poker equity - pie chart

The Truth About Poker Equity | How to Play Poker

Behold! It’s time to learn about poker equity, one of many terms that professional poker players and those pretending to be professional poker players love to use because they think it makes them sound smarter.

I will admit, at first glance, the phrase poker equity seems intimidating. You’re probably thinking: What the heck does poker equity mean? Does this mean my poker career is over? I’m never going to be able to learn things like this! Am I going to have to keep playing while only telling myself I have a chance to be a long-term winner because I have no idea what poker equity means? Will I have to stop playing poker tournaments? Will I have to take up canasta?

Poker Equity Is Simple

Relax. Grab a drink. Settle in. The truth is that poker equity is incredibly easy to understand. In its simplest form, it means the share of the pot you’re expected to win if the hand were to end at that point. If you ever come across a 100% math player, they’re going to present it in a much different manner.

Poker Equity | Watch Out For 100% Math Guy

Before I tell you what this character is likely to say to you, you first need to know how to spot him. He’s always the same person pretty much. He often stares at you during a conversation as if there’s some kind of mini-1980s computer in his brain and he’s trying to compute how you make sense to him.

He stands very still, he’s never animated (unless he gets drunk), he wears clothes that are best suited for church, and he talks in a very matter-of-fact kind of way. When he’s done talking, he might tilt his head slightly in anticipation for your reply, but he’s not really interested in your reply, he’s forming a verbal attack plan so he can sound smarter than you with his next reply.

poker equity - math guy

Never be intimidated by this character. For one, these people always play the math, which makes them the most readable people at the table. If they have a premium hand, they’re going to raise at least 3.5x the BB pre-flop. When they have a marginal hand in position and someone raised, they’re going to flat. If they flat from the big blind after someone raised, they have a marginal hand (they would have folded any weak poker hands and raised with any strong poker hands).

You can’t even comprehend how easy the game is vs. these kinds of players. Maybe I match up well against them. I’m sure there are many poker players that aren’t thinking about how their opponents are thinking. For me, 100% math players are even less of a threat than fish. With the fish, I often have no clue what they’re doing, so I can’t put them on a hand.

I’m not exaggerating at all with my message here. Imagine playing poker and knowing what your opponent was holding (within reason) on almost every hand. Would you rather play against that player than the fish, the donkey, the Medium Player, the crafty player, and the elite player? Yes! And if I’m playing in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, then I definitely want that one cat at my table. And it doesn’t end there.

These kinds of completely left-brained individuals don’t have an open-mind. They don’t understand the other side. So, when I’m three-betting from middle position with 6c 5c and hitting a straight on the turn, they shake their heads and say something like, “What you just did made no sense.”

That’s the point! But I’m not going to tell them that. Not only are these people easy to figure out, they’re also the easiest to fool. Please send them my way. If you want to add something to our poker rules for winning, it’s to play against 100% math players.

As far as what this player might say to you about poker strategy, it would be something like this, “It’s good to be exploitative in certain circumstances due to the nature of the game, but it’s also imperative to apply poker equity as a factor in your decision-making process.”

Revenge of the Nerds Part 5? And, yes, there were four Revenge of the Nerds movies, but only the first one was worth watching.

When this person talks to you, they’re trying to make you feel dumb because they’re insecure. It might not seem like it, but this person knows they lack “It,” which is why they’re 100% math players. It’s their only route to success in poker. I don’t care what you’re doing, if you can’t find a way to be different, then who the hell are you? You’re a number. Don’t be a number!

More on Poker Equity

Wait a second. I’m not done venting. I’m sure you’re enjoying this. I know people are entertained when they watch other people vent. But you’re reading it, which is a little different. Prior to moving forward with my vent, I’ll elaborate on poker equity a little more.

If you’re heads-up, there is $200 in the pot, and you have an 80% chance of winning the hand, then your equity is $160. That’s pretty good, but this equity can change street by street. When you’re ahead by that much, it’s a good poker strategy to bet out. You will either get a fold or you will be way ahead with a call. If your opponent calls, then you’re increasing your equity because the pot is increasing. This is a good place to be.

At the same time, if you were to play it this way every single time, such as a 100% math player would, then your opponent would know that you’re way ahead in the hand and fold. It’s good to get folds, but you also want to get paid. If you continue down this road, you’re not going to get paid enough to be a true winning player, and you will have no chance at winning Texas Hold’em poker tournaments.

This relates to another factor. If you’re strictly using poker equity in poker games, how do you know what your opponent is holding? You can’t apply poker equity 100% effectively unless you know your opponent’s hole cards.

Here’s where it really gets interesting. A 100% math player is usually going to think that you think like them, because it’s “how you should be thinking,” but since you don’t think like them, you’re going to send them the wrong message, which will lead to their read being off. If their read is off, how are they going to effectively apply poker equity? It really comes down to a matter of talking and doing.

Please don’t get the wrong idea, though. There are some math players out there who also apply the psychological side and have strong reading ability. These players are very dangerous, and it’s why they’re so successful. But these players are very different from the 100% math players.

poker equity - stoic player

These stronger players aren’t nearly as easy to read. They are aggressive, but they will also change gears. Watch out for these folks. I’ll tell you how to find them…

  • They are stoic.
  • Player has no reactions when they lose a big pot.
  • They don’t play many poker hands but they play aggressive when they do play.
  • They will fold when they know they’re behind.
  • The game seems to be no big deal to them.
  • You can tell it’s a job they have done over and over again.
  • They have seen every story and trick at the poker table.

My best advice to you when dealing with these folks is not to deal with them. Simply don’t play hands against them. If you choose to do so anyway, trust that he knows your hole cards and do the opposite of what would make sense with your hole cards. This will confuse him. Even if it feels weird to you, do it!

It’s the only way to confuse the hell out of him. Even if it doesn’t work on that hand, you will have planted the confusion seed on him for future poker hands, which will make him more cautious against you going forward.

Do you see what happened there? Could we have confused the strongest player at the table if we were a 100% math player? Not a chance. The only way we can keep our opponents guessing is by using psychology. I have been told that I go much deeper than most people on the psychological side, so I hope what I’m writing makes sense to you.

Back To Poker Equity

Since we’re on the topic of poker equity and math, here are a few poker tips you should know…

#1. When you have four to the flush on the flop, you have a 36% chance of hitting your flush.

#2. When you have four to the flush on the turn, you have an 18% chance of hitting your flush.

#3. When you have an open-ended straight draw on the flop, you have a 32% chance of hitting your straight.

#4. When you have an open-ended straight draw on the turn, you have a 16% chance of hitting your straight.

#5. When you have an overpair vs. an underpair, you have an 81% chance of winning the hand.

#6. When you have an overpair vs. Ax-suited, you have a 92% chance of winning the hand.

#7. When you have an overpair vs. two off-suit undercards, you have an 81% chance of winning the hand.

#8. When you have an overpair vs. two suited undercards, you have a 77% chance of winning the hand.

#9. When you have two overcards vs. two undercards, you have a 62% chance of winning the hand.

#10. When you have two overcards vs. a smaller pair, you have a 46% chance of winning the hand.

#11. When you have one overcard vs. a smaller pair, you have a 31% chance of winning the hand.

#12. When you have a dominating high card, you have a 73% chance of winning the hand.

#13. When you have a dominating undercard, you have a 69% chance of winning the hand.

Sorry for stopping at 13. I know some poker players are superstitious. This could be that day when you stop being superstitious.

There is something else I would like to say about poker equity. I have played in many poker games where I get a cheap look at the flop from the blinds with a weak hand, such as 8d 5d. The flop will come out something like this: 8c 4c 2d.

poker equity - 8d5d

Not bad, but I will often have at least three opponents in this spot. Poker equity enthusiasts will say that I’m a favorite. That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s very difficult to move three people off a hand on the flop without risking too much.

I never want to risk too much here because I will hate myself if I lose a big pot with a pair of eights with a five kicker. That is not how we role in the school of poker rules for winning. I’d much rather have flopped a nut flush draw. Even though my odds of winning are lower, I know I’m drawing to the nuts, which will lead to the potential of stacking an opponent. I’m not going to be stacking anyone with a pair of eights and a five kicker.

My point is that while I’m the favorite at this point in the hand, I’m not likely to be the winner by the end of the hand. You need to be looking at this situation from a completely different angle.

If nobody raised pre-flop, that’s the flop, and you get three callers, then someone is up to something. One player might have a club draw, another might have a set, another might have a straight draw, and the most likely scenario is that someone has A8, which means putting money into the pot due to “poker equity” is a losing proposition.

We had almost been fooled, but we know in the school of poker rules for winning that the game begins with understanding your opponents and why they’re doing what they’re doing, which then leads to you knowing their hole cards (to a degree) more often than not. If we know our opponents’ hole cards, it’s easy to figure out the following: Are we ahead or behind?

That’s it. Are we ahead or behind?

If we’re ahead, we bet. Or we use some trickery if we’ve already planted a false betting pattern against the opponent. If we’re behind, we fold unless implied odds tell us otherwise. And those implied odds don’t just come in the form of math. We have to know if that dude is going to call or fold if we hit our nut draw and go all-in. Understanding each opponent, their behaviors, and their betting/calling patterns is far more valuable than fancy poker terminology.

Final Thoughts

Now you understand the simplicity of poker equity, but don’t overvalue it. Some other sites will tell you it’s the most valuable thing in the game of poker. Really? Would you rather take a guess at your odds for winning a hand or learn how to figure out your opponents’ hole cards? I’ll go with the latter. Been there, done that, in cash games and poker tournaments. I’ll do my best to teach you. See you at the WSOP!

♠ pokerjournal.org

Poker Equity – FAQs

Q: What is poker equity?

A: The value of your poker hand based on what percentage of the time you’re expected to win in a specific situation. For example, if a pot is $1,000 and you have a 90% chance of winning the hand, then your equity is $900.

Q: Do I really need to know math to play poker?

A: No. You can just memorize most of the math you need to know. Digging deeper on the math is gravy. It will increase your chances of winning.