Gambling Wisdom: Freerolls

Gambling (general), Strategy

July 30, 2007

In this series I discuss topics that are well known within the gambling community, but that may be new to players who come to the game of poker from a non-gambling background.

A freeroll is a gambling situation in which you cannot lose money, but have a possibility of winning money. As you might imagine, such situations are usually quite attractive, and they come up in gambling and poker surprisingly frequently.

The concept of the freeroll exists on a number of scales. On a large scale, playing a tournament in which you are staked by someone else is a classic example of a freeroll. The backer provides the tournament buyin and accepts the full loss if the horse loses. If the horse cashes and wins some money, the winnings beyond the buyin amount are split between the backer and the horse.

Being on this type of freeroll is often very advantageous for a gambler, especially one who is low on funds, since there is no downside. The only possible loss is lost time, although that can be significant. As such, freeroll opportunities need to be evaluated on a per time basis to ensure that the amount you stand to win and the odds of you winning it are sufficiently good to be worth your time.

On a smaller scale, freeroll opportunities can arise within a hand of poker as well. For example, in holdem, if player 1 has the AhKh on a QhJdTh2c board, and player 2 has AdKc, they both have the nut straight and will likely split the pot. But player 1 also has a flush draw, the odds are only 35:9 against him winning the entire pot outright. Player 1 can’t lose, but he can win – in other words he’s on a freeroll. He would want to get as much money as possible into the pot since he can’t lose and the more he bets the more he wins if the flush comes. Getting money in likely won’t be that difficult since player 2 also has the nuts. Obviously, this example is somewhat contrived since I’ve shown you player 2’s cards, but anytime you have the nuts and a good draw, and you opponent seems to likewise have the nuts, you may well be on a freeroll.

There’s also something that I like to call a ‘negative freeroll’ – a situation where you can’t win any money, but you can lose money. In the holdem example above, player 2 is on a negative freeroll. Based on that example, you might assume that all freerolls result in a corresponding negative freeroll for someone else, but that’s not true. In the staking example above, the horse is on a freeroll but everyone in the scenario has at least some possibility of winning money.

Freerolls are one of those concepts that have the potential to reshape the way you think about the world beyond gambling. Once you know what to look for, you’ll see all sorts of situations where nothing bad can really happen, but something good might. For example, this blog is a freeroll for me. It costs me essentially nothing but my time, but could potentially lead to fame and fortune down the road. Or more likely a little ad money. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see tons of freerolls in the real world. You’ll also see “opportunities” for negative freerolls where nothing good can come from your participation. Recognizing both types of situations for what they are allows you to make sound decisions.

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