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The Math of Poker

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 12:24 PM EDT

Some people might argue that poker is a game of psychology and feelings. Others argue that it’s a game of math. Really, though, it should be a blending of both. The math side can be scary for some players, but it’s not as hard as it seems. All it takes is some basic knowledge. Here are some quick tips.


You have to make sure that any math you do at the table is based in logic. If you’re guessing, using inaccurate facts or just plain second guessing yourself constantly, you shouldn’t bother. You’ll only succeed in frustrating yourself.


While guessing isn’t an option, approximating and simplifying definitely are. Part of the reason poker math may seem scary is that you may assume that it’s like math you used to do in school. There’s only one right answer.

That’s not the case with poker math, though. The reality is that you have to do quick calculations at the tables. So, it’s really fine to estimate closely, rather than going for complete accuracy.

Back to Basics

Although a lot of poker math can be expressed in a complicated way, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, basic, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division can see you through. Those are things that we all learned in grade school. So, I poker math seems like a foreign language to you, find yourself a translator and reduce it to its simplest form.

Prep Work

Preparation is a key part of poker. Everyone has to mentally and physically prepare for the battle of the cards. That prep work can also extend to math concepts, though.

The reality is that you are often only going to have a certain amount of time to act in a poker game. You can’t take forever to calculate things in your head. Luckily, though, a lot of poker math is repetitive. So, you can memorize certain calculations that come up on a regular basis. Also, again, you can simplify and estimate, as long as your process is based in logic.

Merging Math and Psychology

The psychology of poker is very important, too, of course. If someone has some obvious tells, for example, you may have to adjust your calculations to compensate. So, it’s important to take the attitudes and habits of those around you into account. Then, merge them with your poker math knowledge.

With all of that in mind, poker math isn’t that scary. It can actually save you a lot of time and, hopefully, win you a lot of money at the tables. So, if you’ve been afraid of poker math before, don’t be. Give it a try and you should find your game drastically improved.