WHAT POKER IS: A Hypothetical

Let’s begin our lesson with a hypothetical: if you continuation bet half the pot how often does your bet need to work as a complete bluff? I’m assuming you have no equity. In fact, the dealer grabbed your cards by mistake. The second your opponent raises or calls it is revealed your hand inadvertently made their way to the muck. You have 0% equity on this street, and have no hope to receive more equity on future streets.

It is of the utmost importance we understand how often our bets need to work in this situation. While this scenario never occurs with your cards being folded, if we know our bet can succeed without a hand then we have found a way to generate a profit without the need to hit any draw or pair. This will establish our skill edge in a game of chance.

Now, do you have your answer to the question I asked you? I’m not answering it for a reason. Every time I ask you a question in this book look away from the page as fast as you can. This is what I do to assimilate information much more rapidly than my more intelligent peers. Look away and ask yourself what you think. Studies show that people who just listen to a lecture retain 20% of it. Those who take notes retain 50% of the material presented. If they discuss it with others and take notes they’ll get 80% or more. Be the good student now. No one cares if you were always the class clown. There’s no reason you can’t be the dotting pupil at this juncture. You have a good reason to be motivated. It could mean millions down the line.

The answer is thirty-three percent. I wrote out the number so hopefully you couldn’t scan the page and see the first numerals. If you didn’t know the answer to that question that is a good thing. You just fired a circuit you’ve never fired before. Your mind is coating new neural connections with myelin. Not scanning the page, thinking, and making the mistake was the equivalent of a bench press for your muscles.

Now, if you knew that answer, congratulations. Tell me how you know it. If you say you memorized it that’s not good enough. Again, this is being served Corvina as opposed to being taught how to man the nets. Once the game demands you know an answer that no one’s given you before, you will falter. If your memory waivers and you have no recourse you’ll sorely regret it.

Here’s a question to test your methodology for the 33% answer. If you bet 1.5 times the pot how often does your bet need to work as a complete bluff? If this seems difficult it’s because it is. No one seems to get this question right the first time I ask it. I wasn’t close. Actually, three Chinese students, separate from each other, got it. When I said I wasn’t surprised given their discipline for mathematics I was told I was stereotyping and being racist. The correct answer is 60% of the time.

This is how you figure out that percentage. Imagine a pot with $1,000 in it. You bet $1,500. What do you now do mathematically to figure out how often that needs to work? Many people reason, “Well I’m risking 1,500 to win 1,000. So would that be 1,500 divided by a 1,000? Well, no, that’d be more than a 100% of the time.” Do this by dividing your bet size by the total pot you stand to win. You do this because you receive your bet back when the play succeeds. In this case it would be 1,500/2,500 which of course equals 0.6 or 60%.

Every poker player would do well to remember these facts, based on the above methodology:

♦ When you bet 1/3 the pot your bet must succeed 25% of the time as an absolute bluff.

♦ A 1/2 pot-sized bet needs to succeed 33% of the time.

♦ A 2/3 pot-sized bet needs to succeed 40% of the time.

♦ A pot-sized bet needs to work 50% of the time.

♦ 1.5x the size of the pot needs to work 60% of the time.

♦ 2x the size of the pot needs to function 66% of the time.

If you struggled with any of the sample questions let me ask you something: by what you right do you expect to win money at poker? I know that’s not a gentle question, but I had to ask myself this after my career stalled five years in. It’s a good question to ask, because let’s face it: the Bellagio didn’t build those fountains not knowing the odds on every bet in their property. If we’re going to be laying odds to another human being we’re only playing ourselves if we don’t know what we’re offering. Memorizing the above numbers and methodology helps us ascertain how often our bluffs need to work. Much of the skill of poker revolves around getting people to fold when they actually had a decent equity share in the pot. It helps us to know what we’re trying to accomplish when we bet.

A good question to ask ourselves once we become familiar with bet-sizing theory is, “Am I playing in a style that demonstrates that I understand these numbers?” Most of us are not. The field plays poorly against many of these bets, because the typical poker player has never done the work to figure out what these bets need to accomplish. The work, I may add, just took you two minutes of your time, and 99% of the poker population has never done it.

One bet that really seems to trick the run-of-the-mill player is the over-bet. When I say to a player casually, “The player bet two times the size of the pot. How often does that need to work?” the automatic responses I have received include:

“Every time.”
“All the time.”
“80% of the time.”
“75% of the time.”
“33% of the time.” (This one always confounds me. It has a similar effect on

the speaker when I ask them to explain themselves).
I almost never hear the correct answer: 66% of the time. If they do answer

that number they usually confide that they have done the work beforehand. The intuitive mind just doesn’t grasp that we could bomb the pot for two times of everything in there, fail a third of the time, and still break even.

If you bet 150% of the pot many players put this mentally into the category of, “Wow, an over-betover-bet. That needs to work all the time.” In this case our bet could fail four times out of 10 and we’d still break even, yet our opponent is likely to fold all but the top of their range versus this unorthodox bet.

Why this bet is seen as strange is really a matter of what’s in vogue when it comes to poker. Over-bets are not common. Of course, if you watch Viktor Blom or Phil Ivey play you’ll see them all the time, but the large majority of poker players do not use them nor care to. This bodes well for us. When we over-bet many people think, “He is betting so large and so oddly that no one will blame me for folding here. What really looks foolish is if I call this bet with the mediocre hand I have.” However, if we bet something more traditionally sized the average player would feel as if they have to defend themselves more vigorously, because they feel more exploited if they folded to so ordinary and predictable a play.

The other bet people regularly misplay versus is the two-thirds pot-size bet. If you are out of position and are continuation betting you should charge the in- position player to flat you. These players are expecting a bet which is around half the size of the pot. A two-thirds pot-sized bet looks way larger than this.

They feel a bit off about floating such a large wager, especially without backdoors. They end up folding routinely, which is great, because we didn’t want to play further streets out of position anyway.

We will discuss many other undervalued bets in No Limit Hold ‘Em poker in the coming chapters, but until then let’s discuss another play we must comprehend fully.

Let’s go back to our original hypothetical, but let’s change what player you are. Your opponent has just continuation bet into the pot. He bet half of the chips in there. You now know this play needs to succeed 33% of the time. What kind of equity do you need to call here?

For those of you who don’t know what equity is think back to our coinflip example. Your chance of winning the wager was 50%. Therefore, your EV was 50% of all the money in the pot, because that’s how often you’d win on average. This expression of predicted worth is your equity. In this case it is a percentage. When it’s written as the total of the pot you are competing for, that is your EV. So, if the whole pot you were flipping a coin over was $200, your EV would be $100 (200 x 0.50 = 100).

In this case we will be using our equity, which means the percentage of the time our hand will win versus our opponent’s range of likely holdings. If he bets half of the pot you need 25% equity to call. This confuses many, but if you made a mistake, congratulations! I’m serious. You just fired that synapse and developed again. You’re getting further in these 10 minutes than you could have gotten with one million hands played and two years on autopilot.

This question puzzles many because the first number throws them off. How can the bet need to succeed 33% of the time when we only need to react 25% of the time to it? That’s not what equity means, remember that. You need to do something against your opponent 33% of the time to make sure he can’t bet into you without cards, but to make sure you’re not losing money when you throw chips in you need the required equity the pot demands. In this case that is 25%. You are putting in one unit to win the three units in the pot. That means you’re risking one to receive four units back when you’re right. Therefore, 1/4 = 0.25 or 25% of the time.

To see that reflected in a real pot size let’s say your opponent bet $100 into a $200 pot. You will be calling $100 to win the $300 out there. When you call and your hand is shown down to be the winner $400 will come back to your stack. You’re risking $100 to get that $400 (100/400 = 0.25%).

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