The Expected Value (EV) of a Poker Hand

I recall some years ago when I first turned pro, the online poker games were a lot different to what they are now. They were much looser and far less aggressive. This meant that many more poker games were loose-passive. The strategy to defeat these games was straight forward. You folded most of your hands and played very tightly and then pushed your strong hands whilst calling with hands that had both good pot odds and implied odds and this was especially the case when you played games like limit hold’em.

However when online poker became more mainstream, players started to get more and more education. This meant that the games tightened up or at least they did online. It is still very much the case that live poker games are considerably softer than online poker games even on the softer sites like at 888Poker for example. In those days and in soft live games then the greatest part of your value came from your hot and cold showdown equity. This is why hand charts were so popular because they clearly highlighted which hands were playable in which positions.

Then when everybody started to become aware of what a good starting hand was and in what position this was when the games started to tighten up and most decent or semi-competent players started to become positionally aware. There is an ebb and flow to the dynamic of a poker game and it is this ebb and flow what you need to be in tune with. When games of poker become extremely tight and aggressive then you can only make a decent earn rate if enough weak fish are making mistakes in big pots if you are playing in a very tight aggressive way yourself.

If they don’t then you are going to have something of a problem when it comes to posting a profit. To make money in any poker game means first identifying what the table dynamic is and then doing something different to it. If a game is playing very loosely then you exploit that by being tighter. This means that you are playing and entering pots with superior holdings on average and that will prevail over time. Likewise if the table is playing very tightly then you should loosen up and steal more blinds and more small pots.

If you meet aggression in a very tight aggressive game and especially against players that normally play relatively passively post flop then you need to watch out. This brings us onto the title of the post and the EV or expected value of a hand. It is the combined value of your hand winning without a showdown and also at showdown. You need to remember that your hand in any given situation makes money in one of two ways. They are either at showdown or before showdown.

To win the pot before showdown means that all of your opponents must have folded! So for that to happen then your position needs to be good along with your aggression levels and also most of your opponents must have folded or have weak ranges. Winning at showdown means that you should pay care to your hand selection. This is because your chances of winning at showdown are higher with a hand like A-K than they are with a hand like 10-4o if you saw both of these hands before the flop. The A-K beats the 10-4o if neither hand makes a pair and even if the weaker hand makes a pair, it can still lose to a bigger pair. So the combined effect of fold equity and pot equity are what contributes to your expected value in any given poker hand.

A big thanks to Carl “The Dean” Sampson for this submission - you can find Carl on his Google+ page.


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