Poker, like any other game or sport, has winners and losers. The people who study the game scientifically are called players. Players study this math intensive game in order to make good decisions while playing poker and this is what separates them from others who just play for a hobby. At its heart Poker is a mathematical endeavor and you need to learn how to make the best of the cards you were dealt with.
By learning the math behind poker you will understand why some moves are better than others in certain situations. Using the simple math we have summed up here will help you make better decisions at your next game of poker, even if it is for fun with friends or family.
Here we assume you’re not an absolute beginner.
To begin with, let’s look at a simplified version of how to win in poker, known as the Fundamental Theorem of Poker. This theorem is a simplified version of the game and assumes that all players are equally skilled in decision-making. This theorem states that you will get an edge over your opponents if you make better decisions than them at every stage of the game. So let’s look at each stage:
The pre-flop stage is where you first look at your hand and ask yourself what you want to do in the game. It is usually better to bet low than high because this sets the value of your hand by giving proportionally more money away when called. If you bet a very high amount then people will be deterred from calling due to the higher bet.
Widely recognized as the best poker player of all time, Doyle Brunson spent over 50 years studying and playing Texas Hold’em. His knowledge was so good that he wrote a book called Super System , which is considered by many players to be the seminal work on poker and its mathematical foundations. In his book, Brunson talks about how playing one suit is better than playing multiple suits. Just as you would expect, it gives you a greater chance to get the best hand and allows your opponents fewer opportunities to catch up. In addition, it decreases the chance that two of your cards will be in the same four-card combination.
These are all things we have covered already but for good measure here they are again:
You want to make sure you don’t play too many hands because this makes it hard for you to win with any specific hand. You should also try to avoid playing heavily disguised hands like suited connectors, which tends to give people an advantage over you when they have better hands since these hands tend to come around more often than others (making them to be more likely to be in a player’s range of hands).
Good cards in single suits tend to come around less often than weak but multi-suited cards. However, if you can get two of your suited cards together then it will increase the chance that you have a good hand and therefore is worth playing. You should avoid this situation if possible because it increases the variance of going bust.
If you are able to predict when there will be higher variance at the table then that is also beneficial if you know how to take advantage of those opportunities. But for now just keep in mind that being dealt good cards can happen more frequently during low volatility situations and vice versa. Learning how to manage variance is something we will cover later on as well.
Once you have established that you want to play a hand then the next thing you need to know is how much money should be in the pot. This depends on your opponents’ range of hands and how they will react when called. Let’s take an example of a $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em game with ten players, nine of whom raise 3% of the time and fold 97.5% of the time while the other player folds 7% and calls 93.5%.
So if we had pocket jacks, which are middle pair with two over cards (aces) on board, what should we do? We can see from our opponent’s stats that they will call us almost always because our hand beats their range. Therefore, we should bet because we will be getting called more by a large portion of our range and the money in the pot is worth it.
Let’s consider a different example with pocket fives on a board of nine-seven-four rainbow (9s 7c 4h). In this scenario, our opponent will fold 97.5% of the time so even if they do get better than us they won’t call and 67.5% of our hands lose to their range so there isn’t much value in betting either. So folding is correct here since we aren’t getting enough value for what we are giving up (betting 1/2 pot against an over card) when compared to the odds of us being beaten by one of our opponent’s range.
So how much should you bet, then? That depends on a lot of factors that we will get into shortly but for now just know that if you have the best hand you usually want to bet closer to all-in than with weaker hands. For example:
Example 1: You have pocket kings in middle position and there is $17 in the pot so far. A player behind you raises and it folds around to you, what do you do?
This is a fairly tough spot because although having KK makes you closest to being first in (highest chance of winning) your actual equity is not as high as many players may be inclined to believe. Just because your hand crushes most of their ranges doesn’t mean that you crush all of their ranges and it is important to know where the weaknesses are.
In this case, having KK when there is $17 in the pot (1/2 pot) makes you slightly less than a 66% favorite over most players’ range so we would only want to bet between $7 and $11 into the pot. For example, if we bet 10% of our stack ($42) then we could get called with hands like pocket tens, A-X, middle pair etc. whereas if we were to bet 50% of our stack ($21) then they will only call us with hands they have bigger than us or draws strong enough that they expect to hit them often enough to justify calling.
These are just a few tips to get you towards becoming a poker pro. Click here to signup and get started.