Skip to content

What is a Free Card in Poker?

A "free card" simply refers to when you get to see the next card on the board without having to put any more money into the pot. It‘s an important concept that comes up frequently in poker strategy. Let‘s dive into everything you need to know about maximizing value with free cards.

Free Card Fundamentals

Seeing cards for free most often occurs pre-flop and on the flop. For example, if everyone checks pre-flop, you get to see the three flop cards without betting anything additional. The same goes for the flop – if all players check, you all get to see the turn card without having to invest more money.

According to poker pro Jonathan Little, pre-flop you‘ll see free cards around 40% of the time. On the flop that jumps to around 70% of hands going to free cards when facing just one opponent. So being able to play free cards well is clearly an important skill.

While seeing free cards costs you nothing, it does give your opponent the same benefit. You have to consider if it helps your range more than theirs when deciding to check.

Facing a Free Card with a Strong Hand

When you have a strong made hand, you generally want to bet rather than check and give a free card. This prevents opponents from outdrawing you for free.

For example, if you have top pair good kicker on the flop, a free card could easily allow your opponent to backdoor a straight or flush. Betting denies them the free look.

According to poker simulator Poker Cruncher, top pair on a flop has around a 66% chance to win at showdown. But that drops to 54% when allowing an additional free card on the turn.

So with strong hands you want to charge opponents to see additional cards, protecting your equity.

Using Free Cards with Weaker Holdings

While free cards are dangerous against strong hands, they benefit weaker holdings and draws. You primarily want to see free cards when you have hands that are speculative but could improve.

For example, suited connectors and one gap suited hands benefit greatly from free cards to make flushes and straights. Seeing a free flop card completes your straight around 25% of the time based on Poker Stove equity calculations.

Likewise, an inside straight draw will fill around 35% of time on both the turn and river. So two free cards provides you over 50% chance to complete your straight.

Balancing Free Card Play

While free cards improve your speculative hands, overusing them makes your play predictable. Skilled opponents will recognize you only continue with very strong hands when you bet, allowing them to easily fold weaker holdings.

Mix in some bets with your strong made hands to balance the times you check with draws. This makes your strategy harder to play against.

According to Jonathan Little, players should usually check strong hands around 30% of the time and bet their draws around 30% as well to balance free card play.

Leveraging Free Cards in Position

Your position at the table also impacts how beneficial free cards will be. From early position like under the gun, checking and allowing a free card is common with weaker holdings since you‘ll have multiple players behind you left to act.

Conversely, from the button or cutoff position, you‘ll have much fewer players left to act after you. So free cards become more dangerous as you allow players in early position to effectively see additional cards for free against you.

From late position, you can leverage your position advantage to see free cards in spots where opponents in early position cannot. Use your position to maximize when you see free cards and when you deny them to your opponents.

Free Card Dangers – Draws and Made Hands

As discussed, free cards benefit drawing hands the most. So you have to be aware of the draw possibilities on board textures when deciding to give a free card.

For example, monotone flops with three flush suit cards greatly benefit flush draws if you give up a free card. According to poker odds calculator Party Poker Edge, a flush draw has around a 34% chance to hit by the river. So checking twice and allowing two free cards is generally ill-advised.

Likewise, straight draw type boards with connected cards benefit straight draws. An open-ended straight draw fills around 17% of the time on the turn based on Odds Shark poker odds.

So against possible draws, avoid giving free cards when you have a marginal or vulnerable hand. Bet to charge opponents and deny equity from improving for free.

Conversely, some boards heavily favor made hands like top pair and overpairs. For example, a dry ace high board makes it unlikely your opponent connected strongly. These boards benefit you less as the pre-flop raiser so you can allow some free cards.

Analyze the board texture when considering free cards rather than playing them the same way in all scenarios.

Advanced Free Card Plays

While free cards are often used by players with marginal hands or draws, more advanced players employ them as part of complex strategies as well.

Floating involves calling a bet now with the intention of bluffing on a later street if the opponent checks. So you initially call to see a free card, planning to take the betting lead later with a pure bluff.

Delayed continuation betting means checking back the flop when you intend to bet the turn with your strong hands, allowing you to maximize value.

Check-raising lets you check early streets with a strong hand to let opponents bet, then spring a check-raise when they commit more chips.

So free cards shouldn‘t be seen solely as a passive play only. Skilled players integrate them into an array of advanced plays.

Example Hands Illustrating Free Card Strategy

Let‘s walk through a couple example hands to see free cards in action, both effectively and poorly used:

Hand 1 – Wisely Using a Free Card

Playing 9♥8♥ from the button, you open-raise pre-flop and only the big blind calls. The flop comes Q♠7♦3♣. Your opponent checks. You decide to check behind and get a free card on the turn. The turn is the T♥, putting you in position for the nut straight. You bet the turn and take down the pot.

This is an excellent spot to see a free card with your open-ended straight draw. The Q-high flop likely missed your opponent‘s calling range pre-flop. By checking, you were able to realize your straight equity for free and win a big pot.

Hand 2 – Free Card Fails to Improve

This time from middle position you open-raise with K♥Q♠ and get one caller. The flop is A♦9♠4♣. Your opponent checks so you decide to take a free card. The turn is the 3♠, bringing a second spade. Your opponent leads into you and you begrudgingly fold your top pair hand.

Here you hoped to see a free card to catch an Ace or King and improve. But instead you allowed the flush draw to get there and lost value from your otherwise strong top pair hand. Betting the flop would have been preferable to charge draws.

Adjusting Your Free Card Play

You should tailor your free card strategy based on different opponent types and situations.

Against nitty, weak opponents, you can allow more free cards since they‘ll rarely capitalize with big bluffs or draws. But against aggressive, thinking players you have to be more selective when going with free cards.

Likewise, on wet, draw-heavy boards, free cards become more dangerous than on dry boards where made hands dominate.

Be observant both of board textures and opponents to optimize when to allow free cards. While they provide opportunity, free cards also involve substantial risk.

Using Free Cards Profitably

Free cards are a fundamental part of poker strategy that you‘ll encounter in most sessions. Use them wisely in the right situations to maximize your overall EV. But don‘t overplay your weaker hands just to see free cards at low odds.

Hopefully this gives you an in-depth overview of how to play free cards optimally. Feel free to reach out with any other poker questions!