The Free Card Play
In poker a free card is simply a card you get to see without having to call a bet. It is common for players to check to the raiser after facing aggression on a previous street (especially in Hold’Em) and the free card play takes advantage of this fact and enables you to see an extra card without having to call an extra bet.
You have 7s 8s on a flop of 9d 6s 3h and your opponent who is first to act bets into you for half pot. You are open ended and have a backdoor spade draw so it is certainly worth continuing, but should you call or raise?
If you call, you may well face another bet on the turn However if you raise, your opponent will most likely check the turn to you, giving you the opportunity to take the free card and see the river for nothing.
As well as getting to see additional cards at a reduced price you also gain the added benefit of a little fold equity on the flop. Sometimes your opponent will fold and you will win the pot unimproved.
The best opponents
The free card play is most effective against more passive opponents. This is because players with passive tendencies are more likely to check to the raiser on the next street, and more importantly they rarely check raise. If they do check raise it is almost certainly indicative of a very strong holding and so you can act accordingly.
Giving your opponents a free card
Usually giving your opponents a free card is a bad idea. You are giving them a free shot at realising their equity in the pot. There is a situation when it is a good idea though and it occurs when you have the board crushed and there are currently no draws to be worried about.
For example if you hold Qh Qd on a flop of Qs 7d 2c there really isn’t much that your opponents can have that can call a bet. There also aren’t any draws that you need to be worried about hitting on the turn. The only hands that can get ahead of you on the turn are AA and KK, both of which would likely have bet the flop and both of which have just two outs. Giving your opponent a free card here is extremely unlikely to hurt you and it gives them a chance to catch up a bit and improve to a better but still second best hand.
Free card summary
In general if you are currently ahead in the hand you should try to avoid giving your opponents the opportunity to improve for free (with some exceptions as previously mentioned). If you need to improve to win the hand then use free card plays to your advantage and set your own price for drawing.
For more strategy tips, check out our poker strategy page.