Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Important Is Math?

It's guest writer time again! Introducing KC from Grand Slam Poker Source. As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently wrote an article there myself. I recommend that you check out his site along with his new forum of the same name. Now back to you regularly scheduled blog post. --Grundy

CalcI experienced something this past weekend that I never thought I’d live to see. I had to explain pot odds and hand percentages to somebody who calls himself a professional poker player. The mere fact that this happened terrifies me. How can a man who has over $100,000 in career winnings over the past eight years not know how to compute the simplest of pot odds? (NOTE: I’ll leave it up to you to determine if somebody who cashes less than 15 times in the past eight years should be considered a professional poker player.)

I started to question myself and one of my fundamental concepts of poker. Maybe math isn’t a major component of winning poker?

Then, I took a deeper look and considered what it was that I had to explain to him. The first hand involved my AKo vs. his pocket kings. We ended up getting all his money into the pot pre-flop. When I saw his pocket kings, I commented, “Oh, well, it could be worse. At least you don’t have aces. I’m still only about a 2:1 dog here.”

He laughed out loud at me and said I was nowhere near a 2:1 dog here. You only win this hand about 20% of the time. That should have been my first clue that I should not have let his lack of knowledge make me question my fundamental concepts of poker. I don’t care what type of importance a person places on math in poker situations – I believe most players would agree that you at least need to have a basic understanding of where you stand in a hand to make rational judgments.

After much discussion, I told him I was at least 30% to win the hand. As it turns out, I’m barely over 30% to win the hand, but that’s a lot closer to what I was guessing than him. My second clue that I shouldn’t worry about my belief that math is an important aspect of poker came at this point – at least not in regards to this conversation. He asked, “How does a 30% chance of winning make you a 2:1 underdog? That makes you a lot more of an underdog than that – more like 3.5:1.”

I was floored. Was this person really not able to convert percentages into ratios? As it turns out, he can’t.

After a lot of thought and analysis, I decided that this experience should not affect my opinion on the importance of math as it relates to poker. I still believe it’s a game that takes a basic understanding of math, people, and relationships. I still believe, the more you know about these things, the more you can incorporate them into your experiences. To put it simply, the more you know about these things, the more you will get out of your experiences. The more experiences you have, the more you have to draw upon when faced with decisions. These things can only make you better.

Until next time,



  1. Grundy,

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to post on your blog. It was a pleasure. I look forward to more collaborative efforts in the future.


  2. No problem, KC, anytime.

    You say this guy has over $100,000 in winnings over the past eight years. Did he say anything about his loses? I was just wondering if all that was profit.

  3. 100k over 8 years is a burger flipper's wages, at best. Anyone who hasn't learned odds in that long of a time is probably a net loser or hasn't played anyone who's actually any good. If he's played tournaments and doesn't know allin preflop odds, well, I feel sorry for him but I'd love to play him!! You're never REALLY that bad off getting allin preflop with any Ax combo, except against against AA (obviously). And against these types of guys, in the high blind stages of tourneys, I love to shove T9s against their short stacks on the bubble (they are never big stacks except by luckboxing or getting it in against a player even worse than them) and have them fold most of their hands (because you can't really *call* allin on the bubble without a big ace, big broadways or a medium-big pair, which definitely don't comprise more than 10% of hands), but when they do call with a premium hand like AQ or AK, they wonder why they are losing 40% of the time to "junk". Most people don't realize any two randoms vs any two other randoms where a card isn't shared between them, the hand with the high card is only a 60% favorite, which is not exactly a coinflip, but it's close! Fold equity makes up for that other 20%, handily.

  4. [...] all about it! Added a few more posts! A St. Paddy's Day post A post by Gobbs asking How Important is Math? A post about the game Anaconda. And a post about bots in on-line poker rooms. Also, a couple [...]