Understanding Expected Value
f you are learning the game of poker, you'll want to understand the phrase and concept of Expected Value (EV). Expected Value involves being able to take calculated risks by using probabilities, and it's important for calculating poker pot odds. It's how you calculate how much money you can expect to make in the long run by making a certain move right now.
Your ability to calculate poker probabilities is very important to your success in the game of poker. Some new poker players are intimated by the idea of EV because it does have a mathematical basis and, well, not everyone who desires to play poker also desires to be a mathematician. But, while Expected Value does have roots in math, learning the high art of being able to accurately calculate probability doesn't mean you have to come up with a new theory for the speed of light!
However, there are poker players who ignore EV because they think they "just aren't good at math". This is a bad mistake indeed. For you see, all poker decisions are mathematical; thus, if you shy away from poker strategies because they are mathematical, you can forget about being successful at the game. After all, even if you're just playing symbolically for pennies, you're still playing for money; and money is about numbers and about value. Therefore, poker is a game where each hand and reach round have a value or values; and that involves math.
Not understanding EV will lead you to make blind decisions and take many shots in the dark. You will get lucky sometimes and come out on top, but in the long run you'll never be able to sustain any success. You'll always be a loser at poker.
Now, keep in mind that this is still a game and it's not about plotting the trajectory for getting a spaceship to Mars. The math is kind of in the background in poker; you can't and don't need to know every variable at any time, for there are just too many of them. All you want to do here is play your hands based on probability and expectation. You're not always going to be right, but if you think long term and you're right more than you're wrong, you can become very successful and, if you're serious enough, win yourself a lot of money at poker.
We use probability "calculations" at the back of our minds constantly, in fact probably every day. For instance, think about gas prices. We know that they go up and down based on several factors, but mainly on the price of oil. When we see that oil prices are on a downward trend, we know that we can rationally expect gas prices to begin going down in the very near future. So, what if we decided to hold off on filling the half-full tank for a few days (by first calculating whether or not that's possible--let's assume it is), so we could get those lower gas prices when they came? The majority of the time, we'll be taking a rewarding risk, a good gamble, and we'll be rewarded with more gas for less money. We rightly figured the probability of what was going to happen--we "won". We played our hand the right way. And we were able to do that because of our knowledge.
Same thing here with using Expected Value. You have to have a basic knowledge of the power of the different hands even to play the game, so there's your "oil price news" (oil changes, by the way, change in part because of another highly important factor in poker playing: psychology). Now you look at your situation. You consider your hand; any previously used cards from the deck; and the cards face up on the table. Next, think of each possibility based on what you know, and mentally calculate the statistical odds for that possibility coming about (this will take some practice and experience).
Now, consider your opponents. How have they been doing in this game round by round? What cards do you know they drew this round? Have they tended to raise, call, or fold? And so on.
At this point you'll be able to start figuring out Expected Value. For a real-world situation, let's say you're on the River with two pair. Your opponent bet $100 into a $100 pot. It's your turn and you're either going to fold or call (you decided not to raise). If you call, you've got 2:1 odds for "positive EV", for if you call with $100 you could make $200. What this means for you is, in thinking long-term, if you call, you will need to win more than one out of three times to be +EV (winning one out of three only breaks even). Knowing your opponents as you do, what decision do you make with this hand?
You can use an online Pot Odds Calculator such as Holdem Genius to help you get better at using Expected Value. Remember, in poker you must be able to calculate probability accurately in order to be successful.
Total EV stats ordered by value
The statistics are based on 115,591,080 pair of pocket cards dealt at the real money tables. The unit for EV is average profit in big bets.
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