It’s easy enough to define, a bit harder to get right. A free card in poker is when you or your opponent is able to see the next card in a hand without having to call a bet. For instance, if your opponent is the first to act on a street in a hand and they check to you, you have the opportunity to see a free card. Now, why would you (or your opponent) want to give the other player a free card? Firstly, to save more money when you’re on a draw and secondly, to extract more money from your opponents.
A free card play can be made to prevent your opponent from betting to you on the turn, which will save you more money than if you were going to call a bet on the flop and another bet on the turn to see the river. These plays work best when you’re heads-up against an opponent and others aren’t going to interfere. Of course, you should be the first to act and most importantly, you should have a strong drawing hand.
Let’s look at a theoretical hand where you’re holding Ah6h. The flop is QhJc5h, giving you the nut flush draw and everyone but your opponent folded. When you check this flop, one of two things is going to happen: your opponent is going to bet or your opponent is going to check behind you. The best play for your opponent to do in this situation would be to check so you’d see the turn for free, but if they do bet, make it expensive for them, you should re-raise.
Why risk more money when you tried to see the card for free? When you check-raise, it disguises the true strength of your hand and gives you a chance to see that free card on the turn if your opponent calls the re-raise. When the turn card comes, and you check once again, your opponent is going to be less likely to place a bet because of your aggression on the flop. However if they re-raise again, you can be sure they have a strong hand and you should only call the bet if we are getting correct pot odds for the draw.
There are times when you want your opponents to get a free card, to lull them into giving you more money. Let’s look at a hand where you’ve got KcKd and the flop’s a messy thing: 7c2hKs. You’ve got three of a kind and are holding the nuts because there are no straight or flush draws on the board. If you bet on this hand, it’s unlikely that your opponent is going to call because they see that king.
By letting them see the next card for free, you’re giving them the opportunity to bluff by showing some weakness. Of course, I’d like to tell you that you shouldn’t forget to bet the turn. The only way to build the pot is by betting or raising, so don’t be afraid to bet out. If your opponent folds, it’s very doubtful that you would receive any money from them on the river anyway.
The one thing to remember with free cards in poker is that you should never give one to your opponent if that card might give them a better hand than you. This will take some time and knowledge to feel out exactly, but watch your opponents’ betting patterns and get to know them before you give away freebies at the poker table.