The concept of “free cards” in poker first came to the fore many years ago in limit hold’em. In this form of poker then the number of pots that you won was a key requirement in whether or not you had a winning session. Checking with the current best hand on the flop or the turn when a bet or raise could have won you the pot and then being outdrawn is a disaster in limit hold’em. If you check and allow your opponent to see the next round of play without having to invest any more money is said to be allowing them “free cards”.
However in games like no limit Texas hold’em then free cards are another important aspect of the game as well but for a totally different reason. In this form of poker then it is often a good idea to allow free cards because of the presence of pot escalation. Let us say that you have a hand like Qd-5d and raise before the flop to 3.5bb from position.
The big blind calls you and the flop comes Qs-10s-7h and they check to you. A continuation bet of 6bb gets called by your opponent making the pot around 19bb on the flop. The turn card is the 8h and your opponent checks again.
The pot is already 19bb and another bet on the turn would have to be at least 10bb to deny your opponent the correct odds to draw to a straight or a flush. However you raised pre-flop and then bet the flop and your opponent called you both times.
This indicates that they have some sort of hand. If you are ahead then you are likely only marginally ahead but if you are losing then another bet and call will swell the pot to around 40bb or so with a full round of betting to go.
Quite often in no limit Texas hold’em then checking and allowing a free card is a strong play. It prevents your opponent from check-raising you on a bluff for starters. It also prevents the pot from escalating too much also and checking the turn can often induce your opponent into trying to bluff on the river. Another advantage to checking and allowing the free card comes from the times when you are actually behind.
So quite often one of the vital parts to playing no limit Texas hold’em comes from finding the proper balance between protecting your hand and betting for value and controlling the pot size with checks. So giving your opponent a free card in no limit Texas hold’em is not as critical as it is in other forms of poker like limit hold’em for example. This is simply because you cannot lose your entire stack in one hand at limit hold’em. So remember that allowing free cards is fine in no limit Texas hold’em as long as you are doing it for pot control reasons.