A Basic Poker Math Lesson

Jul 30 2012 |

Math is a huge part of poker, especially winning at poker. Poker is all about getting correct odds and making decisions based on a mathematical equation that will assume you will win X amount times. The problem with poker and math is that it can be very complicated at times, especially doing it in your head while playing. For example, if you are playing a sit-n-go and fighting for that last payout spot, figuring out which hands to call based on a mathematical equation called ICM is almost impossible. The Independent Chip Model is the way that your chips are assigned value in a tournament, as they no longer represent the actual money you bought in with, nor do the represent the actual value of money you’ll take home.  They are more of a representation of money and value than actual value – but of course, how many chips you have is still vitally important to the game. 

It's perfectly understandable if you can't figure out your equity in a tournament or what your ICM is at any given time; the most important part is that you know it exists. As long as you aware that math does play a major role in poker, you're already in the game.

There are some important aspects of the math side of poker that you must know in order to succeed. These will be the fundamentals or foundation of your poker math training. They are very simple to calculate and will play a major role in many of your decisions. Below we will discuss some of the most important aspects of poker and help you to overcome your fears of doing math while playing poker.

When to call a draw

One of the most common mistakes made in poker is calling without proper odds when on a draw. Making an incorrect call will greatly cut into your profits over the long run.

It's very simple to figure out what odds you need to call a bet when on a draw. The standard draws will be your flush and open straight draws. I'll cut the math right out of this and give you the answer. A flush and straight have roughly the same odds of hitting, give or take a small percent. On the flop if you have a flush draw you will make it slightly more than 36% of the time. This means you are 4:1 to make your draw.

Poker flash cards

So, if the pot is $20 and you are faced with a $5 bet making it a total of $25 in the pot, you are getting 5:1 on your money. Since the pot is offering you better odds than your flush draw, you can easily make a correct call and expect to make a profit in the long run.

Simple division will give you what odds you are getting to call a bet and knowing what standard draws are will allow to make better decisions. It's simple to memorize the odds of hitting a flush and straight draw are so this will become second nature and without thinking you can determine your odds.

When to call an all-in

Another super common spot is calling an all in bet either in a SNG (sit-n-go tournament) or an MTT (multi-table tournament). In the later stages, many players will be short stacked and an all in bet will be relatively small compared to the blinds. Even more common is a player folding when they are getting supreme odds.

7-2 seven deuce off-suit worst poker hand

Without knowing what everyone's cards are, a random poker hand is no worse than a 2-1 underdog all the time. Let's say you hold 72 off suit in the big blind and have a stack of 5,000 when the blinds are 200-400. The short stack button shoves all in for 900. If we do simple addition and add the pot up we come up with 400 (BB) + 200 (SB) + 900 (all in) = 1,700.

Most beginners' natural instinct is to look down and see 72 and auto muck their hand. However, this is a mathematical mistake that often goes unnoticed. If we have to call a 900 bet and the pot holds 1,700 this means we are getting better than 2-1 on our money. Since a random hand will win 2 in 1, we are getting correct odds to call in this spot every time. 

If you play online the pot will be added for you, further decreasing the amount of math to do in your head. This basic math is already simple enough that in no time, you will be able to determine whether or not a call is correct.

Many people get turned off to poker because they are terrible at math. While being a math whiz will help you become a better player, just knowing the basics will be enough to beat any low-limit game and even mid-limit games. Knowing these basic principles will create a foundation that will improve your game immediately with little effort.

This blog offered an introduction to poker math and odds, but if you want to practice more, we recommend our Hands Odds and Pot Odds poker flash cards.  The cards feature simple equations and plenty of opportunity to practice, so that the math comes a bit easier the next time you sit at the table.

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