# Just a little math goes a long way

Nov 16, 2004 12:41 AM

Many beginning and longtime poker players are concerned about their ability to play poker because they think that there is a lot of math to the game of poker.

Well, yes — there is some math in the game of poker but it’s really quite simple.

One of the recurring features of my column is the Poker Tip of the Week and I have been pleased by the comments from you, the readers, about the tip, so this week and maybe next, I will be devoting the entire column to the "Oklahoma Johnny" Poker Tip of the Week.

Do not let the math of poker cause you any problem in your game of poker. Can you count to four? Yes, of course you can! Well that is the number of different suits that exist in a deck of cards. Now the next really hard question, can you count to 13? Yes, there are 13 different cards in each suit of hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds. All suits are of equal strength — i.e., the ace of hearts will always have the same value or winning power as the ace of spades, etc.

Now hold on: 4 x 13= 52. The 52 cards make a full deck of cards.

Everything — all the math of poker is based on 4 x 13 = 52, and simple variations of these simple numbers.

True, many of the younger poker players (but I don’t let the young whippersnappers play in The Seniors World Championship of Poker) and some of the older poker players hold advance degrees in science, engineering, and all the different disciplines of higher mathematics including of course, computer technology.

I hold math and engineering degrees from the great University of Oklahoma, class of ’52, and I can integrate a differential fraction, but I have never found a use for this at the poker table. Just plain old vanilla fourth grade arithmetic is all I ever use.

Yes, we do play a little football at OU, and I played a little poker with the football greats of that time, Jack Mitchell, Darrell Royal, and Bud Wilkerson. Although I was too little to make the team, I did enjoy winning their money at the poker table and shooting a little pool with them.

You can talk about standard deviations — or permutations — or combinations — or theory of probabilities or all the other high ”˜falutin’ math talk that you want to — to express yourself about poker, but the plain, simple fact is that all there is to poker math is just count to four and multiply by 13 and all the variations in between.

Let me just give you a quick example. You are playing \$5/10 Texas hold’em. I am going to give you a good starting hand. You have the heart ace and heart king (I call this hand grandma and grandpa). The flop comes off. (The flop is the first three common cards that all players may use). The flop is placed in the center of the table. Let’s say it is 4H, 2D and the 9H. Now forget the money part right now. Later I will teach you about money management.

What are the chances that you will make a heart flush on the turn card? (The turn card is the next common card the dealer will turn up.) This card will be placed beside the three cards in the middle of the table that was in the original flop.

Okay, break it down. There are 13 hearts in a full deck. You hold two of them and the flop holds two of them. 2 + 2 = 4 hearts that you can see, so there are 13 — 4 = 9 hearts somewhere. The deck had 52 cards to start with but two are in your hand plus three are in the flop: 2 + 3 = 5 cards you know about. There are 52 — 5 = 47 cards that are a mystery to you, but you know that nine of them are hearts. So take the nine that must be hearts from the 47 that are in the stub of the deck and the odds are 38 to 9 that the next card off the top of the deck will be a heart. So it is about 4 to 1 that the next card will be a heart.

Now if you missed making a heart flush on the turn card, what are the chances that you will get a heart on the river card? The river card is the last and final card that will become a common card and will be placed by the dealer in the middle of the table joining the flop and the turn card to make a total of five common cards.

For computing the odds on this last card being a heart you just subtract one from the stub of the deck resulting in (47 — 1 = 46 unknowns) then 46 — 9 = 37 or 37 to 9 or about 4 to 1, so that the odds that you will make the heart flush is 4 to 1 on the turn card or still about 4 to 1 that you will make the flush when the river card is turned up. You will note that you then were about 2 to 1 to make the flush after the flop with two cards to come.

I know that this is dry and to some of you who already know all of this, I have bored you, but stay tuned and I will go deeper into something that you may find useful next week. I will admit that winning poker is at times boring, but it is fun to count the money when you go on home.

Now you see that all of this is just step-by-step with fourth grade math and you can do it.

Carol says it’s my job to keep her car full of gas so I must go now and take care of my Honey. Until next time remember to STAY LUCKY!