Poker is unique among gambling games. Why? Because in poker, it’s not the best hand that tends to win. It’s the best player. Don’t believe us? That claim is backed up by a study conducted by Ingo Fiedler, the economist, who analyzed hundreds of thousands of hands played on online poker sites over a period of six months. His findings: The best hand won only 12% of the time on average, and not even a third of hands went to showdown. In other words, skilled players will bet and bluff their opponents off the table.
The only way to achieve that level of mastery is to hone two skill sets. One is the psychology of the poker table. The other, like it or not, is math. The better you are at poker math, the better you’ll play poker, online or live. It’s no coincidence that the best online poker players today use Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy to their advantage.
The better your poker skills, of course, the better your chances of success in other walks of life, such as business. Let’s take a closer look at how you can improve your math skills with poker.
Basic poker math
Let’s face it, a lot of people really hate math. The good news is that if you know how to play poker, you already have good enough math skills to build on. When you’re playing with a deck of 52 cards divided into four suits of 13 cards each, and you know that a card won’t be dealt again once it’s been dealt, played or folded, you’re already processing information mathematically. Granted, you’re doing it on automatic pilot rather than actually calculating. So let’s take it to the next level.
The first bit of poker math you can easily learn is how to calculate outs. These are the cards that can be dealt to make your hand. Working your outs out in your head is a skill you can immediately put to use in online poker tournaments. Here’s how it works. Say you’re in a Texas Hold’em poker tournament with four Hearts in your hand. There are 13 cards in a suit, so there are nine Hearts left in the deck for you to complete a flush (13 – 4 = 9). These are your outs. Or say you’re holding the 7 and 6 of Clubs and the flop comes 6 of Aces, 7 of Diamonds, Ace of Hearts. Now you have two pairs, but maybe you could make a full house. For that, you have four outs: 7 of Aces, 7 of Hearts, 6 of Diamonds, 6 of Hearts.
Now that you know how to calculate your outs, let’s see how to calculate the odds of hitting them. There are three main ways to do this. You can consult a chart (easily available on the internet), calculate the exact odds (the math is quite complex), or take a shortcut with the “Rule of Four and Two,” which is what we’re going to do.
It’s quite a simple method: Multiply your outs by four when both the turn and river are still to come. With one card to go (from turn to river), you multiply your outs by two instead. Say you’re playing poker online and a player goes all-in after the flop while you’re sitting with nine outs for a flush. If you call, you’ll see the turn and the river. So what are the odds? If you apply the rule, you’ll get 9 x 4 = 36. (The actual percentage probability, as you’ll find it on a poker chart, is 35%. Close enough!) When there’s just one card to come, nine outs works out as 9 x 2 = 18%, close to the actual figure of 19.1%.
One way that knowing your outs can be extremely useful is when you decide whether or not to call a bet based on the amount of money in the pot and your chances of hitting one of your outs. This is known as pot odds. Here’s a handy method of figuring out this situation. Sticking with our flush example, you have nine outs after the turn. There’s $100 in the pot and your opponent bets $20. You have to bet $20 for a chance to win the pot and get your $20 back. There are 46 unseen cards in the card. Nine of them can make your hand and 37 can lose it. This provides you with two different ratios: The pot ratio ($120 to $20) and the card ratio (37 to 9). The rule of thumb is that it’s profitable to call when the pot ratio is bigger than the card ratio. Otherwise, fold. In this example, $120 divided by $20 is six and 37 divided by nine is 4.11, just a little over four. Six is more than four, so, on average, it’s profitable to call the bet.
Having this knowledge under your belt can make a big difference to your poker tournament strategy.
Poker math: The next step
There’s a lot more to poker math than working out your chances to win and pot odds. If you really want to upgrade your game to professional level, you’ll want to calculate such things as your Equity Value (EV), break-even percentage, fold percentage, opponents’ frequencies and more. But that shouldn’t stop you from playing poker online for fun and to gain experience. Online poker tournaments, for instance, will give you plenty of opportunities to practice the basics of poker math! This will train your math skills overall and prepare you for more complex calculations if you’re interested. If you’re determined to take things further, you may want to consider approaching a poker coach.
Improve your online poker skills at Borgata Online
There’s no substitute for experience, and you’ll get it in spades when you sign up to play poker at Borgata Online. Meet like-minded players and enter daily poker tournaments, cash games and sit and gos to suit your budget and skill level. It’s among the best online poker training you could hope for.
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