Understanding Poker Equity and Using it to Your Advantage

If you want to be a successful poker player then it’s going to take a great deal more than just nerves of steel, real card skill and a special sixth sense about what your opponents’ hands really contain. It’s been shown time and time again that to win more than you lose it’s essential to be able to use mathematics and the rules of probability to guide you towards the best course of action.

So far so obvious, you might think. After all, isn’t poker just like many other card games in which the likelihood of a particular card coming up just a matter of calculation?

But it’s surprising just how many poker players overlook this fact and rely on their wits and instinct alone when deciding on their betting and playing strategy during a game. And if you’re up against a player like this then it could be time to go fishing.

The more mathematical approach to play is often traced back to the huge influx of young players who came to poker following Chris Moneymaker’s incredible victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event that netted him $2.5 million and catapulted him into poker superstardom. These new players brought with them a whole host of theories and strategies and one of the key ones has been the concept of poker equity.

So what is poker equity, exactly?

Put in its very simplest terms, poker equity is the share of the pot in play that is yours at a particular stage in the game. It’s a figure that is calculated using the odds of you winning the particular hand. So, for example, you have an 80% chance of winning at a given moment and the pot contains $1,000. Therefore your pot equity can be calculated as being 80% of $1,000 – therefore it’s $800. But before we go on to explain how to start calculating your own poker equity it’s important to remember that this is a figure that’s constantly changing throughout the game. That’s because, as cards are dealt and stakes are raised, the potential for winning also changes for you and your opponents.

With so many variables involved you might imagine that calculating poker equity would be a very complex calculation to make, especially when you’re in the middle of a fast moving game – but you’d be wrong. That’s because there are a couple of techniques that make it relatively simple to understand poker equity and improve your game.

The first is to get hold of one of the very many poker equity charts that are available and make it a priority to study these carefully. They will tell you the precise percentage of the pot that could be coming your way if you could win the hand at the particular point in the game. These are figures which have been arrived at by running hundreds of thousands of different poker hands through a computer program to see which hand is the most likely to win.

Incidentally, you’ll also find many poker calculators online which let you input the various players’ hands and which will give you an immediate answer in percentage terms.

The rule of 4 and 2

There’s also a way that you can make your own approximate calculation while you’re in play and this is generally known as “the rule of 4 and 2”. In this you need to look at your hand and calculate how many cards in the deck could provide you with the “out” to achieve the result that you need to win.

This is a pretty simple process given that you know there are a total of 52 cards in a deck with 13 cards per suit. So, given the cards you’re holding you just need to multiply the number of potential “outs” by 4 if there are two cards to come or by 2 if there’s just one card to come. So say you work out that any one of eight cards could give you the result you want, the figure could be either 32% or 16% respectively. Then it’s just a question of working out what 32% or 16% of the pot would be and this will give you your pot equity for the game.

Obviously, the higher the figure, the more confident you can be in the way that you play. And, if you also use this information in tandem with the pot odds it can give you some very useful pointers as to the best course of action.

Combining equity with pot odds

The pot odds are just your proportion of the pot expressed as a ratio. So If there’s $10 in the pot and you have to call a $2 bet, then you are getting pot odds of 5-1. Then it’s just a case of comparing the pot odds and the percentage that represents your pot equity to see what, statistically speaking, would be the best way to proceed.

First you need to convert the pot odds to a percentage – in this case 5-1 can also be expressed as 20% so as long as the pot equity percentage is above this then you’ll be good to proceed. If it isn’t then it’s well worth considering folding and waiting for the next hand.

But while this all sounds like a straightforward way to work out how to come out on top in a game of poker it’s also important to point out that there is one unknowable element that will always make it an imprecise science. That’s because there’s no real way of knowing which cards the other players have so calculating “outs” can never be 100% accurate.

Having said this, if you regard the use of poker equity as a long term strategy even allowing for the gaps in your knowledge it should pay off more often than it doesn’t. Plus the more you get used to an opponent’s style of play the more educated your guesses will become about exactly what their hands contain –  and that’s what will really make the difference and turn you into a winner.