Equity in poker EXPLAINED

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This notion is best explained as being our chance to win the hand, in percentage. There are always equity calculators like PokerStove or Equilab, but being able to do this in your mind while you’re playing is very important, so that you combine this notion with pot odds or implied odds and make the correct decision.

We should always try to have our opponent’s range in our mind as clear as possible and with every action that he takes to restrain that range. This will ultimately make you the better poker player. This is what professionals do best. This will separate you from the pack and rise you up to the top. It’s a skill that is very hard to acquire, it has a very steep learning curve, but the more you practice the better you will get.

Let me explain to you the states that you’ll go through:

1) Unconscious Incompetence (UI) – When you’re just starting out to play poker you think it’s just an easy game like all the others but quickly you figure out that it’s extremely competitive even at the “Fake money/Play chips” level, and that you’re not a gifted player at all.

2) Conscious Incompetence (CI) – The more you play, the more you start figuring out that you’re really bad, but this motivates you to stop making the same mistakes after agonizing over them again and again. You start reading books, subscribe to a video training site, get a coach and start improving a lot and climbing up the limits.

3) Conscious Competence (CC) – You’re finally happy because the work is starting to show results and you’re beating the limit that you mentally projected yourself winning at when you began this whole poker endeavor. You are an ace at figuring out opponents, you’re putting a lot of mental effort into this and you’re earning a very decent amount of money every month doing this. The only way is up and you’re also putting a lot of volume into this.

4) Unconscious Competence (UC) – This is where your objective actually is. You’ve been playing at this limit for such a long time and learnt your opponents so well that if your friend woke you up in the middle of the night and asked you what are the stats of ‘jackinthebox84’ you’d probably be able to answer in a heartbeat. Just like Neo saw the Matrix, you’re now seeing the players at the tables and poker has become a more relaxing endeavor. Not only this, but you’ve played so many hands that most situations that you’ve analyzed before repeat themselves and become very ‘standard’. You are almost done with every piece of the puzzle, it takes little to no effort to play many tables and also if you want to relax, you occasionally mix 6-tabling on one screen with a movie on the other.

This is very similar to ‘flow’ as described by modern psychologists, where you have the power to forget about everything and just get into the game with full focus and just like a pianist’s fingers start playing apparently without him, you’ll be making the correct decisions before you even get to think about them. Money will keep flowing in as long as you’re still playing poker and you’ll finally be set free. You’ll also know all the constant regs at your limits, and when someone new joins, you’ll see him as a target and these players will probably make you the most money. Everything is a lot clearer now and you find your mind drifting off, even, while you’re playing perfectly, to distant plains.

Getting to the 4th level requires a lot of study and experience, so learning how to play better and then applying a little bit here and a little bit there until you can find the answers to all the questions that poker can address you, is vital. If you want to get to this state, then you need to know everything, and practice for a long run of hands. For some people it’s not that  long, for others it takes a much longer time than expected. Passion and the pleasure of playing the game will drive you through this.

Now, to be a ninja in understanding equity, first of all you have to understand outs. Outs can be described generally as the cards that can come on subsequent streets that can improve our hand. For example if we have AK on AQ3 board, if the turn comes a K, then we make 2 pair, and if the turn comes an A, then we have trips. It isn’t that simple most of the time, because you have to calculate the outs that will improve your hand relative to your opponent’s hand. For example, if your opponent in this particular case holds AQ, then an A will give you trips but will give him a full house. The only card that can help you is a K, so you only have 3 outs, not 5.

You should always take into consideration your opponent’s range when calculating the number of outs that can improve your hand. Thinking that a flush will always be good on a paired board is just naive. Following a naked straight draw on a monotone flop or even on four of the same suit is very ambitious.

Why is knowing the number of outs necessary to calculate equity? Because there is a very easy way to figure out equity as a percentage.

If we have 2 cards in hand and there are 3(flop) or 4(turn) cards down there, then there are 47 or 46 cards left in the deck, excluding these. The chance to hit an exact card if we pull one from this deck is 1/47 or 1/46. Both of these numbers can be approximated, without heavy loss in the correctness of results, to 1/50 which is exactly equal to 2%.

This means that the number of outs that you have times 2% will be a very good approximation of the probability of you hitting your card. Let’s get into practice!

Let’s start with some common hands and their chances to improve:

The Pair: AK on AQ3 – We already said that your outs are 2xA or 3xK. A total of 5 outs. This means that you have a 5×2%=10% chance to improve your hand by the turn. If you miss, then you have the same chance to hit your card on the river.

This means that if we were to calculate the odds of AK improving to at least two pair by the river, we need to make an addition of odds for the turn and river which would be 10%+10%=20% chance. Awesome! Let’s try something else.

The Pocket Pair: Let’s say that we have pocket deuces on a AK7 flop and we suspect that our opponent is very likely to have a better hand than ours when he bets into us. This means that we need to improve, and there’s not many outs that can help us, unfortunately. We have only two other deuces in the deck that can stand up for us, and we’re going to hit one of them on the turn 2×2%=4% of the times and the river’s the same if we miss the turn, so basically our chance to improve is only 8% by the river.

Secret perspective: On an AK4 flop I would much rather be holding 45o than 77. We have more outs to improve and the strength relative to an A or K is the same, we are way behind. But the 45 is better because we have 5 outs instead of 2, and we also have a 2 or 3 to give us a gutshot to go with our pair.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will be calling this hand on the flop, generally it’s an easy fold, but, if for example we have 4s5s and the flop is AsKd5h, then I’m a lot more incentivized to call because there are many more cards that help us on the turn, the backdoors! You will learn a lot about these in this book.

These backdoors will give us 10 extra cards that will give us a Flush Draw to go with our pair and then, almost no matter what our opponent bets on the turn, as long as it’s pot or lower, we’re priced in to call because  we will have Pot Odds.

The GutShot: You’ve called a raise in the big blind preflop with JT. The flop comes Q82r. If our opponent holds top pair, we will be having exactly four nines to beat him. That’s 4×2% for the turn and 4×2% for the river, which adds up to a total of 8+8=16% total to hit a gutshot straight draw by the river.

Now, let’s change the example a little bit. Let’s say that you called in the BB with KT. The flop is Q92r and suddenly this is looking a bit better because you have a gutshot and an overcard now! So, you have 4 outs from the straight and 3 outs from the three kings that are left in the deck, seven outs! Looking a lot better! 7×2% for the turn, same for river which adds up to a whopping 14+14=28%! Lovely!

Now, there’s another very special type of gutshot called the double gutter. This means that you have an up and down gutshot draw. Let me give you an example:

You have 68s and the flop is T74. Here, you will make a straight with a 9 and will make a straight with a 5. This means that you have 8 outs total, so 16% odds for the turn and 16% odds for the river. This means that you have a total of 32% chance to hit a straight by the river.

The Open Ended Straight Draw – This one is pretty easy having that we now know the double gutter. Basically, it’s an up and down straight draw, for example T9 on QJ2. Any K or 8 will give you a straight. 8 is better because it gives you the nut straight. K will give you a very powerful straight still, but there is one hand that beats you which is AT.

Now, we have four eights and four kings that will help us improve, so that’s again 16% turn and 16% river, 32% total.

Now let’s take a different example of OESD – let’s say this time that we have QJ on T92. You probably have already correctly observed that we also have two overcards here, the queen and jack. This means that we now have four kings, four eights, three queens and three jacks in the deck, a total of 4+4+3+3=14 outs. This means that we are going to hit 28% turn and 28% river, an enormous 56%! Yes, in poker if you have queen high you might still be a favorite to win!

The Flush Draw – This is one of my favorites because there are many flavors to the way you can play it. You have 67ss on AsKsTd, any spade is going to give you a flush. There’s a high chance that your opponent has top pair or two pair or a straight already on this board, so you’re looking at a fat return on your investment if you hit one of the wanted cards. You have two spades in your hand and there are two down there, and there’s a total of thirteen spades in the deck, so you have nine outs. 9×2%=18% for the turn and 18% for the river. Most of the time, this is enough to make a call or a raise, depending on the board and the player that you are facing. 36% chance to hit the flush by the river is lovely.

Now, imagine that in the same spot you have Qs8s. Now, you also have a gutshot straight draw to go with your flush draw, so this means that you will have 9+4J=13 outs, 26% turn 26% river => total of 52% chance to hit either a straight or a flush. That’s tough to beat!

Another situation will be, for example, when you have As4s on QsJc7s. This time you have an overcard to go with your flush draw, so 9+3A = 12 outs. 24%+24%=48% to hit at least top pair by the river.

What about QdJd on Td9c2d – this is a straight flush draw and overcards. This is the maximum number of outs that you can have without actually having a made hand. We have 9 outs from the flush draw, 6 outs from the open ended straight draw(we counted the eight of spades and the king of spades in the flush outs already), and 3 jacks and 3 queens.

That’s a total of 21 outs, which means that you are going to hit at least top pair 42% of times on the turn and 42% of times on the river if you miss. That’s insane!

Combo draws, like the ones above, are the most strong hands that you can semi-bluff in Hold’em with. You will bet, raise and reraise with them, because you don’t really have a strong made hand, so you want made hands to fold, but either way against your opponent’s calling range or re-raising range or anything that he could have, you fare pretty well regardless.

Two Pair – If you have AK on AK3 and you want to improve, then you have two aces and two kings left in the deck, totalling four outs. This means 8% turn + 8% river = 16% total.

Trips: A2 on AAK, we have 6 outs to improve to a full house and one for quads, so three 2’s, three kings and one Ace left in the deck. 28% by the river.

Set: From a set you can improve to full house or quads, so even if you have 22 on As7s2s and your opponent raises you and you suspect he has a flush, you still have 7 outs for the turn to get a full house and stack him. Now, if you miss the turn, let’s say a king comes, now you have 10 outs for the river because 3xA, 3×7, 3xK and one deuce will give you a full house or better. So, a set will make 7*2%+10*2%=34% full house of better by the river.

These percentages you should know by heart, because they will aid you when thinking of a correct or not call/raise/fold. Remember that pot odds is still a percentage.

Well, if your equity is bigger than pot odds, then you have to always call. If it’s smaller, then first of all you have to factor in implied odds and if those aren’t really satisfying, then you have to give up your hand.

Never chase an opponent who is betting with a naked gutshot just to “show him who’s boss”. You can show him and a lot of other players who’s boss when you play well and stack them the correct way. If you are ambitious in a sense that you want to bust a particular player, this will affect your game and profit dramatically.

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