Freeroll in poker, has two distinct meanings that are totally dependent on the game or the tournament. In the case of a single game, the free roll applies to a particular hand while in the case of a tournament, free entry in tournaments are known as free roll tournaments.
Freeroll Hand: A Freeroll situation is said to arise when a player is assured of a split pot usually when playing against just a single opponent but has a chance of winning the entire pot if the right cards appear. This is not unusual when playing in a high-low split game where a player, say A, is already assured of winning the low hand with no card being able to help his opponent, say B, in getting a lower hand. In such a case, if getting a particular card or cards can enable the player A in getting a flush or a straight, then s/he can win the entire pot.
In Texas Hold’em, if player A has a hand with A-10 of spades while player B has a hand with A-10 of diamonds, and after three rounds of betting and the turn card, the board reads K(spades)-Q(clubs)-J(diamonds)-4(spades), then A has a chance of completing a flush even though both players hold the nut-hand. If the river card happens to be a spade, then A will win the high hand with a flush, beating B’s straight, while also winning the low hand with the 4.
Since player B can get nothing more than the split pot if the final card falls in favour, while player A can get either the split pot or the entire pot depending on the final card, player A is said to be “freerolling” B. A player, if s/he realizes that s/he is on the better half of a Freeroll situation, can make unending bets to take the pot higher. Similarly, if a player doesn’t realize that s/he is on the wrong end of a Freeroll, then s/he can end up making bets and raises and finally end up with nothing in the kitty.
Freeroll Tournament: when it comes to a tournament, Freeroll has a totally different meaning in that it means that a player need not pay any entry fee to enter the tournament. Although the tournament does not have any entry fee, the sign is at times misleading as at some point during the tournament, a player has to make a payment, in some cases only.
In such tournaments, the players do not pool in for the prize money as well as the house fee. The prize money is normally drawn from a donation, a sponsor, audience tickets, broadcasting rights or a combination of all of these.
Regular players at casinos and cardrooms are often granted a Freeroll for their loyalty towards the establishment. Even in the case of invitation-only tournaments, all players are entered on a Freeroll basis.
On the Internet, Freeroll tournaments are aplenty and usually require a payment through a points system that has been devised by the website hosting the tournament. The prizes, in such Freeroll tournaments, is usually in the form of real money, more points for the player’s account, merchandize or even entry into real world tournaments. Almost all Internet based poker tournaments are Freeroll tournaments.
Most feeder tournaments also allow their winners to play for free in the bigger tournaments however the distinction of a Freeroll and such a promotion is unclear as players do have to play to participate in the feeder tournament and even though they do not have to pay anything to play in the bigger tournament, the bigger tournament is considered as an extension only and therefore, technically the player has already paid for the bigger tournament as well.