I had a student reach out to ask for help learning poker math.
He says he’s not a math person and just can’t figure it out no matter how much studying he does. But here’s something I believe: Anyone can learn poker math. It’s truly just addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
As long as you work systematically and smartly on a math concept, you’ll get it soon enough. And most importantly, you’ll able to use it in-game to improve your decisions and results.
Here’s the 3-step process I gave my student for learning any poker math concept. Two weeks in, and he’s already learned and is able to effectively use two different math concepts in-game for better decisions. Plus, he’s more confident in his math skills, which leads to him using them more and more, and getting even better results.
Step 1: Dedicate Yourself to Just ONE Math Concept at a Time
One of the big issues for “non-math people” is that they get overwhelmed by the math. They’re trying to learn outs and poker math like pot odds, bluff break-even math, calling break-even math, combo counting and range/hand related math all at the same time. Of course, they’re going to feel overwhelm and not be able to learn any of it.
Allow yourself to focus on JUST ONE math concept at a time. “One until done” is my motto and it’s perfect for learning poker math. Choose one, maybe outs and odds math, and put everything else on hold. For the rest of the week, all of your study and play will be dedicated to this ONE concept only.
Realize that the overwhelm you’ve given yourself in the past just doesn’t help at all. Now imagine how much better your poker skills and confidence will be once you nail down just ONE math concept this week. You’ll be able to use it in-game and during your studies. Then next week, you move on to the next math concept, and repeat this process over and over until done.
Step 2: Hit it from Every Angle
There are three ways to learn any math concept:
- Learn how the math works.
- Study the math with actual hands in related situations.
- Use every opportunity in-game to practice the math, whether you’re involved in the hand or not.
To learn how poker math works, watch a video from a coach, read an article or listen to a podcast that teaches it. The content you consume normally uses a hand example(s) and it shows the math in action. Whip out a calculator to run the numbers for yourself and make sure you get the same results. Take notes on all the formulas and examples so you can refer to them mid-game and during your studies.
Speaking of studies, this is the second way to hit a math concept. Because every math concept you learn will have practical in-game applications, your database of saved hands is the perfect place to work on your math skills.
What you want to do is filter in your database for the situation that the math can be applied (hopefully you LIVE players take notes on hands played so you can use those). For example, if you’re working on outs and odds math, filter in your database for flopping straight draws or flopping flush draws or flopping combination draws. Review 10, 20 or even 50 of these hands and when you get to the applicable situation, run the math. Doing this over and over again is going to drill that math concept into your head with actual hands that you’ve played.
Speaking of hands played, the third way to hit a math concept is while you’re playing. So, play just one table at a time (for online players) and look for situations where you could apply the math. You don’t even have to be involved in the hand.
Let’s imagine you’re working on the outs and odds math I mentioned above. You folded preflop but two other players get to the flop. The flop comes down JsTs7c, and one of the players c-bet for half-pot. All you have to do is imagine you were the other player and you flopped a draw. Maybe you hold A5s for the flush draw. That’s nine outs and you might also count the three Aces as additional outs. You have 12 outs to improve your hand on the turn. Now run the math with that number of outs. Can you make a mathematically profitable call versus the half-pot c-bet?
Continue doing that as often as possible during the session. When you are involved in the hand, run the math and make your play based on the results. This is where you get to apply the math to your actual decision in the moment, and this is how you build experience, expertise and confidence in the math.
For those who want to learn how to use outs and odds math, here you go:
- With 12 outs to improve, we can estimate the chance (odds) of hitting one of those outs using the x2 Rule. This gives you the approximate chances of hitting on the next street: 12 x 2 = 24% chance.
- Next, your opponent bet half-pot, maybe $5 into a $10 pot. Calculate the break-even point of a call by taking risk / total reward. Your $5 call is trying to win a total pot of $20 ($10 pot + $5 bet + $5 call). The break-even point on a call is $5 / $20 = 25%.
- You estimated a 24% chance of hitting using the x2 Rule, and you need 25% to break-even on your $5 call. This is a slightly losing call because your chance of hitting (24%) is less than the break-even point (25%). However, it’s very close and there’s more in your opponent’s stack to win, so you make the slightly losing call.
Step 3: Move on When You Feel Confident
It’s probably going to take you more than just one video, one study session and one play session before you can confidently use the poker math. So, give yourself permission to repeatedly “hit it from every angle” each day this week. And, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get this math through your thick skull. What matters is that you take the time to learn it and use it properly for great decisions.
When I say to move on when you “feel confident”, that doesn’t mean you have it mastered. What it means is that you can use the math at a moment’s notice in-game, and the result helps you make the best decision. Feeling confident also means you easily use it as you study hands, and you could even teach it to others.
I believe you’ll know when you’re ready to move on to the next math concept.
Good luck and enjoy learning poker math!