For decades, poker was a game played based on instincts. Players would play the opponent, not the cards. To many, the game was purely about deception, either by creating it or reading it. However, statisticians and math wizards have used complex algorithms and simulations to find theoretically sound approaches to poker. The two mindsets often clash, some defending the old-school ways, others pointing to the numbers to explain the game. Regardless of your stance, it has been made clear that calculating poker equity and basing decisions on those quick calculations is an efficient way to make decisions on the felt.
Luckily, you don’t need a PhD to understand calculating poker equity.
Poker equity is your percentage likelihood to win the hand. Another way this is represented is the amount of the pot that is “yours” based on your equity. For example, if you are playing a $200 pot and you have an 80% chance to win (80% poker equity), then your hand equity is $160. There are a few applications of poker equity, but first, let’s figure out how to calculate poker equity.
How To Calculate Poker Equity
The first step to determining your equity is finding how many “outs” you have when you are drawing, or how many you need to fade when you have a made hand. Once you know your outs or what cards to fade you can apply some quick poker math to find out how much equity you have.
For example, let’s say you have AK of spades and the flop is Js6s2h. Right now you just have AK high, but if another spade comes you will have the nut flush. Additionally, you may count an ace or king as an out since it gives you top pair top kicker. In this case, you have nine spades you can hit and another six outs from the remaining aces and kings. You now have a total of 15 outs. On the flop, your chance of hitting your card by the river is your outs multiplied by four, so in this case 15 X 4 = 60. You have a 60% chance of hitting a card that improves you and therefore gives you 60% equity. If the pot is $100, your equity is worth $60.
This may look familiar if you read how to calculate pot odds and make decisions based on that. That’s because the basis for finding equity and making decisions based on pot odds are the same.
Let’s continue this example to the turn. Let’s say the turn is another jack. Since the jack of spades was on the flop we know the flush didn’t come in, but this card changes more than your odds. If you think your opponent might have a jack, now you have to remove your aces and kings from your outs. So your 15 outs went down to nine. Since there is only one card to come, instead of multiplying your outs by four you multiply by two. So, 9 X 2 = 18. You now have an 18% chance of hitting your flush and winning the pot. If there was a bet and call on the flop, bringing the pot to $180, your equity is now worth only $32.40.
One important consideration is that you can’t always be certain your outs will give you the best hand. For instance, in the previous example where you had AK of spades on the J62 flop. While we initially were counting aces and kings as outs, if your opponent has 66 for a flopped set you only have the non-board-pairing spades as outs. Of course, there is no way to be certain if you have “dirty” outs (outs that won’t actually give you the best hand). Some players may mitigate this by counting half of those outs. For example, instead of adding six outs for the three aces and three kings, a player might only add three outs to account for the times when an ace or king won’t give them the best hand.
While this is a quick way to determine your poker equity, there are poker equity calculators and poker equity hand charts that go further in depth.
Poker Equity Calculators
When you have all the information needed, you can use poker equity calculators online to see the exact equity hands have against one another. Previously we spoke about calculating equity while in the middle of a hand. Of course, you cannot know what your opponent has while at the table. However, when you do have all the information you can use these poker equity calculators to learn hand equities in common scenarios.
Every no-limit hold’em player has heard at one point “We are flipping” or “I lost a flip”. A flip in poker is when each hand has 50% equity, meaning each hand has the same odds of winning as heads vs tails in a coin flip, hence the term. Commonly, a pocket pair vs two overcards is considered a flip. When you look at this spot with a poker equity calculator, you see it isn’t actually that simple.
For instance, let’s look at pocket pairs vs. AK. When the two red queens get all in against a black AK off-suit, the pair has a 57% chance of winning. If the AK is suited with a suit other than the two queens, QQ’s equity decreases to 53.5%, and when the AK is suited with the same suit as one of the queens, QQ now has 53.9% since the AK has one less card of their suit for a flush.
However, let’s change the pair from queens to fives. In all variations of suits for the AK, the pocket fives have lower hand equity than the queens. This is because 55 can be counterfeit. If the board runs out 99882, AK is the winner against 55 but would lose to QQ. The best 55 will ever have against AK is when the AK is off-suit with different suits than the pair, giving 55 just under 55% equity, a 2% difference than the best QQ will get.
While the difference in equity in these spots is minimal, over the long run that equity will come into play. At this point it should go without saying that having a good grasp of poker math is a critical component of mastering overall poker strategy.
Poker Equity Chart
There are many poker equity charts available for players to see the equities of two hands without having to input information into an online calculator. These charts outline common scenarios and give the equity two hands have against each other both pre and post-flop.
By looking at one of these charts, you can see that when your top pair is against a dominated top pair (AK vs. A5 on an A-high board) you have only 12% equity on the flop and less than 8% on the turn. These charts have taken scenarios that come up often in no-limit hold’em and created poker hand equity charts or tables to show how each hand does against the other.
Whether you use some quick math, a chart, or a calculator, now that you know how to calculate your poker equity you can apply that information to improve your game.
Applying Poker Equity
When you know how to calculate your poker equity based on the cards you have seen, you can make certain decisions to give yourself favorable odds of winning money. To do this, you need to apply the quick calculations we talked about earlier. You also need to make certain inferences as to what your opponent has. By constructing a range of hands your opponent can have you can make these inferences.
For example, if you notice there is a player at the table who doesn’t play many hands, shows down strong starting hands like AK and JJ, and doesn’t play big pots without the nuts, you can assign them a smaller range. If there is another player at the table who is limping a lot, playing most hands and is happy to call down with weak showdown value, you can assign them a wide range.
If one of these players raises from early position to $7 in a $1/$2 cash game and you 3-bet to $25 from late position with KQ of spades, these opponents will have different calling ranges. The tight player may only be calling with hands like AK, JJ, and TT, while his QQ-AA will likely 4-bet. The loose player will still likely 4-bet QQ-AA, but they will call with much more hands than the tight player. They could be raising a hand like QJ, 44, and 89 suited and still make the call.
If the flop is JT5 with one spade, you need to calculate your poker hand equity. Your poker equity will be different depending on which player you are up against. For example, if you are against the tight player, you likely only have the straight outs (four aces and four nines) to make the best hand. With eight outs, you have 32% equity going to the river, making your poker equity $16. The loose player will have a wide variety of hands you are beating and losing to, so you may want to count your pairs as outs, giving you another six outs for the remaining kings and queens. If you add all these cards to your outs, you have 14, bringing your equity to $28.
Against the loose player, you can likely get them to fold hands that beat you like pocket pairs under 99 (other than 55) and a variety of ace-high holdings. However, the tight player won’t have many hands other than AK that will fold to a bet. In this case, you may want to bet against the loose player but check back against the tight player. Choosing to check back against the tight player means you are trying to “realize your equity”.
Realizing Poker Equity
Realizing your equity in poker refers to the likelihood that you will make it to the river and get to realize your poker equity. For instance, if you have 30% equity in a $200 pot, your raw equity is $60. However, if you are up against an aggressive player and you are out of position, you may not always get to the river. Being out of position, it is harder to win the pot and aggressive opponents will bet large on multiple streets, so it may not be worth it to keep calling. With this in play, you may only have a 50% chance of making it to the river, meaning your $60 in equity is really only $30 since you realize it 50% of the time.
In our example of the tight and loose players, it may be better to check back and try to realize your equity against the tight player since a large portion of his range is strong. By betting on the flop, you open yourself up to a check-raise or are making the pot too big to continue on the turn against a lead or check-raise. By going to the turn, you only need to put money in on one more street to get to the river and realize your poker hand equity. Since you can get many better hands to fold and have more poker hand equity, you may want to bet against the loose player.
If the turn is a 3 of spades, you did not hit your draw but you did pick up more poker equity. You now have the three non-spade aces and nines plus the other nine spades to give you either a straight or a flush, bringing your number of outs to 15 against the tight player. This equates to 30% poker equity or $15 since the pot is $50. If your opponent bets, you can use pot odds to determine if your 30% equity is enough to call, and if they check you can likely bet since you are so close to realizing your equity. Against the loose player, this is a great card to continue betting. You originally had 14 outs against the loose player, and with the addition of the seven extra spades (not counting the nine and ace of spades since they are in the staight outs), you now have 21 or a 42% poker equity. If the flop bet was $20, the pot is $90 making your poker hand equity worth $37.80.
When calculating poker hand equity, make sure you are adjusting your outs as the board changes and accounting for different opponent ranges. The skill of calculating poker equity, realizing equity, and using pot odds will help you stick to the numbers and play mathematically sound poker.