Mathematically Correct Poker

Playing Mathematically Correct Poker

Understanding the math is an integral component of playing winning poker, especially online where physical tells are not part of the game and the fundamentals become more important. Poker theorists such as David Sklansky focus on poker math because it’s such an important part of the game. You can’t expect to always get accurate reads on your opponents, but you need to be always making mathematically correct decisions if you expect to make a profit in the long run. This is known as expected value in poker. Every decision you make should have a positive expected value.

When determining if it’s profitable to make a call, you need to calculate pot odds and hand odds. If the pot odds are better then the hands odds then it is profitable to make the call.

Find out how many cards you can win with, how many cards you lose with, how much you will have to pay, and how much you will win. The majority of the time you will want to calculate odds on the turn, where you want to decide if you really have the best hand and will continue with it. On the turn there is 46 cards left in the deck.

To calculate hand odds you use this simple formula: (46 – Outs / Outs).

So, if you have the nut flush draw and put your opponent on a top pair type hand, you know you have 9 outs to hit the flush and make the best hand.

46 – 9 / 9 = 4.11 or approx 4:1 odds (ratio of losing : winning).

For the main draws like flush draws, open ended straight draws, straight flush draws etc, it should be second nature to calculate the hand odds because you know how many outs there are to make the best hand and hence the odds.

When the formula can be really useful is when you have some other draws which can be a mixture, such as any pair and an inside straight draw (9 outs), or any pair and an overcard along with a backdoor flush draw (7 outs). Two overcards which you expect to make the winning hand can count as 6 outs. With any of these not so common draws, just input the number of outs into the formula and you will know your hand odds.

You want the Pot Odds (how much you have to call in comparison to the money in the pot) to be greater than your Hand Odds. This might seem complicated at first, but it really isn’t once you get a hold of it.

Let’s say you have an open ended straight draw, so you have 9 outs to the flush and 8 outs to make the straight, so 16 outs in total. 46 – 16 / 16 = 1.875 or approx 2:1. If you are getting 3:1 on your money to make the call then you will make money in the long run because the Pot Odds > Hand Odds. Even if you don’t hit the hand in the long run the action has a positive expected value.

Another important concept is the possibility of hitting and still not winning, you have to be very careful with this. Make sure you don’t count dead outs which may not necessarily give you the winning hand. Will my 2nd pair give someone a straight? Do 2 of my open ended straight draw outs give someone a flush? Because of this possibility add a little bit to the odds you need to call with.

If you have experienced a downswing in your bankroll, the first thing you should ask yourself is if you have been playing mathematically sound poker. If you are making the correct decisions and fewer mistakes then your opponents, it will only be a matter of time before your bankroll will experience an upswing. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the odds of the main draws so you don’t need to calculate them in pressure situations and instead can try and get reads on your opponents. Always know your odds and know your opponents.

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