How to Think About Expectation in Poker


In HUSNGs and all forms of poker, maximizing your results making your decisions based on what will produce the best outcomes over time. Maintaining a consistent focus on expected value goes a long way in helping you be as successful as you can be in the game (and in life, although that’s a subject for another day). However, I don't necessarily mean this in the way a lot of people do. Expectation calculations are often seen as a nerd’s domain, which sets up a false dichotomy between the math player, who seeks edge by pouring over frequencies and obsessing over calculations, and the feel player, who seeks edge through intuitive understandings of the flow of the game and his or her own natural expertise. While those types of people certainly exist, there are plenty of “math players” who are spectacularly bad at calculating expectation, and plenty of “feel players” who do it exceptionally well. Poker comes down to how well you interact with the math of the game, no matter what kind of player you see yourself as. The decisions you make have an expected value, and you always want to make the ones that will work out best over time.

Given that framework for looking at calculation, it is clear the nerds of the poker world do not have a monopoly on good analysis of expectation. Whatever your skillset, you benefit from thinking about your EV. This ebook aims to give you a framework to do that more effectively.

Let's start by talking about what good poker thinking means. Good poker thinking defines “+EV” as the best possible option, not just better than folding or better than not playing the game at all. It means not just being satisfied with having an edge, but seeking the largest edge possible. It does not want to stick to all of the strategies that have have combined to create a positive winrate in the past – it is always evolving, always questioning, always getting better. It is not afraid of being wrong, but rather staying wrong.

The most effective poker minds get rid of notions like “this is just my strategy” and “I’ve done this for a while and I’m a winning player, so I’m going to keep doing it”. They realize that playing different opponents calls for dramatically different approaches, and that it’s OK to play against a random opponent named “DogLoverAA” with a style that Phil Ivey would obliterate, as long as it makes the most money in that game.

Good poker thinking cares about what you should spend your time on. It fears self-indulgent analysis that makes you feel good without actually increasing your long term expectation. It knows which questions are worth asking and which ones distract from meaningful development of your game. It evaluates what you want out of your poker career in the long run, and thinks intently about poker’s place in your broader life.

One of the videos I have received the most positive feedback about is a video that describes two poker players you do not want to become. They are essentially the worst of what the stereotypical “math player” and “feel player” has to offer, and I call them the poker dweeb and the poker bro. The poker dweeb becomes obsessed with the details of the game but does a very poor job of turning that analysis into any additional success. The poker bro develops a swagger about not becoming one of those nerds, but falls victim to misguided notions that lack evidence, causing him to get exposed over time. Focusing on a holistic understanding of expectation helps keep you from becoming either of those people, and it is worth identifying which of the two you are most at risk of turning into.

As you read through this ebook, look for opportunities to make improvements about the way you approach poker. Compare everything you read against your own strategies and methods of looking at the game. Think about which differences in approach are stylistic, which ones I might be wrong about, and most importantly, which ones describe opportunities to change something that you currently do that you could be doing much more effectively. It will do you little good to nod along passively, simply thinking everything I am saying sounds reasonable – to make something substantial out of your time, you have to think about how the ebook might be indicating specific things you currently do suboptimally. That goes for whether the information is about readless ranges from the small blind 12bb deep, playing against the tendencies of tough regs, or making poker a productive part of your broader life. It all goes back to learning how to maximize your expectation.

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