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Poker – aside from luck, pure analysis?



Poker – aside from luck, pure analysis?

by Firsttsunami

The concept of expected value is as indispensable to poker as the cards the dealer hands out. Without this concept of mathematics, which indicates what we can expect from a certain decision, poker would not be the same, since it is required that we we view it as a strategy game in order to reason with it. The game no doubt owes many of its followers to this analysis.

Apart from the sober mathematical component, there is another more irrational factor in poker. The people factor. This is what makes poker so dynamic and gives it is mysticism. Both components contribute to the fascination surrounding poker.

With the insight that poker has both rational and irrational components, I will now focus on expected value (EV).

If we sit at a table and play a hand, we can analyse our decisions afterwards by looking at the EV of certain moves.

Suppose we have the situation whereby we want to know whether we have sufficient foldequity to make a semibluff on the Turn with a flushdraw. We advance systematically and insert the correct information into an appropriate formula. We determine our equity and the size of the pot. Using this information we can determine what percentage of hands the opponent must fold in order for our move to be +EV.

In order to to make a clean EV-analysis, we must know the range of our opponent. If we only partially know this, we cannot make an exact analysis. We therefore make guesses based on the open raising standards of the opponent and his previous betting sequences.

Two types of EV

Time is an influential factor on people and we can distinguish between two types of EV, Shortterm-EV and Longterm-EV.


The „Shortterm EV“ relates to an isolated decision in a specific situation.


The Longterm-EV takes into account the factor of time, considering the effects of a decision on future events. We can say that Longterm-EV is a product of Shortterm-EV and history. The Longterm-EV is therefore very difficult to determine since we must take into account the whole history and correctly predict the effects on the game.

The dynamic effects of the people factor is difficult to predict, therefore it may be impossible to determine the exact EV of a certain move. When playing live poker we can look the opponent in the eyes and can get a feel for what he is doing, but online, we have only a username, not sensory information.

It is generally impossible to predict human actions and emotions. Many a philosopher has pondered this issue. We can only guess how the opponent will adapt to our actions and try to stay a step ahead.


A question we ask is:

Can it make sense to make a seemingly unreasonable move based on shortterm analysis, but that will yield longterm profits owing to future mistakes made by the opponents? In other words can we make dispersed shortterm -EV moves with the aim that our longterm +EV will counterbalance our losses?

We must first ask some preliminary questions:

How quickly does the opponent adapt?

Against an opponent which does not take history into account and does not adapt to opponents, it makes no sense to use this kind of move since the longterm EV is not influenced

How strong are the opponents in general on this limit?

On smaller limits such as 1$/2$ or 2$/4$ most of the opponents will not accurately adapt themselves to the style of an opponent. Without reads, you should just take into account the current situation.

Are the opponents multitabling?

If an opponent multitables, it is unlikely that they will do anything but consider the present situation.

Does the opponent trust his ability to adapt? Does he know us well?

If the opponent knows us, is a good hand reader and knows we are not unreasonable he could adapt his game against our favour, perhaps seeing through our game plan. If the situation is such that both players are solid TAGs, this move makes little sense.

Under what conditions does such a move make sense? It should be used when the following hold:

  • The opponent does not know we are a solid TAG.
  • He plays reasonably.
  • He is adaptable.
  • He isn't playing other tables.

Preflop: Hero is BB with 3, 3
4 folds, SB raises, Hero calls.

Flop: (4.00 SB) A, K, Q (2 players)
SB bets, Hero calls.

Turn: (3.00 BB) K (2 players)
SB bets,

We play a few hands heads up against our opponent. He is unknown, but we have not noticed him making any significant mistakes and he seems to use reasonable strategic reasoning. He appears reasonable to us and he is not playing at other tables.

In this hand we have defended our Big Blind with 33. We play call flop, raise Turn. This move evidently makes no sense when considering the shortterm EV, since it is -EV to raise here with a low pair.

On this board the opponent will almost never play bet/fold on the Turn. We raise here, feeding the opponent some false information, hoping that our longterm EV will be improved owing to the future mistakes of our opponent after seeing our suboptimal Turn raise.

The opponent will develop the incorrect impression of us and will no doubt call us down more loosely after setting us on incorrect ranges. It will take a while for the opponent to change his first impression of us, since it will take a number of hands for him to realise that this was the only exception to our standard play style. We must exploit our image during this period of time. How should we do this?

It's simple: Because he estimates our turn raising range more loosely, he will often play bet/call instead of bet/fold and check/fold. We can therefore make thinner value bets with our weak made hands, but should not try semibluffs so much as we lose our fold-equity.

As we have already said, there is no guarantee that the opponent will adapt and that our changes will really exploit their behaviour. It is therefore somewhat difficult to define the Longterm-EV. Should the opponent adapt, and quickly enough, however, he will be left empty handed.

» Summary

This article does not recommend that you should incorporate plays such as the above into your default play. It should be played only against aware opponents in very specific circumstances in order to irritate them and try to force mistakes.

Further more it is important to sharpen your understanding of the game and above all resist tilt and rather say to yourself: „The move may seem bad, but we cannot be sure whether it was absolutely good or bad, but it may in fact bring have been a longterm positive move“. You should no longer value decisions based on their outcome and try to play the game free of emotion.

You can see how complex poker can be. This article gives insight only into a corker of the dark maze. It is a transcedental game for highly intelligent people, with large entertainment value. A game so intricate that not only people such as yourself, but many other types of people are enthused by it.


Comments (4)

#1 mouse89, 14 Oct 08 15:54


#2 mouse89, 14 Oct 08 15:54


#3 theboydave, 24 Jul 09 13:00

theres an echo in here here here.

#4 Harnas31, 30 Oct 11 11:52

nice, but title should be diffrent, ex Forcing mistakes