Although it might seem to be impossibly complex and daunting to the untrained observer, in reality, poker essentially amounts to solving a big mathematics problem. There will always be a finite number of combinations, rules, and options available to you in any round of poker, which means that if you can learn to understand and apply the mathematics underpinning of poker, you have a far better chance of being the one who comes out on top.
Looking first at odds, math can be applied both to odds and outs and pot odds in poker. In the case of the former, this is relevant if and when you see a flop, as you will want to be able to work out the odds that you or the other player can make a hand of cards better via an ‘out’ card.
A frequent circumstance during a game where this will apply is when you have two cards of the same suit in your hand, and another two of that suit are on the flop. You have four of the cards for a flush and require one more from the same suit to complete it – with nine remaining. Thus in poker math terms, you have nine ‘outs’ available for completing your flush from a ‘four-flush start.
Expected Value (EV)
Moving on to expected value, this means how much on average you can expect to lose or win during a hand. The aim is to use the strategy that offers the highest expected value. You work it out by multiplying the results of each possible outcome by the likelihood of them happening before adding them together.
Percentages are another aspect of poker where math is extremely relevant. To use an example, if the pot on the table is currently worth $1 million and you hold a hand that has a 20 percent chance of success, only for your opponent to bet $1 – in this situation should you fold or call his bet? The correct answer is that you should call because you only stand to lose $1 while having a 20 percent chance of winning $1 million. The percentage is not that high in your favor but high enough to be worth the bet due to the low betting amount.
Math can also be applied to improve your poker bluffing skills – although the common belief that a bluff must succeed more than 50 percent of the time is not strictly true. The correct equation is that the total pot percentage you invested equals how often your bluff needs to work. Thus in a situation where there is a $100 pot, and you’re bluffing for $50, you need to be successful a third – or 33.3 percent – of the time.
Game Theory Optimal (GTO)
Finally, there’s game theory optimal strategy, which can be applied to every single poker scenario to ensure you can never end up the loser of the course of the game and derives from the mathematics work of John Nash. A good example of it applied to poker would be if your opponent only called when he held pocket aces. In this situation, you would know that he had these cards every time he added money to the pot and would opt to fold in response. It’s less likely than other situations described here, as people simply do not play poker according to GTO strategies.
The trick now is to go and sharpen up your math skills so that you can, in turn, improve your skills at the poker table!