Jamie Gold at the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold ’em. Ethan Miller / Getty Images / AFP
If you’re going to learn how to play poker like a champion, you have to learn the language. There are two concepts in particular that are incredibly important to learn in Texas Hold’em – although they apply to all forms of poker.
The first is equity, which refers to the chance you have of winning the pot; the second is pot odds, which takes into consideration the size of the pot and the size of the bet you’re facing. Every decision you make in poker ultimately boils down to these two concepts, so let’s break them down in plain English.
If you’ve been watching the World Series of Poker, you’ve already been introduced to this concept. Each hand they broadcast at the featured table shows the equity each player has in the hand being played, in terms of percentages. For example, if Player A goes all-in pre-flop with, say, Three-Deuce unsuited, Player B calls with a pair of Aces, and they’re the only two players in the pot, Player A has 12.79% equity, and Player B has 87.21% equity.
Another way of expressing equity takes those percentages and multiplies them by the size of the pot. Let’s say this is a cash game now, and there’s $10,000 in the pot; Player A with the “dirty diaper” has $1,279 in equity, and Player B with the “pocket rockets” has $8,721. These amounts reflect how much money each player can expect to win in the long run.
Pot odds is another very simple concept in poker. Let’s pretend for now that there are no blinds on the table, and everyone has a $5,000 stack. Player A goes all-in; if Player B wants to win that $5,000, they have to put their own $5,000 at risk. Compare the size of the pot ($5,000) to the size of that call ($5,000), and Player B has pot odds of 1-to-1, which works out to 50%.
Here’s where the magic happens. For Player B to justify making that call, they have to believe they have at least 50% equity in the hand. If they have exactly 50%, they’ll break even in the long run; anything less, and they’ll be losing money.
Pocket Aces has 85.20% equity against any two random cards pre-flop, so naturally, Player B wants to make that call.
Now let’s consider a more common scenario that includes the concept of counting outs from earlier in this series. You’re on the flop with a flush draw, and your opponent has bet $50, making the pot $150 in total. That gives you pot odds of 3-to-1 or 25%. Your flush draw has nine outs; multiply that by four, and you have roughly 36% equity in the pot. That’s more than enough equity for you to make the call.
Of course, you also have the option of raising this hand instead of calling. Maybe your opponent will fold, or maybe they’ll call and you’ll still make your flush on the turn or river. And of course, there will be times when your flush will lose to a bigger hand, so that has to be taken into consideration as well.
But by understanding the concepts of equity and pot odds, you can make much more educated decisions while you’re at the poker table – like when to throw that dirty diaper into the muck.