I like to focus on a lot of the realities of poker. It helps keep my mind-set in the proper state and ensure I’m playing consistently according to my game plan. If you don’t understand the realities of poker and some of the basic odds of things that occur, then negative ramifications on your mind-set and your bankroll are certain to follow.
The more you understand the math surrounding what can happen, you’re more likely to play hands correctly and not be affected negatively when things don’t go your way. When playing poker, our goal is to consistently make the best decisions based on the information we have.
Yes, you need to assess opponent ranges, betting patterns, physical and verbal actions, but if you’re not factoring in the math that tells you what is most likely the case in a specific situation, you’re missing key information to make the best decisions.
Here’s a common key example: You raise preflop and then are heads-up with a flop that has two cards of one suit. For many players, there’s a tendency to bet strongly on the flop to dissuade your opponent from drawing to a flush.
I’ve fallen victim to this, and it’s OK to admit you do it, too. This begs the question: Why? For every decision you make at the table you must answer this question. Why are you betting? Why are you betting this amount? Why are you checking? Why are you folding?
In the case of the possible flush draw, let’s look at why we have a tendency to overbet to keep our opponents from drawing and then look at the realities of the situation factoring in the fundamental math we need.
The main reason we’re afraid of the flush draw is the dreaded third card of that suit hitting on the turn or river, which forces us to make a tough decision.
We get caught up in wanting to win pots easily (and right now!), rather than maximizing our value when we are ahead and limiting our losses when we’re behind. No one likes to fold and no one likes to make really tough decisions.
So we just overbet the flop to try to take the pot, and if our opponent still calls and hits a flush, we can complain about how we played the hand perfectly and this donk paid too much to hit a flush.
Let’s be honest. If your opponent is playing two suited cards and flops two more of that suit, do you really expect him to go away? Of course not, just like you’re not likely to fold when you flop a flush draw. They key is we want to bet consistently, about half to two-thirds the size of the pot, which will give them the incorrect odds to draw if they even have the draw. The simple math here is if they have a draw and we bet even just half the pot, we are laying them 3-to-1 to hit, when they are 4-to-1 against hitting. This means we have done our job by betting correctly.
If we understand the math and apply some good old-fashioned common sense to the situation, we’ll understand why it’s a silly idea to try to “bet them off” of the flush draw. When anyone sees a flop after being dealt two cards of the same suit, they will flop four to the flush (a flush draw) about 11 percent of the time. Looking at the converse of this, 89 percent of the time they won’t.
To drive this point home a little further, let’s say your opponent holds a pocket pair. They will flop a set about 12 percent of the time, slightly more often than they would flop a flush draw when holding two cards of the same suit.
If your opponent is more likely to have flopped a set than they are to have flopped a flush draw, how much sense does it make to overbet the flop because you’re scared of the draw? Based on the math, if you’re going to be scared, then you should be more afraid of a flopped set. And are you going to bomb the pot on the flop to try to get them to fold a set? Of course not.
Understanding this and other core realities of poker, most of which are based on fundamental math, will help you in common situations.
Hopefully this will help you stay consistent with your betting, maintain pot control, maximize wins and minimize losses. Trust yourself to have the discipline to get away from hands when you think you’re beat. Don’t be scared you may be faced with a tough decision at some point in the hand. Having confidence in your knowledge and discipline will let you focus on making the best decisions you can with the information you have. Decide to Win!
— Lee Childs is a poker pro who founded Acumen Poker.