Courtesy of Counting the Odds [http://countingtheodds.


An Introduction to the Mathematics of Poker

Math in Poker
Most poker players will tell you that poker is not gambling. In a sense, that is true, it’s a game of skill. But in every hand you play, there is still a certain amount of luck involved – whether you hit the cards you want, etc. in a specific hand. So where does the skill come in? The skill is in knowing how to make the most of each situation. A huge aspect of that (in addition to other factors like hand reading) is about knowing how much luck you need – how likely you are to hit your hand – and how much to bet according to that. In short, it’s about maximising your expected value.

Expected Value
You’ll see that term, “Expected Value” (or EV for short) a lot in any books dealing with poker theory (and you’ll see it a lot in my blog as well). What does it mean? The technical definition is that EV is “the long-run average value of the variable over many independent repetitions of an experiment”. Ok, what does it mean in normal English? I think it’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s say you’re in a Texas Hold’em hand, with just the river to go. Now, imagine that you can deal the river over and over again, forever; you deal a card, then put it back in the deck, reshuffle, and deal again. Your EV is how much you’d win on average per hand. Let’s take a look at a simpler example, of flipping a coin. Imagine we flip a coin, and bet on the coin flip. If it’s heads, I pay you $2; if it’s tails, you pay me $1. If I’m not cheating, half the flips will be heads, and half will be tails, in the long run. If we flipped it a hundred times, you’d expect 50 heads and 50 tails. You would win $2 each on the 50 heads, for $100, and lose $1 each on the 50 tails, for a loss of $50 – giving you a final profit of $50. On average, you’d make $1 every 2 flips, or $0.50 a flip. So your expected value from that coin flip is $0.50. This means that you should definitely take the bet, because on average, you win money on every flip. Simply put, if the EV is more than 0, then the bet will be profitable in the long run.

How does that apply in poker? The simplest calculations for poker are when it’s heads up and one player is all in. So let’s take a look at a sample hand. Your hand: Flop:

Your opponent bets, and you put him on a K. That means you’re behind at the moment, and you need to hit your flush to win the hand. How many cards would improve your hand to a flush? Any of the following:

That gives a total of 9 possible cards which would give you your flush. This is commonly referred to as 9 outs.

How Likely You Are to Hit Your Outs
Ok, so you have 9 outs. But that doesn’t really help unless you know how likely you are to hit on of those 9 outs. What are the chances of the turn card being one of those 9? There are 52 total cards in the deck. you know 5 cards at the moment (the 2 in your hand, and the 3 on the flop), leaving 47 unknown cards. So there’s a 9 out of 47 = 9/47 = 19.15% chance that you’ll hit one of your outs on the turn. By the same reasoning, there’s a 9 out of 46 = 19.57% chance that it’ll hit on the river. If you’re on the flop, you then have a total of 19.15 + 19.57 = 38.71% chance of hitting one of your outs by the river. A summary of the number of outs you have and the corresponding probabilities are in the table below. No of Outs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Chance of Hitting on Turn 2.13% 4.26% 6.38% 8.51% 10.64% 12.77% 14.89% 17.02% 19.15% 21.28% 23.40% Chance of Hitting on River 2.17% 4.35% 6.52% 8.50% 10.87 13.04% 15.22% 17.39 19.57% 21.74% 23.91% Chance of Improving on Either Turn + River 4.30% 8.60% 12.90% 17.21% 21.51% 25.81% 30.11% 34.41% 38.71% 43.02% 47.32%

12 13 14 15

25.53% 27.66% 29.79% 31.91%

26.09% 28.26% 30.43% 32.61%

51.62% 55.92% 60.22%’ 64.52%

It’s hard to do that sort of calculation at the table, of course, and its’ even harder to memorise the table above. You may have heard of the rule of 4 and 2, and that’s where that rule comes in. Rule of 4 and 2 Your odds of hitting one of your outs over 2 cards are approximately the number of outs you have, multiplied by 4. The odds of hitting an out over a single card is approximately the number of outs you have multiplied by 2.

EV of Calling
Now that you know how likely you are to hit your outs, how do you use that to help your decision making? Continuing from the same example above, let’s say the pot is currently $200. Your opponent bets, and puts you in for your last $100. Let’s break down the situation. 1) 2) 3) 4) The pot before you call is $300 It costs you $100 to call There will be no more betting if you call You have to hit a flush to win

If you call, the pot is now $400. You need to hit one of your cards to win. Over the turn + river, that means you have 38.71% chance of winning. If you win, you win the $400. If you lose the hand, you win nothing. There are therefore 3 parts to the EV calculation. a) 38.71% of the time, you win $400 b) The rest of the time, (61.29%) you win $0 c) Either way, you’re down $100 from where you went in. Therefore you have an expected value of 0.3871 * 400 + 0.6129 * 0 – 100 = $54.84. This is more than 0, meaning you should call. Let’s say, however, that you’re deep stacked, and this time, your opponent overbets the pot, and puts you all in for your last $1000, instead of $100. The pot is no $1200, and you need $1000 to call. Everything else stays the same, however. The 3 parts of the EV calculation are now, therefore: a) 38.71% of the time, you win $2200

b) The rest of the time, (61.29%) you win $0 c) Either way, you’re down $1000 Your EV for calling is now 0.3871 * 2200 + 0.6129 * 0 – 1000 = -148.3. This is less than 0, meaning that you shouldn’t be calling the bet. As you may have noticed by now, part (b) of the equation always comes up to 0, and therefore you can ignore that in your EV calculation. The general formula for finding EV is thus the probability of you winning * total pot size (including your call) – amount you have to call.

What if you’re the one placing the bet, however? Your opponent might not call all the time. This introduces a concept of fold equity. Fold equity is essentially how often your opponent will fold. This is where your reads of your opponent come into play. So, how do we include the times when your opponent folds into the equation? Let’s use the same hand, except this time, the roles are reversed and you are putting your opponent all-in for $100. To recap 1) The pot size is now $200. 2) You’re betting $100, which would put your opponent all-in. 3) You have 38.71% chance of winning. Your opponent may or may not fold, however. Let’s say he folds 40% of the time. This means there are now 2 parts to the EV calculation: 1) When he folds, and 2) When he calls. a) When he folds, you make a profit of $200. This means that 40% of the time, you make $200. b) When he calls, it’s essentially the same scenario we described earlier, and your EV is $54.84. This happens the remaining 100% - 40% = 60% of the time Combining the two gives 0.4 * 200 + 0.6 * 54.84 = 112.90.

Implied Odds
So far, we’ve been looking at all-in bets on the flop. The reason for this is because if there’s an all-in, there is no more betting after, and the current pot is all that matters. This is true as well for bets on the river. More realistically, though, the betting action is often not going to be the last action. Again, let’s use that 8-9 of clubs hand as an example. If you miss your flush on the turn, your opponent may bet at you again, and you’ll end up paying even more for your draw. If you hit the flush on the turn, though, your opponent might still bet/call a bet, and you’d win even more. All these come into implied odds, and there’s no definite way of putting it into a formula. Essentially, it’s about making a guess as to what your opponent will do in each situation, and including that in the bet.

Let’s go through a simple example so you have a general idea. Again, we’re on the same hand. You’re drawing to a flush, the pot is $200, you need to hit your flush to win. Your opponent bets $100 and you have to call $100 to play, for a total pot of $400. We’ve already determined that if there is no more betting after this, it’s a profitable call. What if there is still betting to go? Let’s say that your opponent shuts down and won’t call any more bets if the flush card comes. Let’s also assume that if the turn isn’t a flush card, he’ll bet $300 into the pot (which is now $400). This means that your total EV calculation has an additional aspect, the bet you have to call on the turn, giving us the flowing parts a) You have a 19.15% chance of hitting your flush on the turn (refer to the outs table) b) If you hit, you win the $400. Therefore, 19.15% of the time, you win $400 c) 80.85% of the time, you miss the turn and you now have to call $300 more into a $700 pot. a. If you call, the pot is now $1000. b. 19.57% of the time, you’ll hit on the river and win $1000 c. 80.43% you’ll miss on the river and win nothing d. Either way, you’re down a total of $400 This means that your total EV is now 0.1915 * 400 + 0.8085 * (0.1957 * 1000 – 400) = -88.58, making it wrong to call. AS you can see, this gets very complex, and it’ll get worse if you factor in the additional amount you can win if you hit. Generally, the implied odds are an approximation, based on your reads, to try and get a more accurate picture of the true value of a call/bet. My personal suggestion: If you want to be safe (in the absence of reads, etc) just use the odds of hitting on the very next card, and calculate your EV based on this. You might miss out on some extra value, but it’s a safer option.

Pot Odds
The final thing I want to discuss is pot odds. It’s tough to make all those EV calculations on the fly when you’re at the table. But essentially the EV calculations boil down to 3 things: 1) how much is in the pot, 2) how much you need to call, 3) how likely you are to win the hand. You know (3) based on your outs, and your reads of the players (how often you think a player bluffs, etc). You know (1) and (2) by just looking at the pot. How do you use these 3 factors to quickly make a decision? That’s where pot odds come in. Pot odds are how much is already in the pot, for every dollar you bet. For example in the example we’ve been using, you’ve been calling a $100 into a $300 pot, which gives you odds of 3:1 ($3 in the pot for every $1 you put in. So when should you call? To figure that out, you need to estimate (3), how often you’ll win the hand. For the flush draw hand, if we’re looking at an all-in on the flop, we have a 38.71% chance of winning

the hand. Then compare this value of how likely you are to win (38.71%) to the pot odds. There are a couple of ways to do this, and I’ll go through both. 1) Convert the pot odds to a percentage I recommend doing this, because I think it’s easier. Basically, take your bet, and divide it by the total pot size after your call. Multiply the final answer by 100 to get the percentage. If the percentage is lower than the chance you have of winning, then you should call. In this example, that would be 100/400 = 0.25 = 25%. 25% is less than 38.71%, so you should call (as we showed earlier). 2) Convert the 38.71% to odds This is harder, in my opinion. But essentially, you compare how likely you are to lose to how likely you are to win. In this case, that is 61.29 : 38.71, which simplifies to about 1.58:1. You should call if this is lower than the implied odds. 1.58:1 is less than 3:1, so therefore you should call.

This was just a brief run through of how to calculate expected value, and how to use math to analyse whether you should make a call/bet or not. There are a lot of other factors, of course, but that goes beyond the depth of this e-book. For more examples of how I use math to analyse my hands, check out my blog, Counting the Odds, at If you have any questions, or anything you’d like to discuss, please feel free to email me at I hope this book has proved helpful for you! =).