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 30.04.2021 · last updated 30.04.2021

Many poker fans are drawn to the thrills and spills of the game, but actively avoid anything that might require calculation or having to do a bit of maths. This is understandable, of course, but while in an ideal world most of us would prefer to get by using our amazing psychological skills, wishing we could mind-read, the reality is quite different.

It’s a fact of poker life that so much of the game is based on hard mathematical and statistical facts. And we can break this down into distinct categories. First, there are the fundamental, completely definable mathematical ‘truths’ such as the fact that pocket aces have a roughly 81% chance of beating pocket kings, or that if we have a flush draw on the Flop, we have a roughly 35% chance of hitting by the River. These numbers are never going to change, just as a toss of a coin is always going to be a 50-50 shot. These are ‘fixed’ facts that can form the initial basis upon which we make decisions at the table.

Of course, rather than remember the odds of this or that happening we could always – if we were so inclined – work it out for ourselves each time. But that would be ludicrous when the facts are already available to us. Most players, then, avail themselves of this kind of information beforehand so as not to have to effectively re-invent the proverbial wheel every time they face a decision.

However, while poker is obviously sufficiently complex that investing ourselves in the psychological aspect is an absolute must, it’s hardly a surprise that it is a numbers game. And, as such, we are confronted countless times with statistical situations which present us with choices that, by definition, have inherently distinct mathematical implications.

Anyone who has any kind of serious aspirations regarding their poker career – even recreational players who want to get the most out of the time they put aside – needs not only to be prepared to get their hands dirty in terms of the maths, but to embrace it. The more we get used to mathematical thinking as a necessary part of the game, the more we can make more informed, accurate and ultimately more profitable decisions.

Furthermore, with this in mind, it stands to reason that the better we become acquainted with maths in poker, the bigger our edge will be over those players who for whatever reason don’t put in the same level of effort and preparation. Just the fact that we’re investing in pots when it’s mathematically justified while so many of our opponents are committing chips based on woefully insufficient considerations is already significant. This alone should be the motivation we need to play the numbers game.

Calculating Outs, Pot Odds, Implied Odds, Break Even Percentages, The Rule of 4 and 2, Pot Equity, How Odds Change Depending On The Number Of Players, Expected Value… Depending on how interested we are in improving, and in seeing our bankroll start to increase, it will help if we can gradually address all of these numbers-related parts of poker until we have established a fully-rounded, mathematically cohesive approach to the game.

Good luck at the tables!

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