# Studying poker math - is it worth it?

I've done some studying, learned about ranges for stealing, raising, calling, positional play etc. but I get bored with all that theory. I don't really care about my odds and outs and I probably make bad plays if you consider my pot odds.

However, I've made tons of money over the years, mostly playing tournament poker, Sit-n-Go's and scheduled tournaments (MTTs) where you cannot choose who you play with.

SnGs When you play a lot, you learn to know the regulars. You will know the winning players and the rest are either new players or losing players. You will also learn their shove/fold ranges. The more you play, the more accurate information you get.

MTTs You cannot walk away from the table and move your chips to another table. If it's a slow tournament, you're stuck with whoever sits at your table, possibly until the end which might be 7-8 hours away. That's a lot of time to get reads on your opponents - which I consider one of my strengths.

I once tried some poker tracking software (30 days for free) and saw that the red line (I'm not 100% sure about the color), chips won without showdown, was constantly going up, while the other line, chips won at showdown went up and down, maybe slightly more up than down but it looked very random.

So is there a reason why I (or anyone else) should get my poker math right all the time? To me it seems that you can get quite far just by learning to read your opponents: seeing when they're ready to fold and when they're bluffing - regardless of any cards that anyone holds. I'd rather work on reading my opponents better unless I find out that I'm losing lots of equity not getting my pot odds right.

• I want to add that it's not only my own pot odds that don't calculate. It's everyone else's pot odds too. How I size my value bets is based on the look and feel of the situation more than anything else but it's hard to tell how much better it could be if I calculated odds too. – Miro Lehtonen Sep 13 '14 at 10:33
• Why get a high school degree if you can get a job and make money without one? Do you think learning some simple math will hurt your game? – paparazzo Aug 9 '17 at 16:15

In the big scheme of things at the poker table there are upsides and downsides to math, as well as with intuitive play. For the sack of clarity, generally speaking intuitive play is doing what you feel is right, and mathematical play is what you figure out is right based on a range of factors. Neither is a strategy, they are how you approach the game.

The nature of an approach that is based on intuition is that one’s approach is based on estimate. Estimates by their nature are not facts, they are variants of the fact. In other words one is making a guess. Math in sharp contrast, is based on fact. All math is based on the one universal truth of 1 or 0, it either is or is not. This is absolute, no variance, no maybe, there is always the same particular conclusion for any particular problem involving math.

The reality is math predicates on intuition, math can be replaced by intuition (and should be) and calculators always give up tells. Using math at the table, even if it always brings you to the right conclusion, always introduces error. It is akin to going through a related list of things were modification of anything changes everything and invalidates the list. You cannot ever get through the list, so whatever was concluded is in error.

At extremes, neither approach to the game can be optimal. The context of each depends on the context of the other. If all one understands about poker is the math of the game, one will not have a grasp of when to apply that math. If all one understands about poker is when they have the best of it, one will not have a clue what to do with that knowledge. No one of course is absolutely clueless.

The perfect poker player has perfect intuition and is always playing accordingly. The perfect poker player is not thinking in mathematical terms. The perfect poker player would have already absorbed all the math, all the poker theory and boiled it down to intuition. It is simply saying that the more experience you have at the table, the more work you have done understanding the math, the better your guess is going to be. Of course no one is perfect.

The OP’s question is to general to answer. I will say there is no good reason to have your math right all the time accept it can help your bottom line. However making sure that the math is right all the time may hurt your bottom line. Look at the math as part of understanding the game and improving your intuition. Both intuition and math are dependent on the quality of the other.

Definitely yes, its worth it.

For example: you play MTTs, in the middle of tournament, and you've got a decent stack of chips (not short stacked). Blinds are going high, and a lot of short stacked players will start going all in. And that's where poker math comes into play. Its the best time to increase your stack by doing some calls, if odds / pot odds are right.

• Not only pot odds there but also the bubble and then there's the ICM theory so even if I could do the math on pen and paper I'll only have 30-60 seconds to make a decision. It gets complicated! – Miro Lehtonen Sep 13 '14 at 10:41

Knowing poker math has helped me bet (and win) the occasional hand by understanding pot odds. That made it "worth it" for me. More to the point, it's worth it for someone who plays "occasionally" or more.

Of course it's worth it. Playing profitable poker comes down to two fundamental principles:

2. Compute, and implement, the best response.

You're falling prey to a common misconception about poker. Too many players try to justify only focusing on principle #1 because it's far easier and more intuitive than putting in hard work studying and learning poker math and game theory. They're falling prey to the common romanticized perception of poker, induced by hollywood, the public in general, and other areas of media.

It doesn't matter how good you are at reading your opponents if you don't know how to implement the best counter-strategy. When it comes down to it, the real money in poker lies in learning how to do #2 quickly and efficiently at the table. This only comes from hard work away from the tables. Analysing situations by hand or using software, learning poker math you can apply at the table, learning and studying population tendencies, hand combinatorics, and so on.

You'll learn #1 by playing. You'll only learn #2 by analysis and study. Most people ignore #2 entirely.

• I have to add a few things here. "Most people" are not winning players. "Most people" also ignore #1. I am a winning player. I get my actions right with a good margin, but not by computing my chances. Anyway, if you put your opponent on the wrong hand (misidentify their strategy), what's the use of #2? What's the damage? If you get #1 right but #2 wrong, what's the damage? – Miro Lehtonen Sep 22 '14 at 11:37
• @MiroLehtonen If you can't identify your opponent's strategy you're in trouble regardless of the math, the damage depends on how badly you got it wrong. the use of number 2 is maximising your profit, or minimising your loss. #2 gives the answers to "How much should I x here", how do I keep him indifferent to bluffing, what's the best line to trap etc. – Alexander Troup Sep 22 '14 at 14:00

Beyond the basic math of pot odds and hand odds, you should also understand what kind of percentages you should be calling/raising/folding in different situations simply to prevent others from exploiting you.

For example, if you are folding more than X % in a certain spot, it can make it profitable for opponents to play any 2 cards against you and make a profit. Conversely, if you understand this, you can exploit others who are out of line with their math.

I also think it's important to understand how bet size affects your range and what % of the time you have to be successful with a certain bet size to make it profitable. You'll quickly realize that without the correct bet sizing you're putting too much mathematical pressure on yourself to make certain bets profitable or giving opponents the profitable odds.

• I understand that there are optimal percentages for each action but I'm not sure if the optimal play is to strictly stick to those percentages. Being unpredictable also prevents others from exploiting you. Whether that's a conscious decision or just the lack of skills might not matter much at the end, right? (assuming your opponents get their math right all the time) – Miro Lehtonen Sep 22 '14 at 11:46

The only math you really need to know, in holdem, is:

O = number of outs, N = number of streets left.

O x N + 1 = chance of hitting winning card.

If chance of hitting the winning card is greater that pot odds or implied odds then you should call or raise.

As a profitable player who has played over 10k tournaments, I would argue that experience is more important than math. You should spend the vast majority of your time playing and/or watching professionals on sights like pocketfives. P5s has videos that you can view where you will get an idea of what hands to play along with the thought process that goes into each play.

Math is less important than understanding these factors and how or when to capitalize on them:

• Your stack size relative to the size of big blind "# of BB you have"
• Your opponents' preflop opening range

I would say no. As long as you know the basics this is easily good enough to beat the micros. When you start talking about mid stakes and GTO theory then it is applicable. But most people play at stakes like NL10 and NL25 where this is unimportant.

Simply learn how to play a solid TAG strategy and you will be fine. You should know the basics of pot odds, hand odds and implied odds.

• What is a TAG strategy? – Jon Oct 20 '14 at 7:22
• I agree completely with Tyler. At the micros, just focus on learning a solid TAG game. You should know a little bit of the basic math like pot odds, be able to count outs and understand implied odds. You do not need to know anything more than this to crush these stakes. BlackRain79 is a good example of this. – Flushy555 Jul 25 '15 at 9:46

I really don't understand why some threads get closed for actual good questions when, not that this question was dumb it was very appropriate to want to know but how is there 10 answers with a bit of a Lannister always pays his debts attitude and the truth is this dude got it with this line

"It doesn't matter how good you are at reading your opponents if you don't know how to implement the best counter-strategy."

-- Although I would argue that you wouldn't be capable of actually reading your opponents if you didn't know how to implement the best counter-strategy.

Agreed here though, "You'll learn #1 by playing. You'll only learn #2 by analysis and study. Most people ignore #2 entirely."

Of the universe of people who play poker, some of them win in the first group of memorable sessions, some of them lose. It's essentially random. 100% of the people who ask this question, fall into the category of random winners.

From this on fifth, we'll find about 100% of them ask themselves if they can be a professional poker player. It's very hard to figure out how many from this group actually try to play professionally, or at least seriously. Let's say it's 5%.

From this group, 95% of them fail, or are on the road to failure. Nothing will change this. Studying math, practicing voodoo, not changing their underwear... it's doom and gloom, all the way down.

Of the 5% remaining, they have a general, natural talent for poker. If you fall into this group, of course studying poker math will help you! How much? About 20% of the skill you will gain in your career will be from studying.

These are all facts. 100%. :)