"I read in the paper there are robbers
With flashlights that shine in the dark
My love needs a doggie to protect him
And scare them away with one bark"
-- Patti Page
How much is a pocket pair of Aces worth in
Holdem? How about AdQh? JsTs? While the answer to these questions obviously depends based on the game you are in, the stakes, your
opponents, and so on, each hand we are dealt does have a
$-expectation in the specific situation we face. This
value is not known in the moment, but there are ways to estimate it. Years of experience can tell you approximately how valuable any
particular two starting cards are to you. Computer simulations against robot opponents you program can give you similar information.
Of course, in many cases this isnít important. When you are dealt AA it hardly matters whether the hand is worth $15 or $18 to you.
You just go ahead and play it. Naturally though, you want to play the hand in the way that it is most profitable for you. For
instance, if AA is worth $21 if you raise, and $17 if you limp, then you want to commonly raise and get that extra $4 of value.
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One advantage that mathematically inclined players have in
poker is the ability to more accurately calculate the $-expectation of each hand or situation. Still, any calculations include a lot
of handwaving -- guessing, approximating, speculating. But there is no doubt that the better idea you have about hand values in a
given situation, the better off you are. If every time you are dealt 77 under the gun you lose approximately $4 when you play it, it
would be nice to know that, and act accordingly.
One terrific thing about online poker is that it is far easier to keep records on your previous results, and to analyze those records
to improve your play. The online cardrooms make available ďhand historiesĒ of each hand played. These show what you had, the face-up
cards, the betting in the hand, any hands that are in the
pot at the showdown, and the $-results for all the players in the hand. Pretty nifty to have all that information available, but
obviously it is impossible deal with histories of the thousands of hands you play using just your eyes and brain. Some players have
created their own hand history analyzers. For those of us less technogeeky, there are several commercially available programs.
Generally these programs
combine all your hand histories into a database (or several databases if you want to compare 15/30 games to 10/20 games, for example).
And then it performs miracles. Itís hard to even describe the wealth of information that is now at your fingertips: what percentage of
flops you see; how you do with each of the possible Holdem starting hand combinations, both in win percentage and $-wise; how often
you fold on the turn; how often you raise before the flop; how much you make or lose on a per-hand basis; etc. But that is just the
beginning. It gives you most of this information about your opponents too! It canít tell you your opponentís starting cards unless
their hand goes to the showdown, but it can tell you obscure things like how often your opponent folds to a flop bet, how often they
go to the showdown if they call the flop, what percentage of flops they see, etc. It shouldnít be hard to see that having your
opponentís tendencies right in front of you should be very helpful -- to a player who makes the effort to look.
Online poker presents thinking/studying players tools to improve their game that simply are not available in brick & mortar casinos.
But despite the availability of this information, most players wonít take advantage of it. Thatís good for us.
The next challenge for players is to learn what to make of the statistics. I play some of the five-handed Holdem games online (only
five seats at a table, which leads to 120 hands an hour of action-action-action.) One interesting tidbit is that I have made a greater
profit on the button with two unpaired picture cards than with Ace-picture card. I donít have thousands of hands of data yet, but at
this point the obvious conclusion is that when an Ace hits the flop after I have raised, it kills the action I get from the blinds. I
win smallish pots when I win. On the other hand, with the two
picture cards, underpairs chase me more -- and I am still usually able to bluff successfully when an Ace flops! I make more money with a
I donít think my brain will ever be able to
fully process the idea that I might actually be able to make more money holding KJ on the button than AK (in these five-handed games),
but it sure is interesting to know!
See also Poker Math Skills,
Poker Variance and
Poker Odds and Gambler's Ruin