When we first begin to play online poker – perhaps initially attracted to the game by the promise of massive payouts or the excitement of tournaments and so on – it’s easy to be intimidated by the various ‘technical’ aspects of the game such as Implied Odds or Expected Value. It can seem complicated enough as it is just wondering what to do when we’re dealt J9 suited in Middle Position and facing a raise, never mind facing decisions post-flop having already invested a little in the pot and holding a decent but not fantastic hand.

This article should serve as a useful introduction to Expected Value and how useful it is to be acquainted with the concept. Indeed, if we have any intention of taking the game even the slightest bit seriously – as in we would at least like to keep our bankroll as healthy as possible – then it should be a given that we understand how EV works. Quite simply, EV considerations should always be part of our decision-making process.

What is EV?

Expected Value is an indicator of whether we can expect a line of play to result in a profit or loss over time. When we refer to a specific play is +EV, this means that it is expected to be ultimately profitable in the long run. Conversely, a play that is -EV is expected to eventually lose money.

A fundamental aim in poker is to carve out profit/win chips over the long term, which means maximizing the times we execute the most optimal plays. In order to do this, we need a way of determining which plays offer the most chance of long-term success, and this is where EV comes in.

For those of you who thus far have been plodding along in Cash Games or Tournaments without putting a second’s thought into the subject of EV then, hopefully, by the time you’ve finished reading this article you’ll be eager to see just how much of a difference adding another string to your poker bow will make. If we look at our improvement in terms of an accumulation of knowledge and appreciation of this or that aspect of the game, then becoming acquainted with EV is like being elevated to a new plateau of understanding.

First, we need to understand why EV is considered in the context of the long-term. An understandable question from beginners would be that, for example, if we’re dealt a pair and then we’re gunning to make a set, what does this individual episode have to do with anything in the future? The answer is that, if this and future attempts at set-mining are examples of optimal play, then if we continue to reproduce such justifiable lines each time we’re dealt a pair and are looking to reach the Flop in order to make the most of hitting a set, then over time this +EV play will produce a profit. If, on the other hand, we have a habit of paying over the odds for the chance to see our twins turn into triplets, then we’re continually making the same ‘negative’ EV error that will ultimately prove to be a loss-maker. By looking at it in the long-term context we can see how each new set-mining possibility is not at all a unique event, but that approaching the same goal, in the same way, produces a collective set of events that are linked by their consistency. Consequently, while we’re not going to see our small pairs turn into sets very often, if our set-mining strategy is +EV we can look forward, in the long-term, to making an overall set-mining profit because those times we do hit will reward us with a total payout that’s higher than the cumulative cost of the times we didn’t hit.

Expand this concept to the host of possible lines of play we’re presented with, and it follows that by maximizing EV, by selecting lines that are mathematically justified and avoiding those that require too high a cost in relation to the odds (-EV), this consistent strategy will ultimately result in profit. Instead of playing each new hand by the seat of our pants, not fully appreciated if we’re getting value or paying through the nose, by sticking to a game-plan that revolves around prudent EV considerations we can play so much more confidently, safe in the knowledge that, when the cards don’t fall our way, at least we’re going about the game properly. This has the extra advantage of not letting reverses affect us emotionally – we can simply put them down to statistical facts of poker life that, over time, will even out, leaving us reaping the rewards of our EV optimal play.

Now that we understand the importance of Expected Value in poker, the next step is to see how we go about making the right calculations, so keep your eyes peeled for an article that investigates the numbers…



AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 03.05.2021 · last updated 03.05.2021

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