Understanding Poker II. - There IS a best play!

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This is the second part of my series dedicated to new and amateur poker players in order to give them a sort of a guiding light when it comes to fundamental principles this game is based on. After a brief introduction last week we are now going serious with this one :) Although slowly, you should learn a first few key principles of poker. Hope you enjoy the reading and learn at least something new!


It's Tom speaking once again, this time with the second part of my series about understanding the fundamental principles of poker. Since last week's "episode" was not really anything more than an introduction, I think we can jump right into the first key topic of the series - acknowledging that there is always a best play possible to make.

The very first crucial thing you need to understand about poker is that it's a game that is solvable by math.

You can see pictures and videos and funny/interesting quotes all around the internet about what poker really is and that sort of stuff, but if you really want an actual, real answer, what is poker all about, then I just gave it to you. Yep, like it or not, poker is fundamentally about nothing esle than math. The best players are the best players mostly for one reason - they've got they math figured out so well that they simply know they are making decisions that are earning them money in the long run. And if you want to get good at poker, you will have to face some math yourself. How exactly is poker really about math you ask? Well, think of it this way:

Whenever there is a decision to be made on your part, whether it is hold'em, omaha, limit, no limit, tournament, cash game, online, live, pre-flop or river, you always have a set of options avalible. For instance, let's just say the action has been checked to you in a no limit hold'em game. At this point, you will probably agree that you have some options avalible and, in this particular case, you have exactly two options avalible - either you check or bet. However, that is not that exactly true.

In fact, the number of the options you can pick from at this point is extremely huge, because it is not just checking or betting that you are choosing from. Your avalible options consist of checking or betting... $2 or $2,5 or $4 or $6,5, $8, $12, $27 and so on and so on. It is always "just" betting but each of these should be considered an option on it's own because betting $2 may lead to different results than betting $10.

Once you realise this, you are facing a possibly new problem. Instead of just two, you are now picking from hundreds of possible options instead which, when you are in a hand, makes it a much harder decision to pick exactly one. Which one to choose? What should I think about to make sure I am picking the best one? There has to be some method in how to evaluate different decisions and being able to pick the best. I mean, that is what good players are good at, right? They are able to find out what do to in order to win money... and the most money. That is when the math comes in – objectively evaluation each possible decision.

Before we begin to look at it closely, there is a one generalisation we can do to have as a starting point. The best option is always the one that best answers the following question:

What option earns me the most money in the long run?

Again, how exactly we can achieve that is what all the rest of the series will be all about but in this particular part the whole point is for you to understand and realise that this is all that it comes down to in a poker game. What option earns me the most money in the long run? It is a simple, pragmatic, not-any-emotions-including question that can always be solved by math.

I made sure to bold the part about emotions cause that is a very important thing I would like you to understand before we move on. Trying to figure out, calculate the value of your option is all about numbers. There are no emotions involved, no egos, no "I want to bust this guy because he is a douche in the chat" or "because he slept with my dog" .

To have a brief example, you need to realise that "I am sick of how he keeps raising every hand" is not a legitimate reason for you to re-raise. Yes, it is true that the fact that he keeps raising every hand is a very important to note to make when it comes to choosing the best play, but instead of being sick of it the correct way of reasoning and thinking should rather be "He keeps raising every hand, that means he is probably doing it with loads of bad cards too and so if I re-raise him, he is much more likely to fold than a tight player."

And the bolded part is a small glimpse to what we will be talking in the next part. Most likely the most important concept you ever want to earn in poker - the range.

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