PokerDeals Risk and Reward Primer
Every single decision you make at the poker tables boils down to risk and reward. It might not always seem that way, especially if you’re clicking buttons, but the fundamentals behind every choice do come down to this. How much do we stand to lose by making this play, and how much do we stand to gain? How often do we think each outcome will occur?
There is a very simple bit of mathematics which is key to answering these common questions in game, which can be used either in calling spots or raising spots, especially with regard to bluffing opportunities.
Alongside a basic understanding of poker odds and outcomes, and a good ability to put your opponents on an appropriate range, this is really all you will need in the way of maths to start understanding and beating the game, and we’ll run over the details below.
The Maths - Calling a Bet on the River
Whenever you are committing chips into a pot in poker, there’s some basic mathematics attending your actions. Let’s give a simple example.
You get to the river heads-up and the pot is $10. Your opponent is first to act and bets $10 into the $10 pot, making it $20 in the middle. You have to choose between calling $10, folding and of course raising.
Let’s assume that in this case we think our opponent is either bluffing or has a big hand, and that we have a mid-strength value hand.
The question remains: should we call or fold? Let’s look first at the odds we are being laid by our opponent. When we call and lose, we are losing $10, that’s the amount we are risking. When we call and win, we are winning $20, the potential reward. Therefore we are getting direct odds of 2 : 1 on the call.
How often do we need to be correct to break even on our call? It is quite simple to turn any ratio into a percentage, we simply divide the amount on the right-hand side (1) by the total of both sides in the ratio (2+1), so the answer is (1 / (2 + 1)) = ⅓ or 33.33%. If we win more often than this, we are making profit and our call is +EV (positive in equity value).
We can see intuitively that this makes sense, since if we were to play this situation out thousands of times, and we lose $10 two thirds of the time and win $20 one third of the time, overall we will break even and neither lose nor win money. This is known as our break-even point.
If we believe, therefore, that our opponent is bluffing more often than a third of the time, we can comfortably make the call in this spot. Even if we lose the pot 60% of the time, we will still be making profit in the long run, if we played this spot out numerous times.
For clarity, let’s consider a couple of different sizings. How often do we need our opponent to be bluffing for us to make profit on our bluff-catcher call if he’s bluffing with a half-pot sizing of $5? In this case we are calling $5 to win $15, and the direct odds are 3 : 1. The equation becomes 1 / (3 + 1) = ¼ or 25%. Now we only need to be correct 25% of the time in order to break even on the call, so if we think he is bluffing more often than ¼ of the time, we can make the call.
Bear in mind that as villains bet smaller, it is often less likely that they are bluffing, especially in the lower stakes. To some extent you must trust your instincts, and when a bet smells like a value play, it often is!
If our opponent on the other hand over-pots it and bets $20 into the $10 pot, we will need to call $20 to potentially win $30, so the direct odds become 2 : 3. Now we must calculate our break-even point using the following maths: 2 / (3 + 2) = ⅖ or 40%. Now we must be confident our opponent is bluffing with a higher frequency in order for us to make the call.
The Maths - Betting as a Bluff on the River
Let’s look at the same scenario in reverse, and imagine we are the villain who was betting full pot on this river. Let’s further imagine that we have nothing, and we are simply bluffing to try to take down the pot. How often does a $10 bluff into a $10 pot need to work in order to break even?
Once again the maths is very simple. In this spot we are risking $10 for the chance to win $10. There’s no way to win any more than this, since we are bluffing and when called we will lose the pot. The direct odds are 1 : 1. In this case the maths needed to get a break-even percentage are even simpler, it is simply 1 / (1 + 1) = ½ or 50%. If the bluff works half the time, we will break even on our play in the long run.
Let’s consider the bluff using different sizings. If we bluff half-pot, this would be $5 into a pot of $10. Now we only need the bluff to work with the following frequency to at least break even: 1 / (2 + 1) = ⅓ or 33.33%. Since we are risking less, the bluff needs to work less often to break even or to turn a profit. Bearing in mind of course smaller bluffs are generally prone to work less often.
If we bluff an over-pot sizing, say $20 into the $10 pot, now we must use different inputs. We are risking twice as much as we stand to gain if the bluff works. Now the maths equates to 2 / (1 + 2) = ⅔ or 66.66%, so we need the bluff to work two thirds of the time just to break even.
Whether we are considering a call vs. a polarized range (either bluffing or a very strong hand) or a bluff versus an opponent, the basic maths is the same, since it boils down to risk evaluated against reward. How much are we risking, how much is the reward, and how often do we think we will win or lose in the spot?
These are the fundamental questions, and the basic maths behind them is always the same: risk divided by (risk + reward) = our break-even point.
Why on the River?
We have used the examples above, situated on the river, for one very simple reason - no cards are left to come out on the board. This means that it is the final round of betting, and when we call or fold to that final bet, the hand is concluded. This means that we need only think about direct odds, the ratio we have given above which indicates the ratio between risk and reward.
Look out for more PokerDeals Strategy Content coming soon, as we open our strategy section on PokerDeals.com! You can also join us on Discord with this awesome invite link. See you there!
by Lucky Luke
Ever feel overwhelmed by choice? The modern online poker player really does suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to game choice in the online scene, and we're here to help you narrow down your options (as well as your opponent's range). In this instalment in the guide series we'll walk you through all of the most popular forms of poker being played today, and indicate which of these are available across multiple types of poker beyond No Limit Hold'em. We'll also dip into some variants within each format, where applicable. Our aim in this piece is to give you the very best start in choosing which formats to settle on for your own grind, so in each case we'll try to give you a thorough sense of the pros and cons of each one for your average grinder. Cash Game Poker Let's start as simple as it comes with cash games. These are the original deal, games where you can sit down and stand up as you wish, there's a minimum and maximum buy-in, blinds are fixed and chips is chips, what you sit down with is what you play with. Typically players will sit with 100bbs, so for a $1/$2 blinds cash game, you'd usually sit with $200. This is the max at many cash game tables. The minimum buy-in for cash tables tends to range from 20-50bbs, and short stackers are often frowned upon as they will often "hit and run” a table by doubling up and then leaving. Deepstack cash game (200bb+) is the most complex form of poker out there, and is available on some sites, as are capped tables where only short-stacks may play. A popular format within cash is zoom, or fast-fold poker, in which players are entered into pools and reseated on a new table with players from that pool as soon as they've folded their hand. This makes for much faster play and many more hands per hour. Zoom tables are often capped at 4 maximum, but grinders of regular speed cash tables have been known to play anywhere between 6-24 cash games at a time. Rake is an important consideration in cash game poker, and rakeback is a big component of regulars' income at the tougher games (rake is also generally higher in the lowest stakes). See our poker sites review page for more info on how we can help secure the best rakeback deals. Six-max is now surely the most popular form of cash game online, although you will also find games running Heads-up (2-handed), 8-handed, and 9-handed. Cash games available online span a huge range of buy-ins, from $0.01/$0.02 games where you would sit with $2 for 100bbs, up to $5/$10 where you'd sit with $1,000 for 100bbs and even higher stakes running at times on certain sites. Cash games are available on certain sites in almost any format including 8-game, but the most popular by far is NLHE, followed by PLO. You can also find various variants, in particular Omaha Hi-Lo and NL 6+ are somewhat popular on certain sites. Another twist you might find on certain apps is a straddle, which is a third blind (twice the size of the big blind), or certain games running with antes of different sizes. This tends to boost the aggression of the action in-game, since there's more to be won in the middle. Cash game play is well-suited to anyone who likes to study the intricacies of postflop poker, who wants to work with a bankroll of around 50 buy-ins, who likes the prospect of putting in hundreds of thousands of hands of play as they progress up the stakes, who wants to play against tougher opponents as they progress and who prefers to play poker in instalments of a few hours at a time. The main benefits of cash game poker are the low variance relative to other formats, the significance of rakeback for your bottom line, and the convenience of the flexible hours it offers. The main downside is that it is relatively tough compared to some other formats, and that some players find it less engaging due to always playing at the same stack depth. Tournament Poker Tournament poker subdivides into several formats, but first a word about the overall grouping. Tournaments are essentially any game into which you enter with a fixed buy-in amount for which you receive chips, and then cannot exchange these chips for real money again until you place in the tournament. The blinds go up in fixed increments at fixed time intervals, forcing players to elimination as stacks become shorter in big blinds. outs usually go to roughly the top 12-18% of finishers, or up to 30% in the case of small sit and go tournaments (SNGs) of 6-9 players. In big field multi-table tournaments (MTTs), the lion's share of the payouts goes to the top three finishers, making for a game format with extremely high variance but potentially life-changing reward. Multi-table Tournaments (MTTs) Because of the huge prize money on offer tournament poker, particularly big field MTTs, have remained one of the softest poker formats in existence online, and will likely be the softest remaining format in the future, aside from new formats which may emerge which no-one yet knows how to play or study. ICM is a model used to estimate the relative value of different stack sizes in terms of their potential to cash for different amounts in the payout structure. Multi-table tournament (MTT) poker is well-suited to anyone who loves the thrill of a deep run and attempting to come out on top despite the long odds, who is interested in studying different ranges needed for different stack depths, is interested in how the payouts affect ranges, who is prepared to play for long sessions of 8-10 hours or more and who is able to stand the psychological pressure of huge variance and big down and up swings. The main benefits of MTT poker are the softness of the games, the interest value of the dynamic nature, with stack depths changing often, and the sheer fun of taking a big title in a headline event. Naturally the big payouts on offer for the top spots are a major draw as well. The main downsides of MTT poker are the crushing swings possible in a format with very high variance, and the sheer time outlay required. MTTs tend to run for NLHE and PLO, but rarely for other formats except during major series. Some MTTs are freezeouts, meaning you cannot re-enter if you bust out. Some are re-entry, and allow either a fixed or unlimited number of re-entries within the late registration period. Others are rebuys, meaning usually that you can buy in for multiple stacks at the start, and at several points during the late registration period, as well as adding on chips at the end of that period, for an additional fee. Now you're well equipped to play almost anything, what will you choose? Let us know over at our PokerDeals Discord ! by Lucky Luke
If you missed the premiere, you've got to catch this awesome podcast we put together with champ and gentleman Greg Raymer . With some serious wins under his belt including shipping the WSOP Main Event back in 2004 for a sweet $5 million first prize , the Fossilman (as Raymer is better known) has crushed the tournament circuit for decades as well as being a very successful cash game player, specialising in Limit Hold'em and HORSE (a mixed game format). In this special extended 100-minute podcast, Raymer talks us through his experience in cash game play, and how he got started in the beautiful game. He also goes into a fascinating account of how he gathers live reads in poker, and how to avoid tilt . Raymer explores some very interesting areas of poker strategy in this podcast, including how to use randomness to improve your game, as well as his views on poker intuition . Of course, we round out the interview as usual with our fun quickfire round of questions, bringing to a conclusion this excellent installment of the PokerDeals Podcast! For those of you who prefer to listen in without video, you can also catch the show on Apple or Spotify at the click of a button! Be sure to hop in our Discord to let us know what you thought of the show, and tune in next time to catch us chatting with poker legend Jeff Gross ! By Lucky Luke
Crack out the popcorn and settle in for this one because this much-anticipated face-off did not disappoint. Unexpectedly, often chill and relaxed podcast host Doug Polk , though obviously enjoying some moments of the pod, found himself on the back foot for others. A pumped-up and caffeinated Bilzerian fired back somewhat coherently with accusations of misrepresentation by Polk . To be fair, Blitz ap peared to have a point , as it emerged Polk had clipped quotes of him to essentially state the opposite of what Bilzerian had said about his own sources of funds in poker. This, Blitz maintained, went beyond Polk 's pretty arguably weak defense of it having been " a joke ”. No stranger to controversy, many might view Bilzerian's social media offenses as far more egregious (his own favourite word in this podcast!). He has a history of outspoken misogyny , having referred to Vanessa Kade as a " hoe ” in response to her own innocuous Tweet, and being outspokenly sexist in multiple other high-profile interactions online on the daily. Whether this behaviour could possibly be defended as being merely an " online persona ” or not was another facet to a fascinating debate between these two larger-than-life characters. Hate to love or love to hate him, Blitz did argue his corner pretty well at times in debate with Polk , and at other times merely bewildered him with his bizarre attitudes, for one reason or the other leaving the usually cheery host a little lost for words at times. On the money front, who will ever know for sure, but Bilzerian's claim that he had action in some top players in extremely soft private games over the years, as well as his acknowledgement that his wealthy background, whilst not propping up his bankroll directly did help to get him in some amazing High Stakes games by dint of reputation , combine to go some way to explaining his explosive claim that he is up over $70 million from poker. This nosebleed-stakes live cash account is more believable than his claim to have been one of the best players online in his day (2005 upwards), but Bilzerian did invite Polk to check his online results, so perhaps we'll see a follow-up on this one. Other highlights include Bilzerian's claim that he once wagered $3.5 million by flipping a quarter . Come tell us what you made of it all in the PokerDeals Discord , where you can get the best on poker news, deals and entertainment every day. by Lucky Luke Original image from Doug Polk's podcast
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