Equity Denial

Equity Denial as poker betting concept

In Texas Holdem poker, the experts teach that there are two – and only two – reasons for betting.  First is betting for value, hoping another player with a weaker hand will call and pay you off.  Second is bluffing, hoping to induce someone to fold a hand that is actually better than yours.

Value bets and bluffs.  Bluffs and value bets.

For purists, every bet is one of these or the other.  Any other reason for betting… to get information, to build the pot, blocking bets or whatever, is simply bad play.

Now along comes a recent strategy article at Upswing Poker on “equity denial,” defined as “when you prevent a player from realizing his equity by forcing him to fold before showdown.”  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of equity denial as a third reason for betting, but may be the most comprehensive explanation.  The analysis and examples in the article are all about Texas Holdem.

A more cynical definition would be “bluffing with the best hand.”  In other words, you believe you have the best hand, but you still want the other guy to fold.  Some experts would respond by saying that’s insane.  Either bet an amount that can get called by the worse hand, or just check if there is no other reason for betting.

Let’s say you have 77.  When you raise pre-flop, you are a slight favorite against hands like Q9o or K8s.  Yet you would prefer those hand to fold, especially if that player will have position on you post-flop and is a good, aggressive player.  On a flop like AJ6, it’s too hard to know where you stand OOP, and many good players will find a way to take that pot away from you.  Even worse, on a flop like 993, you might think your 88 is still best even though Q9o now has you crushed.  So thinning the herd and getting these junky hands with over cards to fold pre-flop is a form of equity denial.

Playing lots of online Pot Limit Omaha lately, I’m starting to believe equity denial is the most dominant reason for betting in PLO.  Equity denial is a much more critical concept in PLO than in Texas Holdem.  Equities are very close much more frequently.  With 4 hole cards, it’s common for the hand that is behind on the flop or turn to have very many outs to improve.

Unless you flop (or turn) a big full house, you are constantly vulnerable to being draws.  Even a hand like TT, on a flop of KKT, is vulnerable.  Flopping a full house is awesome.  But in PLO, especially with multiple callers, you expect at least one caller to have a King.  Which means they have as many as 10 outs to improve to a better full house or quads.  As good as that flop is, it’s still scary as hell.

On the one hand, you flopped a near-monster.  (A true monster would be holding KT and the flop is KKT, giving you the “over full” rather than the “under full.”)  On the other hand, if someone has a King (what else would they call with?) and the turn or river card pairs any of their other three hole cards, your toast!

There’s no reason to be cute or slow play here.  Make pot-sized bets on every street.  Bet as if trying to get them to fold.  You may hope to get called by AKxx as long as it doesn’t improve, but if they fold, it’s OK.  See how different this is from the way you would play the same hand in Texas Holdem, where you’d be trying not to lose your customer?

The same applies if you flop a nut straight or nut flush or top/middle set.  In Holdem, those are monster flops.  In PLO your straights are vulnerable to flush draws, higher straight draws, or sets/two pair improving to a full house.  Your flushes are vulnerable to sets/two pair improving to a full house.  Your sets are vulnerable to flush and straight draws.  There really are monsters hiding under the bed.

nitty poker players fear monsters under the bed MUBSY

Even worse is when the river card completes an obvious draw and a smart, aggressive player (usually in position) leverages the board to take the pot away with a big bluff.

Sometimes they refuse to fold and draw out anyway.  That’s poker.  If you always charge the maximum price to the draws, you can still win in the long run.  Oh, and did you know that many poker players like to gamble, and will call large bets even when the math works against them?  Well, it’s true.

With more experience at PLO, I’ll probably change my tune, but for now it’s all about equity denial, baby, yeah, yeah, yeahhhh-h!


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  1. Argh. This one frustrates me. There are two—and only two—ways to win a poker hand: a) show down the best hand, or 2) get everyone else to fold. This is the same reason that there are two—and only two—primary reasons to bet. Build value against weaker hands, or fold out (bluff) better hands. Equity denial is a somewhat bogus/misleading term. It really is just a subset of value betting; i.e., what people mean by “denying equity” is they are betting for value, but want to make the price is high enough that the other guy is getting the wrong odds to continue. You’re still betting for value. In fact, you *don’t* want the other guy to fold; you just want him to pay the wrong price to continue.

  2. Mark, your comment is 100% on point. Yet, in PLO, the corollary to #TheyAlwaysHaveIt seems to be #TheyAlwaysGetThere. It’s freakin’ maddening. There is a maximum price you can set… pot!

    So that leaves me hoping for folds, even though getting called is +EV. Villain’s equity – when calling – is almost always > 33.3% on the flop & turn, and I cannot set a price high enough to make calling bad.

    The other thing is, too often when I try to offer more tempting odds with bets of 1/2 pot or thereabouts with a made but not monster hand, it just backfires.

    So it’s pot, pot, pot… happy if they fold and hang on to the variance coaster when they call.

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