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Calculating Poker Odds – Texas Holdem Strategy

There are a number of resources for the serious player.  Among them there articles about calculating poker odds, the mathematical aspect of gambling. Nobody likes these articles. Writers don’t like writing them, and players don’t like reading them. If you’re both a player and a writer, you really don’t like them.  However, both players and writers need them – Calculating Poker Odds.

Knowing the math and being able to apply it can greatly improve your poker game.  This is a slightly unorthodox math article, but it could still have a huge effect on how well you bank in your next tournament.

The first piece of advice that I would give is simple, and at first it would seem like bad advice.  My advice is to not be exact when calculating poker odds.  Poker calculations can be taken way too far, and a bit of guesswork never hurt anybody.  For example, if I am doing the math on the improvement potential of a hand and the result comes to 23 in 100, it is best to round it to 25 in 100 or 1 in 4, because those are numbers that are easy to deal with.

This brings me to a similar piece of advice that most experienced players will have already heard. “Don’t count your chips at the table.”  Most people explain this old proverb as meaning that you never know how quickly things could turn around in a poker game.  While that’s true, the deeper meaning of the proverb is that counting your chips at the table is both a waste of time and a distraction. Knowing how many chips are in one pile and how many piles are in your stack gives you a rough idea of how much you have.  Similarly, you can count your opponents chips by looking at the size and number of the piles in their stack.

Now we can discuss the math.  The first mathematical insight I can give you is to memorise only useful information.  It does not help you to know the odds of being flopped a royal flush. (Astronomically minute.)  However, you should always keep in mind the odds of improving a pocket pair to three of a kind on the flop as an example.

Read our article on calculating pot odds and outs.

Another thing: make a cheat sheet.  Make a small list of important probability facts (pre-flop hand improvement odds, draw odds, etc) that you’d like to learn.  Bring them to your game with you and refer to them when you need to.  Try to memorize them as you go, but don’t be afraid to look at your cheat sheet.  Some more experienced players may look down on this, but they either have done it before themselves or lost money that they shouldn’t have because of sloppy math.

Basically, the mathematical side of poker has a learning curve.  Learning raw facts by rote is not the most effective way to do things.  You need to have a feel for the hands.  With time and experience you’ll be able to do approximate calculations in your head, and the odds you know will subconsciously effect the way you view a hand.

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