The 1st thing I think when I hear this title is, “this sounds like work”. There is no doubt, it is. I also think that staying after practice for a basketball player and shooting 100 foul shots could also sound like “work”, but if you realize it’s the only way to get closer to greatness, then it starts to sound a lot more like “the way”. Many of the best athletes in the world you’ll find decided to take the route less traveled, and as a result met greatness. Understanding the math involved with poker is a lot like shooting foul shots as it’s necessary to do this “work” in order to get yourself closer to GREATNESS.
I’m not going to get into any deep EV Calculations, or any complex math problems. I’m going to focus on some common spots where understanding the math can potentially open up your game, but I will try to do that in the simplest way possible.
₪ Continuation Bets:
It seems like as people learned that ~10 big blinds is a “push/fold stack”, players nowadays seem to know that continuation betting (c-betting) is profitable. Well, maybe they don’t KNOW it’s actually profitable, but they probably know it’s just the easiest way to win some chips a good amount of the time. Regardless, let’s try to put some understanding to this concept so that it’s not just easiest to c-bet, but more-so KNOWN to be profitable.
Scenario 1 – Folds to you and you raise pre-ante in late position to 400 at 100/200 blinds, and are called by the Big Blind (BB). Flop comes out and you completely miss, your opponent checks to you, and you decide you are going to c-bet bluff. What sizing should you use here? How often do you need this bet to work in order to show profit? Do you think your opponent will fold enough to show profit?
The Breakdown – Pot is 900 (Our raise to 400 + the Small Blinds 100 + the Big Blinds 400). Most players will just mindlessly bet half pot here and hope to get a fold. Here is a breakdown of some bet sizes and how often they need to work in order to start showing profit.
We bet 300 (1/3 pot). This needs to work over 25% of the time to start showing profit.
We bet 450 (1/2 pot). This needs to work over 33%.
We bet 675 (3/4 pot). This needs to work over 42%.
We bet 900 (PSB, or Pot Sized Bet). This needs to work over 50%.
We bet 1350 (1.5 x pot). This needs to work over 60%.
Now that we see all the different sizing and how often they need to work, we can formulate a more educated plan considering how often we think our opponent may or may not fold. We also now allow for some creativity when it comes to our bluffing and value range bet sizing in this spot because we are not always betting the same % of pot every time. Also, since we are not basing our sizing on our hand strength, but rather the frequency we assume opponents fold, we will be naturally more balanced between our value and bluff range.
– If I think someone is playing very straightforward post-flop and I DON’T want them to fold on the flop, then I will likely c-bet smaller (or won’t cbet).
– If I think they are less straightforward and a bit loose, maybe I will choose a larger sizing to reduce the frequency they call or make a move when I WANT them to fold.
– If I DON’T think they fold often and I’m value betting, I may choose a larger sizing to help build up the pot.
Scenario 2 – You are on the other side of Scenario 1 and are facing someone who is going to c-bet a high % of the time. Here is some Math if we decide we want to check-raise and turn our hand into a Shia LaBluff.
The Breakdown – Pot is 900 and we check, they bet 450 (half pot standard sizing most would use), and now we are facing a pot of 1350 and a decision. We’ve decided to raise and we bet…
We raise the 450 to 1350 (PSB or 3 times their bet) as a straight bluff. This needs to work over 50% of the time to start showing profit.
We raise the 450 to ~1010 (3/4 of pot). This needs to work over 42%.
We raise the 450 to 900, or a min raise (66% of pot). This needs to work over 40%.
Knowing this can be useful against opponents who habitually c-bet. The key thing to draw your focus on is how often your opponent will likely fold here facing a raise. Some players hate folding after putting chips in the middle and some seem to love folding, thus we can dictate which sizing will be more profitable against a range of opponents.
-If I think someone will play very straightforward facing a raise here and I WANT them to fold, I don’t need to choose the larger sizings in order to meet my desired result.
-If I think they are less straightforward and a bit loose, maybe I will choose the larger sizing when I WANT them to fold.
-If I DON’T think they fold often facing a raise and I’m value betting, I may choose a larger sizing to help build the pot.
₪ Calling bets:
Scenario 3 – You are on the turn with ATss on a 9274 board with two spades. There is 400 in the initial pot and your opponent bets 200. Should you call to try and hit your nut flush??
The Breakdown – Total Pot is now 600 (400 in initial pot + opponents bet of 200) and you have to call 200, or 3:1 pot-odds (600/200). Getting 3:1 you need to have at least 25% equity to call. Keeping just our flush outs in mind, which is 9, we have ~18% equity (multiply outs by 2 for each street), and thus should fold. If we assume we have 1 live card as well then we’ll have 3 more outs, so 12 total which gives us ~24% equity and now it becomes much closer to a break even call.
If they bet 200 (1/2 initial pot), we are getting 3:1 and need 25% equity to call. [25% equity is just 1/4. 1/4 comes from your 1(your call in the 3:1) divided by the total pot you’d win right away on the river 4(3:1 or 3+1 = 4).]
If they bet 300 (3/4 initial pot), we are getting 2.3:1 and need 30% equity.
If they bet 400 (initial full pot), we are getting 2:1. and need 33% equity.
If you add 1 pair outs (like above breakdown explains) you can see how against our opponents bet sizing, we may or may not be making a profitable call when we consider that extra ~6%.
*If we were on the flop in Scenario 3 and looking at getting it all in on a call, we’d multiply our outs by 4 because there are 2 streets to come with no more betting in this scenario, thus we’d assume our equity was ~36% (assuming just flush draw outs) and have to make a decision based on that.**These examples assume that after we act the hand is over when the next card is exposed, thus additional concepts like “implied odds” and “taking the pot away later” have not been considered. <– This is just to help draw focus to the math involved so we can learn to make more educated decisions. Once we have a better grasp on the math involved, we should always be considering the additional concepts before making a final decision.
₪ In closing I just want to point out that the words I’ve made bold are to help you visualize the action you are likely to be thinking, seeing, or hearing when you should start to begin your mathematical thought processes. Also, you will likely benefit more from this article in your off the felt analysis and study, rather than during a session/hand. If you understand these concepts (along with the many others involved with the game of poker) and the proper applications (may need a coach or help on this part), then you can begin to develop better instincts and a much higher level of confidence in your decisions… and then you get better… and if you keep working… you get even better. Now, we are much closer to greatness then we were before. If this was the end of a twitter rant the hash-tag of choice for me here would be #LetsGetit.