Poker is such that, while there’s so much more to the game than numbers, and we don’t want to get so bogged down with that particular aspect that we neglect the imperatives that are psychology and poker thinking, at the same time we also need to be aware.
With this in mind, here are some useful and very relevant numerical poker factoids that will absolutely come in handy. Whether you’re a new player who’s yet to get acquainted with this part of the game, or have some experience under your belt but need a reminder, it’s well worth taking a look in order to save time and build up confidence.
Let’s consider some typical match-ups that crop up constantly in No Limit Hold’em. Whether we play tournaments or Cash Games, we inevitably find ourselves in potentially critical situations that might require us to commit all our chips in a 1 v 1 showdown. We might have a very strong hand, a middling, speculative hand or an obviously weaker holding that we don’t expect to have much of a chance.
Of course, each new scenario brings with it specific, essentially unique factors, and we often need to consider points that might be relevant only in that instance and not the next time. This could be, for example, when playing in a satellite tournament where the priority is to make the top 100 qualifiers, with the payoff for 100th place being the same as 1st. In that case, if we were in, say, 25th with 105 still competing, then it would be an unnecessary risk even with Aces to call an all-in from the chip leader.
Generally, however, a typical online poker session presents us with numerous choices, and it helps to approach the game looking at the bigger picture, aiming to make accurate practical decisions as we continue. Just because we don’t have Aces or Kings, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll keep our powder dry every time we might enter into an all-in showdown. We need to factor in equity, stack sizes, tournament position, player history, the opposition’s range and so on – all factors that contribute to our decision making process when contemplating going all-in with a weaker hand that might leave us as a 30% underdog.
So, how do different hands fare against each other? Here are a few sample match-ups that should pique your interest…
When we’re dealt AA we’re already willing someone to shove, and it’s easy to find ourselves counting up – even before the cards are revealed – the chips we’re going to win. Typically, against all holdings, we can expect a success rate of around 85% in heads-up showdowns. Of course, thanks to variance, this could be better or worse, so in fact, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that we’ll win. AA v 72 off-suit, for example, is just over an 88% favourite – even against the worst hand in poker we’re going to lose occasionally. AA v JTs (a common hand with which players are happy to shove) is a 79% favourite which, throwing in Lady Luck’s contribution, can mean we can easily exit a few tournaments with Aces before any balance is restored by our premium hand holding up. Perhaps surprisingly to most, hands like 76s have a slightly better chance – at 77.5% – than ostensibly more attractive holdings.
More food for thought…
A pair versus two suited overcards is a slight underdog – for example, 55 v QJs is a roughly 49 v 51 match-up. The balance is tipped a little if the overcards are unsuited, so 55 v Qjo is 51.6% v 48.4% – is this a negligible difference, or significant?
A pair versus one overcard performs less well than we might expect, given that only three of the same overcard remain in the deck. For instance, QQ v A6 is barely a 71% favourite. This is a commonly seen race because so many players are happy to shove with any Ace.
Kickers are often overlooked by less discerning players, but are, in fact, quite significant. AK v AT is 73% v 27% which, compared with most other match-ups, is a pretty unpromising prospect for the player with the lesser kicker.
What about two higher cards versus two lower cards? Taking two holdings that we’ve already seen, above, and matching them against each other, AK v JT gives us 62.7% v 37.3%…
Have fun at the tables!