Poker math makes you a winner not luck

It requires skill to use the mathematics of poker to be a winner. Otherwise, you are mostly depending on luck, over which you have no control. That’s what losers do.

Our two previous columns discussed ways to facilitate the use of Poker Math while playing Texas Hold’em:

• Preflop, circumvent the need to use poker math.

• After the flop, with a drawing hand, avail yourself of the easy way to apply poker math to estimate and use the card odds and the pot odds, and then, quickly determine whether you have a Positive Expectation (PE).

Thus far, we have confined our strategy only to the immediate pot odds (sometimes labeled “expressed” or “current” pot odds). It’s the ratio of all the money in the pot, including your opponent’s bet, compared to how much more you must invest to see the next card. If pot odds are higher than card odds, you have a PE, and should call that bet. The higher the pot odds compared to your card odds, the more you can expect to win.

In addition to the immediate pot odds, also important are the “implied” pot odds and “money odds.”

Implied: After calling your opponent’s bet, some players behind you may also call that bet. There may be more betting on subsequent rounds. All those bets by your opponents after your immediate call bet will add to the pot. Thus, if you connect to make the winning hand, you will win even more money than the immediate pot odds indicate.

The implied pot odds are the sum of the chips already in the pot (not counting your call) plus those that will go into the pot after your call, plus any additional chips your opponents might bet on later rounds, divided by your immediate call bet. Of course, this is only an estimate – but close enough. We often use estimates when making decisions in hold’em.

If the immediate pot odds are close in value to your card odds, or perhaps even a bit smaller, stop and think before mucking your holecards. Very likely, the implied pot odds will be larger than the immediate pot odds. Then, you would comfortably have a PE, and should make the call.

Money odds: This involves new dimensions. Here’s an example to explain money odds, and when to use them.

You are in a late position in a $4-$8 limit game, holding two suited cards. Say it’s the A-10 of hearts. Two more hearts on the flop gives you four-to-the-nut flush. The card odds are about 2-to-1 against connecting on the turn or river. One out of three times you can expect to make it!

The Big Blind, a rather conservative player, comes out betting on the flop; he probably has a better hand than you at this point. Ace-high doesn’t even beat a small pair. Three others call his bet. Now it is your turn to declare. Certainly, you want to see what the next card will do for your hand; the nut flush (if you were fortunate to connect) most likely would win the pot at the showdown.

Most players in your situation would just call. Instead, you raise! The original bettor plus the three who called him (four opponents, in all) invariably will call one more small bet. On that raise, you are getting 4-to-1 money odds – much higher than the card odds of 2-to-1 against. In effect, in the long run, you can expect a significant profit from that raised bet on the flop.

There is still a further advantage for making that raise. Because you raised, your opponents have all the more respect for the presumed strength of your hand. They have no idea you only have an Ace-high hand. Suppose the turn is a blank. Your four opponents all check to you, giving you the opportunity to see the turn for free – or to go for a semi-bluff.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame.  Email: [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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