Monday, December 14, 2009

Add some EV

EV, or expected value, is a term that comes up a lot in gambling.  Your expected value for any bet is the amount you should make on average given the cost, odds, and payout of winning.  A bet with positive EV will make money in the long run while one with negative EV will lose.  In most casino games EV is easy to calculate.  There is always a fixed and known chance of winning or losing with a set payout that can be used to find the EV; which for games played against the house is always negative by design.

For poker finding your EV is a much more difficult task. You'll often read examples of easy calculations. You have a flush draw, the pot is now 200 and it costs 50 to call, is that plus or minus EV? It's usually assumed that your opponent is all in, has top pair and the flush is the only way to win. But the game of poker isn't designed to make decisions that simple.

Pre flop hand values are easy to caluclate.  You can study a hand chart and see where your hand ranks, but on the flop everything changes.  And because you don't know what your opponents hole cards are it's not possible to calculate your exact odds. If you have 2 overs and a flush draw you might have 15 outs to beat top pair. But if you share one of your over cards you're down to 12, and if they have a set or better you're down to the 9 flush outs. Then again, you may already be ahead in the hand up against a smaller flush draw.  There are also multiple streets of betting, further complicating things.  If you make your hand on the turn will you be able get action and increase the payoff? Or will you be sucked in to paying another bet if you miss?

But, with a little finesse you can use the dynamics of poker to your advantage.  It's possible to chose a line of action that will increase the value of your hands.  Take a hand like J-10 suited, for example.  If you limp in early position you are going to have a hard time making a profit off of the hand.  A good aggressive player on the button might raise you with almost any 2 cars, and if you miss the flop you will probably have to give up the hand and fold.  But if you switch positions instead be the raiser punishing the limpers your hand's power is multiplied.  Not only will you win when you hit the flop well, but you'll also win when your opponents miss and you conitnue to show strength.  You've used the action to change the equation in a way that benefits you.

There is a lot of extra value to be found at the table if you know where to look. Study your opponents and their playing styles.  Which players will limp and then call your raise only to fold on most flops?  Is there anyone who might call you from position and then float the flop with air?  Try to build pots whever possible when you have position on the weaker players while avoiding being out of position to the tougher players.  If you can control the sitiuations in this way you'll find yourself taking a lot more profit from the table than just the paper EV of your hands.