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Poker Odds

A prominent economist of his day once mused "there are lies, damn lies and statistics". and for years statistics have been manipulated and mis-quoted often to gain advantage. 87.8% of statistics are made up on the spot, or so we are led to believe. What then are we to make of poker odds? Do we want callers to put their money in from behind when the odds or statistics are in our favour? That is the key question.

Any one who attends a live poker game will regularly be subjected to a plethora of bad beat stories. "How can he call with that?" "I was a massive favourite and he outdrew me...would you believe it?" I suspect even on-line players berate their luck and moan about bad beats to family members or to the growing number of poker widows.

Ask any number of players the statistical divide between luck and skill and they will all give you a different answer. So, is it 10% luck and 90% skill, or 90% luck and 10% skill? Somewhere in between maybe? Who knows? Speak to an experienced player and they will tell you to get your money in when you are in front as often as you can and play the odds in your favour.

So what of the odds? Anyone able to use an odds calculator (see our odds calculator section) can quickly establish that a pair of aces even heads up against 2, 7 off suit is only a 7-1 favourite. Obviously the aces play even worse when multi handed to the extent that they are not even a favourite to win the pot if you are unable to narrow the field. Certainly they will have the best winning percentage, but the field i.e. the rest of the hands cumulatively will be a clear favourite. Surely then you should always raise with aces to narrow the field and greatly improve your chances of winning. Some player would advocate slow playing them, as you only get aces on average 1in every 221 hands dealt and therefore you want to get paid with them when you do pick them up.

Conversely, it can be argued that it is better to win a small pot than lose a big one with the aces. If you do slow roll this hand, then you must have the ability to lay it down to an unfavourable flop.

So how should we utilise the odds to our advantage? Your judgement has to be influcenced by different scenarios and it could be argued that there is no right or wrong way to play this wonderful game. It's certainly not a case of black and white and in fact the whole game is shrouded in dubious and misconceived thought processes.

Cash game and tournament strategies have to differ enourmously because they are very different poker animals. Essentially, in a tournament environment at the knock out stage, you are potentially one mistake or outdraw away from fatality and there is little room for error. In a cash game (unless your tank is empty) you can reload at any time and if you are outdrawn, you can still have the chance to get your money back. If you play tournament poker, you may never see the poker imbecile who has just cracked your aces with ace 2 off again. You may never get the chance to revel in the satisfaction of having your premium hand prevail over his rag hand and be able to think to yourself "please call with that trash".

If you are playing cash games with the same players week in and week out, then you will always want them to call with the worst of it, as over a long period of time your better hands will prevail. Experienced players recommend a tight selective aggressive style of play and I see no reason to doubt that this is the most effective and efficient strategy. I do believe variety is also a key to the game, as you do not want to be categorised as predictable.

The big question in tournaments is "do we want people to call from behind?" The answer has to be a big "yes", but with the following caveat attached "you want them to call, but you want them to lose, at least as many times as is statistically probable."

In the tournaments, self preservation has to be your ultimate goal and most experienced players will tell you that variety in your play is again essential. Winning so called 50-50 chances ie. over cards-v-pocket pair scenarios is also a very important part of the game. Many tight conservative players place all their faith in the odds and hopefully you can keep them in your favour. You will win your fair share of competitions playing in this way. However, we must always accept that lady luck also plays her part and she can be very fickle indeed.

I think the best tip for any newbie is to study the poker odds tables and get a feel for them. It is important to be conversant with the approximate probability and potential of completing your drawing hands and to be aware of how far in front or behind you are when you put your money in the pot. Once you know the approximate odds you can make an objective decision on how to play your hand.

Mark "The Chaser" Greenwood


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