Poker chips on a table

What Is a Freeroll in Poker?

Poker may well be the most popular play-for-money card game in the world and the reasons for this are myriad. For a start, of all the traditional betting games (baccarat, blackjack), it’s the game that’s most about skill. Not necessarily in terms of playing the cards themselves – though there’s some of that – but in terms of playing the other players in a psychological game of bluffing, misdirecting and mastering the old poker face. Unlike card games that are played in tournaments but aren’t fundamentally betting games (bridge, rummy), poker is also much more versatile in that you can play it both in tournaments and as cash hands.

Freeroll Tournaments

Presumably precisely because of its unparalleled popularity, there are even ways to play for money in a poker tournament without having to pay an entrance fee. This is known as a freeroll tournament. How can such a thing be, you ask? There’s no such thing as a free lunch so how can you possibly play in a poker tournament with the hope of winning real money (sometimes even a significant amount of money) without paying?

The answer, inevitably, is that there is usually a catch. 

Freeroll tournaments do indeed not require players to pay an entrance fee and the pot is effectively “donated” by the casino – or even charity organization – that is hosting the tournament, and this is often done through outside sponsorships and some of the cost is covered by a cash bar or by serving and charging for gourmet foods. The catch, though, is that freeroll tournaments are almost always the result of players having already spent quite a bit of money, either at the casino or donated a lot to the charity hosting the tournament. 

Freeroll tournaments are usually offered to frequent players with some casinos offering it as a prize for winning a certain amount of points that can be won in other areas of the casino – say, by spending a certain amount on chips, as extra rewards in other poker or blackjack games, on slot machines or even at a concession stand. Similarly, a charity may offer a freeroll tournament to frequent and big donors, not only or even primarily as a way to win back some of their money, but simply as a social event and a way for these big donors to network with one another. And if they happen to give extra donations in the process, that certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Poker chips

Freeroll Poker Hands

There is another kind of freeroll in poker, though, that has nothing whatsoever to do with freeroll tournaments. A freeroll hand is also a bit more complicated than freeroll tournaments. This is, basically, how it works:

Freerolls usually arise when only two players remain in a round (it can happen with more but you’ll see why it usually doesn’t) but the final card has not yet been dealt. The situation is when one of those players is guaranteed to, at very worst, split the pot with the opponents, but may well win the whole pot with the right final card. This is a freeroll because the player literally can’t lose, so they’re free to up their bets with abandon with the knowledge that the absolute worst case scenario is that they win their money back, with the best case being they win a whole lot of money from that single round.

The most common example of this is with a so-called high-low split game. To understand this, let’s take a look at the following example:

The game is Texas Hold ‘Em. Two players are left. Player X holds a King and a 10 of Spades; Player Y a King and a 10 of diamonds. On the board is an Ace of Spades, a Queen of Hearts, a Jack of Diamonds and a 4 of Spades. Both have what is known as an ace high straight – in other words a 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace of different suits, so they would theoretically split the pot. However, should the last card dealt be a Spade, then Player X would have a flush (5 spades), which would actually beat the high straight of the Player Y.

Player X in the above example has a freeroll because worst case scenario, the pot is split; best case scenario, they win. Player X cannot lose no matter what card is drawn next. They can then keep upping their bets and can blindside Player Y if the latter isn’t paying attention to what is happening.

Freerolls of either kind are relatively rare, but are well worth taking advantage of should the opportunity ever arise.

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