Understanding The Basics Of Expected Value

Expected value is not in itself an advanced poker concept, although it is true that the study and application of expected value can be pretty complex. In order to properly grasp even the fundamentals of poker though, you need at least a basic understanding of what expected value is and why it is so important.

Poker is a game of probabilities, taking what information is known, or what can be known in a given situation, and then looking to decide what action would be appropriate to take.

What expected value is, essentially, is how much we would make or lose by performing a certain action or taking a certain line, which is a series of actions in combination. In other words, expected value is what we may expect to win or lose over time by doing a certain thing in a hand.

We know for sure that folding for instance gives us zero expected value, since it is impossible for us to make money when we fold. If we are looking to put more money in the pot instead, then we must look to assess the profitability of our actions over time, which may yield a positive or negative outcome. Positive outcomes are our profit, and negative outcomes are our losses.

The decision point by the way is always right now, meaning that we can't look back to what we have already put into the pot, although we can later analyze the hand from that perspective to see if we had enough expected value to justify an earlier decision.

So this is the first mistake newer players tend to make, looking at what they already put in the pot as meaningful. You may have heard that this money now belongs to the pot and not you, and that is absolutely true.

So you are faced with a decision at the table, and for instance you want to decide whether it's worth placing a bet right now. Players learning the game often think of these decisions in terms of needing the right odds, and while that is an element, expected value goes beyond this.

What it also involves is the tendency of our opponents, and also takes into account our winning the hand and not just our showing down the best hand. So how much money our opponents may put in with a winning hand, how often they will fold a better hand, and all sorts of other considerations go into this.

So this all might seem complicated, and it certainly can be, but the first thing we want to focus on is the long term view of expected value. What this means is that we need to always look to act where we are looking to select the most profitable decisions in the long run.

So we definitely don't want to look at individual instances to shape our thinking, like for instance where we make a correct play but end up losing this particular hand doing it. By getting away from the overall probability of our play, we not only will allow ourselves to be upset, we will become confused as well.

So if you think you should have won the hand, and you are right, then all you should be doing is patting yourself on the back and being thankful that you have outplayed your opponent. This is because you have expected value on your side, and over time, expected value always cashes itself in.

So therefore the starting point to making expected value a cornerstone of your game is to first make sure that you are focusing on it. If you know an opponent will fold most of the time for instance, and he or she doesn't fold this time, it still is the profitable move, and over 100 times that you do this, you will make more money than you lose. In other words, the move has a positive expected value.

So as you run with this concept, it will now only be a matter of getting better at figuring out when you have a positive expected value, and once you get a better idea of that, you can take it a step further and look for the move that has the highest expected value, and folding when your expected value is negative.

In doing so, you will be using all of the tools of poker, including both poker odds and reading your opponents. When you can do both well and project this forward over many hands, you will be well on your way to achieving your goal of being a very good player.

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