Skillful players always have an edge
September 19, 2018 3:00 AM
by George Epstein
The word “gambling” carries a negative connotation; i.e., something to be avoided. According to Wikipedia, “gambling is the wagering of money or something of value… on an event with an uncertain outcome, with the primary intent of winning money or material goods.”
It is risking money in the hope of coming out ahead.
Let’s look at various activities – including the game of poker – as forms of investment.
Whether gambling or investing, you are risking money to gain more. Good investments are strongly favored to do just that. When the odds are in your favor, in the long run you will come out ahead. On the other hand, poor investments are bound to be costly. The odds are against you.
In games such as slots, dice, roulette, and blackjack where the odds favor the house, you have little or no control over results. It’s a matter of luck (chance). In the long run, as luck evens out (good and bad), most players will lose because the odds favor the house.
On the other hand, a winning poker player can put the odds in his favor. How? As poker celebrity John Vorhaus wrote in the Jan. 11, 2002 issue of Poker Digest magazine: “Poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance.” In that regard, he explains the importance of “edge” – when you have an advantage over your opponents thanks to superior skills. You make better decisions than the other players resulting in winning their chips.
It is quite common to hold a drawing hand after the flop. To call a bet on the flop, the amount of chips in the pot relative to the size of your call bet must be higher than the odds against your catching the winning hand (based on the number of outs you have). That is a “positive expectation” and should assure you of winning in the long run. A wise investment.
A typical example: On the River, you have four-to-the-nut flush. That gives you nine good outs – the cards of that suit remaining in the deck. (There are no pairs on the board, so a full-house or Quads is not possible.) With only the River card to come, your card odds are about 4-to-1 against making the big flush.
There is a bet of 8 chips you must call in order to see the River. The pot now contains about 80 chips. That gives you 10-to-1 (80 ÷ 8) pot odds, well above your card odds (4-to-1) – a positive expectation and a wise investment. Otherwise, you can fold and save lots of chips.
Five key skills: 1. selecting your starting-hand, depending on betting position and other factors; 2. ensuring a positive expectation; 3. knowing your opponent’s playing traits; observing tells so you can “read” his most likely holdings; 4. using bluffing, including the Esther Bluff and 5. knowing how best to build the pot when you catch a monster. As Vorhaus said, your poker skills can give you an important edge over your opponents. Invest wisely.
The cost to play: This discussion has omitted a significant aspect of playing poker in a casino – one few players consider. You must win enough to overcome that cost – about $25 every hour of play. All the more reason for becoming expert in these key poker skills.