Poker: What are the odds?

What are the odds is a well know expression, and there is a close connection with the poker game, as whenever we are playing, the odds, or probability of winning, is something we should always carry in our head.

Long before poker was invented, gambling and probabilities already occupied people’s heads, but it’s actually said that was gambling that leads to theories being developed concerning probabilities, back in the 15th century.

It’s only logical that when we are playing we want to know what our chances of winning are. Playing with high stakes makes this necessity even bigger. Even if probability theories date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, one thing is being aware of their existence, something entirely different is being able to apply them to poker and carry them in our head when we are sitting at the table and need to make our moves according to that precious data.

Out of necessity

Most people gamble out of pleasure, entertainment, to have fun, but there are others that look for wealth and fortune. These last, the professionals of the game, study it in-depth and use all the resources at their disposal to beat their opponents.

We can call it a mathematical approach or theory of probability, but it’s nothing more than knowing the existing cards and the frequency in which they appear. Considering a regular deck of 52 cards, our head needs to be prepared to compute all 5 card combinations on the spot, so that we can play a winning hand.

Let’s imagine that we know that there are four ways to get a Royal Flush, if we do the math (or if we know the math) we realize our chances are 4 in 2,598,960 or, if we prefer, one in 649,740. These are obviously incredibly low odds that we must know and consider when looking in our opponent’s eyes before deciding if we call, raise of the fold. How many times in your life have we drawn a Royal Flush?

Knowledge vs Feeling

If we have the capacity to carry all this knowledge into the poker table, it will be almost unfair to the other opponents, as instead of having a feeling that Ace, King or Queen are high or good hands, we simply know that having three of a kind, for example, happens just 2.11% of the times. More important now, the odds that our opponents have a better hand than three of a kind are just 2.87%, so this piece of information will allow us to play with another level of certainty.

This is harder than it looks, and that is why it’s not surprising when we see regularly the same faces on the World Poker Tour, those guys know what they are doing. More often than not, they have developed their own analysis software and databases and they study that information like any academic would.

Derivations, statistics, binomial coefficients, frequencies, probability theory, all of these fancy words seem unrelated to poker and the cool look of the players sitting at the table, but behind their poker faces their head is bubbling with this information.