Understanding the mathematics behind poker

poker mathematics

Any poker professional will tell you that there is more than meets the eye about his game and luck alone will never keep players profitable on the long run. This explains why so many of them are frustrated that legislators tend to tag poker as gambling. Whenever they are provided with a chance to emphasise the science behind poker and the importance of using mathematics and concepts such as game theory when playing the game, these players rise to the challenge.

The Wall Street Journal article written by Prof. Christopher Chabris augments the belief shared by poker pros that poker is highly dependent on skill and luck plays a marginal role. The catalyst for progress is in most cases a shining example of success and that’s why it is only fair to say that Chris Moneymaker’s triumph at the World Series of Poker was a turning point for online poker. The idea that a relatively unknown player who used to compete mostly over the Internet could win the most important tournament in the world, sparked enthusiasm and encouraged many to give the game a chance.

With companies such as PokerStars hosting hundreds of tournaments every week and providing players the opportunity to compete at both low and high limits, the popularity of online poker surged. Internet poker players rely less on the proverbial poker face, as they are unable to see the ones they are competing against and extract valuable information. They had to find alternative ways for making precise reads and nowadays they rely heavily on mathematics to put opponents on the correct range of cards.

The ability to calculate the odds of winning a hand, by factoring in elements such as table position, the chances to hit a winning combination and the pot size makes the difference between an average and a proficient poker player. One needs to calculate his chances on each street as things change dramatically with each card dealt, and strong starting hands can be rendered useless by an unfavourable board.

Proper use of mathematics prevent players from going all in when they are underdogs and makes it much easier to get over bad beats. Poker theorists such as David Sklansky and active professional Phil Galfond emphasise the fact that what truly matters is to do make the right decision, even if the result is not favourable. In the long run, those who base their decisions on mathematical calculations rather than hunches will emerge victorious and offset occasionally losses caused by bad luck.

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