Expected Value

Expected value refers to how much money you win or lose on average in specific situations as part of an overall long-term strategy. The shorthand for expected value is usually communicated as +EV or – EV.

EV can be expressed in a mathematical equation, but if you are not a math person, do not worry. In my opinion, trying to find out the exact EV of any given situation is impossible without all the information and is therefore a complete waste of time. It is much better to build your game around basic fundamental decisions in all aspects of your game and strive to make everything you do in Poker as automatically +EV as possible.

IpersonallyliketothinkofEVinarelativesenseratherthaninabsolutes. Bythis,Imeanthatyou not only have to make profitable decisions, you also have to make decisions that are more profitable than the average opponent’s decisions. This is not as complicated as it seems, if you just remember that cash game poker is a lifetime game, and you only have to beat your competition in order to make money.

Expected value is in fact what makes the long term a friend of the professional poker player. If the quality of your decisions is better than your opponents’ over a large sample size, you will inevitably make money. Short term luck will eventually lose out to skill if enough hands are played to get to the long term. It is helpful to think of poker as a multitude of small battles in common situations that arise time and time again. In your career, you will pick up the same exact hands, flop the same amount of sets, and win the same amount of coin flips as everyone else.

Let’s say that on average, over your lifetime, you will make 15 big blinds every time you pick up pocket aces. If your average opponent also makes 15 big blinds, then you will have made no gain over your competition in that specific spot. You will have made +$0 every time you pick up the best starting hand in Hold’em, because you didn’t win the lifetime battle with that hand.

Since everyone focuses on maximizing with big hands, it is important to instead learn to concentrate more on playing the seemingly “insignificant” spots better than your opponents. By excelling in situations that your competition is ignoring, you can find a gold mine of profit. For example, if you are winning an average of 4 big blinds every time you open raise with 32o on the button and no one else ever plays that hand in that situation, then you are making +4 big blinds more than your competitioneverysingletimeyoupickupthathand. Inthiscase,youmakemoremoneywith32o than you do with AA!

This may strike some of you as quite unbelievable, but learning this fact was a huge eureka moment for me a few years ago. As a consequence, I decided that I would begin focusing more on playing the “unprofitable” hands well, and the results are many of the strategies found within this book.

The easiest way to begin overhauling your game to become EV based is to begin focusing on fundamentals. By doing so, you will begin to outplay the competition in common“insignificant” situations, as well as with big hands. You will inherently make fewer mistakes than your opponents just by avoiding the common leaks. For example, you should know that 4-bet bluffing a Nit is -EV; therefore, you don’t do it. At the same time, not stealing a wide range with a Nit on your left is also – EV, since the more profitable play is to raise rather than folding. Even though folding didn’t lose any money, it does hurt your overall win-rate.

Another example of a +EV strategy is in consciously building the biggest pots possible with monster hands and keeping pots small with marginal ones. These fundamental +EV methods lead to the tactics that are inherently profitable. Now this is not to say that you cannot take known information and plug it into some formula and figure out exactly what you stand to gain or lose by making a specific play. What I am saying is that if you follow sound fundamentals, then most of your decisions will be slam dunks, and marginal decisions requiring a calculator will be few and far between. Put another way, if a decision is not immediately obvious, it is probably neutral EV and doesn’t matter what you do anyway. Therefore, in those so-called “tough” spots, you can just flip a coin in making your decision instead of sitting around racking your brain.

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