Seeing a free card or allowing an opponent to look at a free card without making a bet is sometimes advantageous. There are basically two reasons why you would employ a free card strategy. The first is hoping to save money while drawing to improve your hand. The second is to get more money from your opponent on future rounds of betting.
When using the free card strategy on a draw, you should look for three criteria. It helps to have only one other opponent in the hand, you should be acting first, and you should also have a good drawing hand. Let’s look at an example. Suppose you have in the hole and the flop comes . You are looking at a nut flush draw and are first to act against one opponent. This happens to be a great scenario to make the free card play. Checking to your opponent gives him two options – check or bet. He could go along with the free card play and also check. But if he chooses to bet, your correct play is to raise. The check raise will disguise your hand’s strength and may allow for receiving a free card on the turn if your table rival calls your re-raise. Should your opponent elect to re-raise your check raise, you can be reasonably certain that his hand is strong. You should call his re-raise if your pot odds are correct in continuing to draw.
The best case scenario would be that your opponent folds following your check raise. But if he calls, you now have the option of checking again after the turn if you miss hitting the flush, which may make him wonder if you are setting him up for another check raise. He may check as well, giving you a free card to try and make the nut flush on the river. By check raising after the flop instead of calling, you will likely save money in the long run because if you call his bet after the flop and miss the flush on the turn and check again, your opponent will probably make you pay dearly for continuing to draw a river card.
Another situation where you may want to allow your opponent to get a free card is when your hand is so strong after the flop that any bet you make will most likely cause your opponent to fold. Perhaps you were dealt and made a pre-flop raise about three times the big blind. One other player calls and you happily see a favorable flop of . With no straights or flushes possible at this stage of the hand, a bet on your part may scare the other player away as he probably does not have a Queen and calling your pre-flop raise would indicate that he also has better than an 8 or 3. If you are either first or last to act in such a situation, it is better to give a free card and attempt to extract more money from your opponent after the turn and river.
By checking post-flop, you are disguising your strong hand. In the first example on the nut flush draw, the free card play was employed differently by check raising and showing strength when your hand was not yet made and needed to draw another club for the nut flush. In the latter example of trip Queens after the flop, you’re trying to show weakness and induce your opponent to play along and perhaps bet.
After the turn card, you will want to bet or re-raise. You can’t give your rival unlimited free cards on your strong hand. One time is enough to feign weakness. You don’t want him to catch his outs on the turn and river and outdraw you. If he doesn’t call your bet on the turn, its probable that he wouldn’t call it after another free card on the river either.
You can see some of the advantages in making a free card play. In addition to possibly saving money when you have only a drawing hand such as the first example on the nut flush draw, you also are disguising your hand and could even win the pot after the flop on your check raise. In the second example, the idea is to get more money from your opponent by stringing him along and hiding your trips by allowing a free card. Remember that the free card play works best against only one other opponent whether you have a drawing hand or are strong post-flop. Free cards to more than one player could mean trouble and should be avoided.
The free card play strategy should be used only in the proper scenarios. When confronted with a free card play situation, its best to ask yourself if you will win more money if you happen to choose to allow for a free card. If your answer is that your opponent may improve his hand and possibly beat you and use the free card to his advantage, then you wouldn’t want to be giving a free card. You should bet and make him pay to draw out on you.