Crunching The Poker Math With This Guide To Expected Value

By Christine
October 23, 2023
Expected value in poker image of a black vintage calculator
Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Expected value in poker is one of those terms we bet you’ve heard before. But it sounds complicated, right? For that reason, this might be the first time you’re really delving into it.

Having said that, it doesn’t have to be so complex. We’re going to break it down for you. You’ll be a pro on expected value in poker in no time.

What is expected value in poker?

Expected value (EV) is a prediction. It’s about long-term results. Think of it as an average outcome. In poker, it’s about whether a decision will make or lose money over time. For that reason, understanding EV helps you make better poker decisions.

Why is EV important?

Imagine two slot machines. One spits out $1 for ever $2 you put in. On the other hand, there’s a machine that gives players $2 for every $1 bet (in our dreams, but stick with us, this is just a thought experiment). So which one do you play? Easy. The second one. Why? Because it has better expected value. So in poker, every decision has an expected value. Some are positive, some are negative. Good players pick the highest EV options.

How do you calculate expected value in poker?

Don’t worry. We’re not going to do a deep dive into the math. We’ll keep it simple.

Imagine a poker hand. You’re deciding to call a $100 bet. The two outcomes of this are either you lose $100 or you win $300. If each outcome is equally likely, you’re going to want to go for the second option.

That’s intuitively true, we get that. But the math proves the point. This is the equation you’re going to want to keep in mind:

(Chance of losing multiplied by the amount lost) + (chase of winning multiplied by amount won)

In this case, that would be (0.5 x -$100) + (0.5 x $300) = -$50 + $150 = $100

That means the expected value of the call is $100, keeping in mind all possible losses and wins over time of that particular call.

Negative EV

2-7 offsuit
By Nokono via Pixabay

Negative expected value in poker is when a decision loses money over time. It doesn’t matter if you occasionally win with it, over time you’ll lose and that’s what makes it a bad decision. So avoid negative EV plays in poker. They’re going to cost you in the long run.

Positive expected value in poker

Meanwhile, positive EV decisions are likely going to make you profits in the long run. So when you make more positive EV decisions, you’ll win more over the long term.

Changing variables and EV

Poker strategy tips
Image by Lucio Alfonsi from Pixabay

Expected value in poker isn’t fixed. It changes based on the situation. Your opponents’ playing style can change the EV. So can the pot size. Or your hand strength. Being aware of these variables is key. Adjust your decisions based on that changing EV.

Practicing expected value thinking

To get better at poker, always think in terms of expected value. Ask yourself what’s the potential gain, what are the potential losses. And how often will each outcome happen. The more you ask, the quicker you’ll get to the answers.

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