As I sift through the ITH forums, it seems there is a recurring theme, whereby beginning to intermediate players make play errors due to misunderstanding certain concepts. After a long time noticing this, I thought it was time to compile an explanation for some of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in poker.
Pot equity is not – the same as pot odds. Nor is it in any way related to how much money you have put in the pot.
Pot equity is – an expression of the proportion of the pot, on average, you can expect to win at showdown if no players fold before then. When there are cards to come, it is unusual for one player’s hand to already have a lock on the pot. Normally, one hand will be ahead, but others will have outs to overtake it. A hand’s pot equity is generally an expression of the chance that that hand will be the best after all cards have been revealed.
You – As Kh
Opponent – 5c 5s
Board – Jd 8d 2c
Your opponent is currently ahead with a pair of fives. You can still win if you hit an Ace or a King on the turn or river (providing your opponent doesn’t hit another five) or if you hit precisely a Ten and a Queen (for the straight) or a Jack and an Eight (for a better 2 pair). The odds of one of these conditions being fulfilled (and hence you ending up with the best hand) are 26.46%, so we can say your pot equity is 26.46%.
Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you only have a 26% chance of winning the hand. Let’s think about how we may have gotten to this situation. Maybe you raised pre-flop from early position, and your opponent called from the big blind. If you now bet the flop (as most people would), he may well fold fearing you have a Jack, an eight or a bigger pocket pair. In other words, pot equity doesn’t take into account the chance of players folding. If your hand is given extra value by the fact that one or more of your opponents might fold then this is folding equity, which is something completely different. Note that folding equity is a very important concept in no-limit/pot-limit holdem, which as a result makes pot equity less relevant in these games (although very relevant when debating calling an all-in bet).
Pot equity is an important concept, because it is an expression of how much of the pot is effectively ‘yours’, both at present time and after the current betting round has concluded. The most common use of pot equity is determining whether you have a pot equity edge. This is defined as when your pot equity is greater than 100/n, where n is the number of players left in the hand. In other words, whether you have ‘more than your fair share’ of pot equity and will want to get as much money into the pot as possible. This brings us neatly onto:
Value betting is not – the same thing as having odds to call. Just because you have odds to call a bet doesn’t mean you should be value betting.
Value betting is – a bet designed to make money when your opponent calls rather than when he folds, in effect the opposite of a bluff. When you estimate that you have a pot equity edge, you bet so that if your opponent calls you will make money on that bet.
For example, you are playing 2/4. There is $16 in the pot and two players left on the turn. You have a weak made hand and think your opponent is on a flush draw. You consider your pot equity to be about 75%. In other words, out of the $16 in the pot, you can expect to win $12 of it. If you bet the turn ($4) and your opponent calls, then there will be $24 in the pot, of which you can expect to win $18. You have put $4 in the pot and as a result increased your equity by $6, so your bet had value.
Note that your opponent was not making a mistake by calling. They were faced with a $4 bet to win $20 and so they would only need pot equity of 20% to justify a call. This illustrates the fundamental difference between having the odds to call and the odds to value bet. A decision to call takes into account the money already in the pot, while a decision to value bet does not, it is merely looking at how much you can expect to make on that bet.
Of course, you normally can’t put your opponent on a hand so accurately. Generally when considering a value bet you will have to look at the range of hands your opponent could have, assess the chance he has you beat, and then calculate the chance you will be drawn out on, and hence whether you should value bet. If you have only one opponent then if is often a case of just betting if you feel you are ahead. However, there are situations when this may not be wise. Consider the following scenario:
You: 3s 3c
Opponent: Td Jd
Board: 9d 8s 5d
You currently have the best hand with your pair of threes, but your opponent has a massive 21 outs to overtake you by the river (plus the chance of the board counterfeiting your hand). You actually only have a pot equity of about 30% and so should not value bet despite being ahead. This is not common heads up but is a regular occurrence in multi-way pots, when strong draws are involved. For example, a player with the nut flush draw on the flop generally has pot equity of over 30% regardless of how many people are in the pot. In other words, if he has three or more opponents he can comfortably value bet despite being behind.
Value betting is more complicated than this. The decision can be more difficult if for example, your opponent may raise if you are beat, or fold if you are behind. But the essence is that a value bet will make money when your opponent calls because they have a lesser made hand or are on a draw. Through another tenuous link, this now brings me onto:
Protecting your Hand
Protecting your hand is not – Something you only do if your opponent would be wrong to call.
Protecting your hand is – Betting a made but vulnerable hand in order to charge players drawing the maximum to chase you. Some players have the wrong idea about protecting their hand. They seem to think that if there is no chance of a draw folding, then there is no point in betting their hand. They will say something like ‘there was no point in betting as a flush draw would never fold’. In fact nothing can be further from the truth.
Let’s take a straightforward made hand versus draw situation. On the flop, you are heads up; you have top pair and your opponent has a flush draw with no overcards or other outs. There are 7 small bets in the pot. If you bet here, there is no way your opponent will fold. They are about 4:1 to make their flush on the next card and about 2:1 to make it by the river. However, let’s look at it from another angle. Let’s say both players knew each other’s hands. If you were the player on the draw, then you would happily pay a bet to see the turn and another to see the river, but how many bets would you actually like to pay? Well the answer is simple, none. You have a pot equity of only around 35% and so for each bet that both players put in, you lose 35% of that bet in value.
And what if you were the player with top pair? If you bet, you would like your opponent to fold because if they call they will outdraw you one time in three. However if you bet and they call, it is far better than if you don’t bet and give them a free card. If you bet and are called you make money because you have a pot equity edge (i.e. you are making a value bet). On the other hand, if you check you are giving your opponent infinite pot odds to chase his flush. Look at it another way. From fundamental poker theory, we know that we make money when our opponents make a mistake, and lose money when they make the correct decision. Therefore it follows that the bigger mistake they make the more money we win and vice-versa. If we bet it is correct for your opponent to call as opposed to fold, but if we check, it is even more correct. If you can’t bet your opponent out of the hand, at least make them pay the maximum to chase you.
There are a few instances we might want to buck this thinking. Sometimes it is incorrect to protect our hand on the flop, if we would be able to protect it better on the turn. This normally occurs in large multi-way pots where even obscure draws might have the odds to chase if we bet the flop, but might fold the turn if the pot has not grown by then. These situations are few and far between though, and if in doubt it is always better to protect your hand if you think you are ahead.
Pot committed is not – A concept generally applicable in limit ring games
Pot committed is – Largely a tournament concept used to describe a player who would be mathematically correct to call any bet from this point on. What makes you pot committed is not the fact that it is your money in the pot, but more the size of the pot in relation to your remaining stack. If you only have a small stack left and the pot is large, it is generally correct to call with anything.
For example, you have 1000 chips left in a NL tournament and the blinds are 100/200. Pre-flop you raise to 700 and are called from the button. You are now pot committed and are not folding this hand pretty much regardless of what your cards are and what comes on the flop. There is 1700 in the pot and you have 300 left so you are getting nearly 6:1 on any call with two cards to come. In fact you can pretty much push the last 300 chips in blind on the flop. Note that you are not pot committed because of how much of your money is in the pot, but how big the pot is. Remember in any form of poker, once you put money in the pot, it is no longer your money.
It is interesting to note that in the above example the short stack is also pot-committing his opponent. His opponent will also be getting 6-1 on that last 300 chips, and so he is also pot committed, but in a different way. While his stack is big, he has no possibility of losing more than the 300 chips his opponent has and so he is also mathematically correct to call any bet.
However, you are never pot committed if you and at least one other opponent have a healthy stack in front of you. Too often this is used as an excuse to make calls that the player knows they shouldn’t make. For example, they put in a few bets pre-flop then another couple on the flop and then despite a horrible board. they call down on the turn because of how much money they have put in the pot already, considering themselves ‘pot committed’. This is a leak. The bets you have already paid are no longer yours. The only thing that matters is whether you are getting the correct pot odds to call given your opponent’s likely holdings.
Good luck at the tables
Ian Taylor (aka Piemaster)