Want to know how and why people win at poker in the long run? Here you will learn the basics on which all poker strategies are based. It will provide you with the understanding of how the game works and also how you should approach it. For more strategy material on actual play please visit PokerStrategy.com where you will find everything you need to become a successful poker player(or have a look at the review here first).
What is equity and how does it work?
Your equity is basically the amount of money in the pot that »belongs« to you in the long run. I’ll explain on a simple(probably over used) example. Lets say you are playing heads or tails with a friend. You each put 10$ in the pot and then flip a coin. One of you will obviously take the pot and win the 20$ in the middle.
Now lets look at this situation from a mathematical long term point of view. You and your friend both have a 50% chance of winning the pot(if the coin isn’t rigged), so you both have 50% equity. That basically means that if you’ll continue flipping you will eventually both break even, so long term you didn’t win or lose any money on this bet.
This principle transcends to poker, except you are obviously not going to look for break even spots to put money in the pot, instead you will be looking for spots where you have greater equity than your opponent. Example:
No limit Texas Hold’em, preflop
AdKh vs 8s5s à 60% vs 40%
Here you went all in preflop with AdKh and got called by 8s5s. As you see you have a 60% chance to win and because you both put the same amount in the pot, you will earn 10% of the total amount in the long run. Lets put some numbers in to make it clearer. You both put 100$ in the pot, so the pot is 200$. As we have established before, 60% of that is yours in the long run(your equity).
That means you invested 100$, but you won 120$ in the long run, thus making a profit of 20$. It doesn’t really matter whether you win in this specific hand, as long as you keep getting into these profitable situations you will be a long run winner. How do you get in these profitable situations? To find the answer visit PokerStrategy.com and dive in to their strategy section and start learning how to win at poker.
Variance is a whore, use a condom called bankroll management
Now that you understand how equity works and what you have to do to win at poker in the long run, you will learn about so called variance.
Variance is basically the deviation of the actual results from the long run results. It’s pretty simple, if you keep getting your money in as a favorite you will be a winner in the long run, but you can still lose in the short run. Even if you get it in as an 80% favorite, you will still lose 20% of the time and it’s nothing unusual to lose even 10 times in a row as such a huge favorite. Lets take a look at a winnings graph of a solid winning player(me:)):
This is a 2 month graph and the amount of hands here don’t represent long run results(for that there should be AT LEAST 100k+ hands), but my point will come out better on a smaller sample graph(it’s easier to see the swings). OK, I guess I should first explain the graph a little before explaining variance further.
This is a graph of 0.5$/1$ to 1$/2$ No limit Hold’em games. The x axis is the amount of hands played, the y axis are winnings. The green line shows actual winnings and the red line shows long term winnings(or expected value(EV)). Graphs like this are made with Holdem Manager or Poker tracker, you can find both at a discounted price on PokerStrategy.com in the poker tools section.
Back to variance. As you can see on the graph long term results and short term result can differ quite a lot(look at the part around hand 35k), but the more hands you play the closer you’ll get to your long term results(remember the coin, just keep flipping!).
Basically if you are a long term winner, even if you lose money in the short run, you are still making money in the long run, so just play as many hands as possible and you will eventually start to win at poker(it all evens out in the long haul:)). But be careful, it goes the other way around as well, if you are playing bad, you will eventually lose money even if you are “running hot” at the moment.
Next thing. How do you battle these short term »swings«? You use something called bankroll management. There are great articles on bankroll management for different games in PokerStrategy.com strategy section, so I won’t go into detail here, but I will explain the basic idea behind it.
The main idea is that you should have enough money behind(big enough bankroll) so that even if you get totally rapped by negative variance, you can continue playing until the long run kicks in. To know how big of a bankroll you need, you first have to know what your actual swings are.
There are many factors that influence swings(your play style, stakes, games you play in, your edge…), so there is no way of telling how big a bankroll you need to withstand them. Luckily there are some guide lines that should keep you from going broke because of variance.
Again, if you want to learn these guide lines just check the strategy section on PokerStrategy.com. There you will find bankroll management articles for different games that will explain in depth how not to go broke due to bad luck.
Like everything in life, it takes hard work and dedication to succeed and win at poker. Be it that you only want to beat your friends at a home game or someday become a professional poker player, I hope that this little guide at least got you to start thinking in the right direction.
For those interested in learning more about poker strategy, visit PokerStrategy.com(learn to win at poker), the best place to start for a beginner and the best place to improve for long time players, and also the place where I started my poker journey 5 years ago.
Enjoy playing and remember, never play for more money than you can afford to lose!