Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.
People overestimate the importance of odds in poker.
The universe and everything in it can arguably be resolved by mathematics. I agree. But does that mean you need math skills to win a poker?
Knowing the statistical chances of making hands can be helpful, but players with good judgment and years of experience aren’t usually sacrificing much if they don’t know the exact odds.
Today’s self-interview — one in a series of columns in which I get to ask and then answer my own questions — focuses on odds, chances, and statistics.
We’ll begin with question 139, which is — duh — right after 138, where we finished last time. If you’re just joining this series today, you should know that the sequential numbering is just my personal choice, and each interview is independent of the preceding ones. So, you don’t need to have read any of the previous columns to understand this one.
Let’s get started.
Question 139: You’ve said that the importance of poker odds is overestimated. But aren’t you the guy who’s spent a good share of his life calculating those odds?
I’m that guy. In the 1970s, I calculated lots of poker odds, and I’ve been doing so ever since.
When Doyle Brunson’s Super/System — A Course in Power Poker was published in 1978, I contributed 50 statistical table covering various forms of poker. Up until then, no truly comprehensive set of poker odds was available — at least none that I’ve ever seen. Poker books in those days were basically homespun wisdom, and the math included was frequently wrong and not very encompassing.
Hopefully, I contributed to correcting that shortcoming. But I did something more than that — something worse
I became obsessed with poker odds and with calculating new ones. You don’t need to share this obsession to play excellent poker. In fact, you don’t need to calculate odds at all, because mine and other sets of excellent statistics are easy to come by.
You can memorize those, if you want. But you don’t need to. You’d be surprised how small your extra edge is after you’ve memorized the exact odds.
What mostly sets great poker players apart from ordinary ones is an understanding of opponents and a good feel for what decisions to make at the moment. Sure, you need to know approximately what your chances are — and the closer you come to the exact number, the better you’ll fare. But the difference between knowing approximately and knowing exactly is small in terms of profit.
Question 140: Are there any poker odds that are important enough to memorize?
Yes. Those are usually ones that come up repeatedly in your game.
In hold ’em, you’ll average a starting pair once in 17 hands. If you begin with a pair, on average you’ll flop at least one more of that rank twice in 17 hands. A pair of aces shows up once in 221 deals, on average. Odds like that give you good perspective and teach you patience.
Those are the kind of statistics that it’s good to know. But even if you don’t, you’ll still probably make money, as long as you have a good understanding of situational and psychological poker, you seek out weaker opponents, and you play a disciplined game.
Question 141: How do you use pot odds?
You count the chips in the pot and measure them against what it will cost you to call or bet. Then you equate that to the chances of your hand winning.
For instance, if there’s one card to come in hold ’em and you’re trying for an unbeatable flush, you’ll figure that there are six cards you know about (two in your hand and four on the board). Of these, four of your suit are accounted for.
Among the 46 unknown cards are nine remaining members of your suit. Divide 46 by 9 and you see that you’ll connect about once in 5.1 times, so the odds are a tiny bit more than 4-to-1 against you.
If the pot is more than four times as large as your bet, you’re getting an overlay. If it’s less, you aren’t. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple.
Question 142: Are pot odds always a good measurement when deciding what to do?
No. I just said it wasn’t quite that simple.
You need to factor in the amount of additional money you might win or lose from that point on. Many experts call this “implied odds” — and I think David Sklansky was the first to coin that term. If not, I’m giving him credit, anyway, because he’s contributed vastly to poker theory and understanding.
Question 143: Do world-class poker players memorize odds?
Most memorize a few odds, but the majority of them are definitely not walking encyclopedias of poker statistics. They don’t need to be.
Question 144: Do you often get asked about poker odds when you’re playing?
But even I fail to remember all the odds — even though I’ve calculated them myself. So, I tell players who ask that the reason I published those odds was so that they would memorize them. That way, I’d always be able to ask them when I wanted to know.
Besides, I believe it runs contrary to my carefree, non-studious poker image to smugly quote odds at the table. So, I try to avoid doing so.
See you next time. — MC
Next self-interview: Pending