The very mechanics of poker – whereby multiple players receive cards from a randomly sequenced deck of 52, with subsequent random distribution over a series of betting intervals – means that it is first and foremost a numbers game. We can pretend that we have mastered the psychological aspect, that whatever level of success we enjoy is down to our people-reading skills and a sizeable helping of intuition. But however well versed we are with the behavioral tendencies of our opponents, the foundations of the game are based on inarguable, defined statistics.
Just as our decisions as to what odds we’d be happy with playing Heads/Tails would be determined by the fact that tossing a coin has only a 50-50 outcome, so it goes with poker. Probability, draws, odds, implied odds… it all boils down to numbers. Of course, psychology and analysis and all the other ‘thinking’ and second-guessing stuff is crucial to performance, too, but there’s no escaping the facts. The AA v KK all-in battle, for example, will always have the same 80:20 odds.
With this in mind, here are some useful practical poker statistics that should help you arrive at this or that play a little easier than having to try (and fail) to work out the odds as your thinking time ebbs away.
Suited Hole Cards
It’s easy to get a bit excited when we’re dealt suited hole cards, images of flushes flashing before our eyes. However, our hand has improved by only 2.5%, so there’s actually not a great difference and, importantly, no need to invest more in a suited starting hand than we would with the same cards were they unsuited.
Over time, you can expect to be dealt a pocket pair around once every 17 hands (about 6% of the time).
There’s a reason why we call them Premium hands…
Note that the 6% is for any pocket pair. The chance of finding the very top hands (namely AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AKs) – is barely over 2% which, from a practical point of view, highlights why a perfectionist approach that relies on waiting for these hands simply won’t work.
Flopping a pair
While we will see one of our hole cards making a pair on the Flop about a third of the time, there’s roughly a 50% chance of this happening by the River.
Flopping Two Pair
Two pair is an interesting, tricky hand that can be well disguised. Some might be surprised to learn that the probability of flopping two-pair from a non-paired holding is only about 2%.
Another potentially problematic hand is pocket jacks, which is seen as a bit of a curse. Of course, this isn’t a serious assessment because it’s one of the premium starting hands, but be warned: there’s a 52% chance that that a higher card will appear on the Flop, thus introducing an unwelcome spanner in the works.
Flopping a Set
After being dealt a pair, the probability of flopping three-of-a-kind is around 12%. This means that we have to keep an eye on the cost of seeing the Flop with small(ish) pairs – implied odds are key here; ultimately the pot must be big enough to justify whatever we invest.
Routes to a Full House
Having seen the odds of flopping two pair, it follows that we should know the likelihood of improving to at least a full house by the River. The answer is 16.74%. Meanwhile, after flopping three-of-a-kind we will make a full house or better by the River around a third of the time.
The chance of flopping a flush draw with a suited starting hand is just short of 11% – given how many hands we play in a session, that means we’re going to find ourselves on a potentially profitable draw quite often. When we do, we’ll make the desired hand on the Turn almost a fifth of the time, but from Flop to River the odds are as high as 34.97%.
The issue of Kickers (for example, the 5 in an A5 starting hand, for example) tends not to be sufficiently respected by many players, who find themselves losing too many hands without fully appreciating why. Here is the reason: the hand with the lower kicker has only a 24% chance of winning!