Fold equity is possibly one of the most misunderstood terms in all of poker.  If you Google “fold equity”, nearly half of the information you get is incorrect.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion of fold equity, it is meant to briefly address the importance of fold equity in NL SitNGo tournaments.

First off, here is a basic, general definition:  Fold equity is the increased profit that a player can expect to gain as a result of an opponent folding to his or her bet.  Mathematically, it is often expressed as the likelihood that your opponents will fold times your gain in equity as a result of them folding.  Fold equity can be either positive or negative, and contrary to much of what is written on the Internet, you can have positive fold equity even when you are the favorite in a hand.  It is not necessary for you to be the underdog.  Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t help much in terms of making a decision in a poker game.

I’m going to give a different situational explanation of fold equity, one that players who are successful at SitNGo Tourneys understand completely:  fold equity is the single most important reason why certain players consistently win in NL Holdem SitNGo tournaments.  If you play a lot of SitNGo tournaments like I do, you’ll see players who consistently make it to the final 4 or 5 players based on their outstanding poker skills, but rarely ever win.  The reason is that they do not understand the core concept of fold equity in SitNGo tournaments: When you reach the bubble in a SitNGo Tournament, you no longer are playing the cards in your hand. Thus, players who don’t shift gears and continue to play a tight style, or continue to rely on the cards in their hands as the primary decision making criteria, will almost certainly lose in the long run in SitNGo tournaments.

An example here is most informative of this concept:

You are playing in a $33 SitNGo tourney and there are 4 players left.  The blinds are 200/400.  The first player folded. You are on the button and have picked up Ks5s.  You have 4800 chips left.  The small blind has you covered, 5100 chips, but the BB has only 1550 chips remaining. The BB has fewer than 4 big blinds left – he has to make a move soon.  But one thing we know about short, but not completely desperate stacks – they are much less likely to call with a marginal hand.

Against 2 potential opponents, K5s is not a hand you would typically want to play.  However, your fold equity makes this a nearly mandatory raising situation.  The small blind is almost certain to fold unless he has a very strong hand – your worst fear, but relatively unlikely.  The big blind fits one of 2 types here:  1) fold most hands, 2) play almost anything.  You are in good shape either way!  In situation 1), you have a very high level of fold equity, making your odds of picking up 600 quick chips and becoming the chip leader an excellent prospect.  Even if your BB opponent is defending with anything, your K5s is an above average hand which possesses enough showdown equity to make your raise a solid play.   But this strategy by the short stack is very unlikely.

In this situation I would put in a raise of about 1200 chips knowing that my fold equity is high enough that this is a very positive $EV play.

But what if I was in the same situation and had 72o?  I would still raise a significant portion of the time.  The cards in my hand do not change the fact that I am risking 1200 chips in a situation where I would estimate both opponents folding at least 75% of the time if they are typical, with me picking up 600 chips those ¾ of the time and losing 1200 25%, for an expected profit of 150 chips each time I do this.

This is just one example.  The key idea is that playing aggressively with position in late stage SitNGo tourneys is the key to taking advantage of fold equity.  If you don’t do it, you can be sure that your opponents will do it to you.