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Getting It In Good: Understanding Expected Value in Poker

15 July 2016, By: compncards
You may have heard a poker pro or another player refer to a particular play as a "+EV play" or a "-EV play."

You may or may not have understood what he or she is talking about.

This bit of poker lingo is referring to the "expected value" of a particular play. When referring to EV, you're looking at the long-term value of a play regardless of how it turns out.

Today we will discuss expected value and how you can apply this concept to your poker game.

Expected Value Defined

When a player is talking about the expected value of a play, they're looking at the long-term profitability of a particular move.

A great example is calling an all-in shove pre-flop with pocket aces. Over the long term you're going to win more often than you lose in this situation.

For example, if queens were in the hand of the opponent that shoved on you, your aces will win 81.55% of the time. This is a +EV play.

Keep in mind that expected value changes on each street. Your odds will change based on the board and the number of players.

Figuring out whether a play is +EV is simple. Anytime where the odds of winning is 51% or greater, then the play is +EV.

A more common explanation is that a player "got their money in good," meaning it went all in while ahead statistically.

Negative Expected Value is Gambling

Adversely, when you're playing a hand that has a negative expected value (-EV), you're playing a hand that is a long-term loser.

For example, playing a 7-2 is a -EV hand. While it is a cute hand to play, you're going to lose more money with it than you'll make long term.

You will see players make all kinds of oddball moves with -EV hands in order to try and catch lucky against their opponent and win a big pot.

The problem is that this is "gambling" and the majority of the time you're going to just donate money to the game.

Sure, it's fun to win with hands that aren't supposed to win, but if you check your stats over the long haul, they will cost you money.

Don't Let Emotion Force You Into -EV Moves

Some players will play less than optimal poker due to various outside influences. For example, a player has had aces cracked twice during a game and decides to just limp in the third time.

The player is making a less than optimal play with a +EV hand. Their move actually takes away from their EV long-term.

Adversely, that same player may see that a five has hit the flop seven out of the last eight times and decides to play 5c-2h hoping to spike a five.

This is a -EV play, even if the flop falls 5-5-2. Don't let outside forces or circumstance force you to play less than optimal poker.

Remember that a +EV move is correct even if you lose that particular hand. Adversely, a -EV move is wrong, even if it works and takes down a huge pot.

When you make +EV decisions on a regular basis, you will be profitable over the long haul.

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