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Expected Value in Poker

Most poker novices do not realize how important mathematical estimation is to their success at the game. For example, the best poker players have learned how to make a game's expected value (or EV) work in their favor. Despite the negative reputation expected value plays have gained in some circles, these moves can be quite profitable.

What is Expected Value?

The term "expected value" refers to the estimated outcome of a particular situation in poker. It can actually be expressed as an equation, whereby a player multiples the number of possible outcomes in a game by the probability of each one of those outcomes occurring. Then, the player adds those two values together to arrive at the expected value. The key is to only raise or place a risky bet when the outcome of this estimation is positive; if it is less than zero, a player will be more likely to lose money than to win anything.

Cautions and Caveats

While calculating expected value and using it to your advantage can result in major profits, it can also result in major losses when used incorrectly. That is, those who arrive at a negative expected value after their calculations and still opt to bet in an effort to beat the odds stand to lose a significant amount of money. And the more often someone plays a move on a negative expected value, the greater the probability of larger monetary losses.

Obviously, mastering this strategy takes time and patience. Before a person can estimate expected value as quickly and accurately as is necessary for it to be useful, they will have to be well-versed in the many possible outcomes of a poker game.