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Expected Value

Make the correct plays

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Expected value in poker is a simple and important concept. It basically means expectation and in poker that is how much profit or loss we can see from a given situation over a certain period of time, if it was repeated a large number of times.

In poker, it is best to always make moves that are positive expected value, meaning that over the long haul, you will make a profit rather than lose money. The outcome of the hand is no expected value. Expected value is the "average" outcome of the hand you are playing. In other words, positive expected value is the correct move.

Lets look at some quick examples of things that are both positive expected value and negative expected value in relation to life in general and poker:

  • Eating healthy is definitely positive ev; you will most likely live longer and feel better.
  • Staying in shape is positive ev, your heart will be in better shape and you will maintain a healthy weight.
  • Regularly playing AA in Texas Hold'em is positive ev simply because the numbers don't lie. These puppies are profitable!
  • Regularly playing 72 off suit from early position is negative ev. Again, the numbers don't lie, not even Doyle Brunson could make this hand profitable over the long haul.
  • Committing armed robbery is negative ev, you will go to prison and cost everyone including yourself money. Crime in general is very negative ev for all involved.
  • Playing coin flips has zero expected value, as there is as much chance of winning as there is of losing.

With the examples out of the way, it's possible to see how this concept ties so well into poker. See, poker is a game of short-term luck and long term skill. It is your proper decision-making and discipline that will ultimately determine the expected value of your poker playing.

Why Is Expected Value So Important In Poker?

The concept is important because it determines your profitability over the long haul. Imagine that someone offered you a bet in which you pay two dollars for the chance to win three dollars. All you have to do is properly pick an ace from three fair playing cards. Every time you will pay two dollars and if you pick the ace, you will win three dollars. Sounds like a carnival doesn't it? Well that's because this bet has negative expected value. If you were to do this bet one hundred times you would have paid $200 to the game, yet only won roughly 1/3 of the time for a measly $100.

That means you are in the hole $100. Do this bet for the rest of your life and you will never have money. The same concept applies in poker. If you constantly are drawing when you don't have the proper pot odds, you are making moves that have negative expected value.

For example, if you are drawing to an inside straight with just the river to come and the pot is offering 6:1 you are making a bad move. Hitting an inside straight is roughly an 11:1 shot and if you were to play this hand over and over for the rest of your life, you would bankrupt even the largest economies of the world!

Conversely if you have a big hand and there is an obvious draw or two on the board, it is a mistake to slowplay your hand. You must bet enough so that your oponnent has a negative expected value in calling.

Do yourself a favor and learn the odds of completing hands in poker. By doing this you will be able to recognize when the pot is offering you proper money for your draws and you increase your chances at being profitable. If you consistently play hands and draw with improper odds, then you will never be anything more than a losing poker player and it could end up putting you in financial trouble. Do things that have a positive expected value (in life, not just poker) and you'll be much better off! Otherwise it is a poker leak in your game.

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