is where you raise. Unless the BB is slow-playing a monster, he’s folding. He might even fold an Ace high flush draw here, now that you’ve raised. The Initial Raiser calls your raise.
Now, whether or not you hit your draw, the Initial Raiser is probably going to check to you, no matter what cards hits the turn. You’re raising the flop bet when the bet is at $10, thereby giving you the option to check behind on the turn if you don’t hit your draw. If you hadn’t of raised the flop and a blank hits the turn, the Initial Raiser would likely lead out for a big bet of $20. You’d be getting the correct odds to call, so you do. If the river misses you, you’re folding in either situation, right? But because you raised the flop you’ve actually saved yourself $10 than if you just called the flop and turn.
Of course, if you hit your hand on the turn you can bet your made hand. The great thing about the free card play is that there’s really nothing an opponent can do about it except re-raise you on the flop and lead out again on the turn – but either way, you’re still getting the proper odds to call. Most decent players, when faced with a free card play on the flop, will more than likely lead out again on the turn, denying you that free card. But again, you’re still getting the proper odds to call the bet to hit your draw.
However, there’s a big difference between raising for a free card and raising on-the-come for value, Say you’ve got the Ac4c and you limp in the cut-off with 6 others, including the blinds. You’re last to act. The flop has 2 clubs and there’s a bet and three calls before it even gets to you. You need to raise this hand! But it’s not because you’re hoping to get a free card, it’s because there’s a chance of so much money going into this pot that you’re actually raising for value. In fact, you’d be quite happy to have the betting on the flop capped.
So be aware of the proper situation that will allow you to use the free card play. Remember: you want only two, maybe three people seeing a flop and you must have position on the bettor. And don’t forget – the higher you play the more you’re going to have to rely on skill and not how the cards fall.