Hack 44. Sharpen Your Card-Sharping

In Texas Hold 'Em and other poker games, there are a few basic preliminary skills and a bit of basic knowledge about probability that will immediately push you from absolute beginner to the more comfortable level of knowing just enough to get into trouble as a card sharp.

The professional Texas Hold 'Em poker players who appear on television are different from you and me in just a couple of important ways. (Well, they likely differ from you in just a couple of important ways; they differ from me in so many important ways that even my computer brain can't count that high.) Here are two areas of poker playing that they have mastered:

  • Knowing the rough probability of hitting the cards they want at different stages in a hand (in the flop, on the river, and so on)

  • Quickly identifying the possible better hands that could be held by other players

This hack presents some tips and tools for moving from novice to semi-pro. These are some simple hunks of knowledge and quick rules of thumb for making decisions. Like the other poker hacks in this book, they provide strategy tips based purely on statistical probabilities, which assume a random distribution of cards in a standard 52-card deck.

Improving Your Hand

Half the time, you will get a pair or better in Texas Hold 'Em. I'll repeat that because it is so important in understanding the game. Half the time (a little under 52 percent actually), if you stay in long enough to see seven cards (your two cards plus all five community cards), you will have at least one pair. It might have been in your hand (a pocket or wired pair), it might be made up of one card in your hand and one from the community cards, or your pair might be entirely in the community cards for everyone to claim.

If for the majority of the time the average player will have a pair when dealt seven cards, then sticking around until the end with a low pair means you areonly statistically speaking, of courselikely to lose. In other words, there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the other player has at least a pair, and that pair will probably be 8s or higher (only six out of thirteen pairs are 7s or lower.)

Knowing how common pairs are explains why Aces are so highly valued. Much of the time, heads-up battles come down to a battle of pair versus pair. Another good proportion of the time, the Ace plays an important role as a kicker or tiebreaker. Aces are good to have, and it's all because of the odds.


Decisions about staying in or raising your bet in an attempt to lower the number of opponents you have to beat can be made more wisely if you know some of the common probabilities for some of the commonly hoped-for outcomes. Table 4-16 presents the probability of drawing a card that helps you at various stages in a hand. The probabilities are calculated based on how many cards are left in the deck, how many different cards will help you (your outs), and how many more cards will be drawn from the deck. For example, if you have an Ace-King and hope to pair up, there are six cards that can make that happen; in other words, you have six outs. If you have only an Ace high but hope to find another Ace, you have three outs. If you have a pocket pair and hope to find a powerful third in the community cards, you have just two outs.

Table Probability of improving your hand
Cards leftto be dealtSix outsThree outsTwo outs
5 (before the flop)49 percent28 percent19 percent
2 (after the flop)24 percent12 percent8 percent
1 (after the turn)13 percent7 percent4 percent

The situations described here assume you have already been dealt two cards. After all, in most poker games, the bet before the flop is predetermined, so there are no decisions to be made. By the way, because you should probably back out of hands that did not amount to anything in the flop, you'll want to know your chances of improving in the flop itself. They are:

Remaining outs Odds you'll hit a winning card in the flop
6 32 percent
3 17 percent
2 12 percent


Here are a few quick observations and implications to etch in your mind, based on the distribution described in Table 4-16.

Half the time, you will pair up. This is true for high cards, such as Big Slick (Ace-King) or low cards, such as 2-7. You can even pick from the two cards you have and pair that one up 28 percent of the time. Implication: when low on chips in tournament play, go all-in as soon as you get that Ace.

If you don't hit the third card, you need to turn a pair into a set (three of a kind) on the flop, and there is only an 8 percent chance you will hit it down the road. Implication: don't spend too much money waiting around for your low pair to turn into a gangbuster hand.

Your Ace-King or Ace-Queen that looked pretty good before the flop diminishes in potential as more cards are revealed without pairing up or getting straight draws. 87 out of 100 times, that great starting hand remains a measly high-card-only hand if you haven't hit before the river. Implication:stay in with the unfulfilled dream that is Ace-King only if you can do so cheaply.

Reading the Community Cards in a Flash

Here are some common-sense statements about your opponents' hands that must be true but aren't always said out loud:

If the community cards do not have...Your opponent(s) cannot have...
A pairFour of a kind
A pairA full house
Three cards of the same suitA flush
Three cards within a five-card rangeA straight

You can make quicker decisions about what your opponents might have by learning these rules. Then, you can automatically rule out killer hands when the situation is such that they are impossible. You may not be worried about speed, but you can spend your time concentrating on more important decisions if you don't have to waste mental energy figuring these things out from scratch each time.

Statistics Hacks
Statistics Hacks: Tips & Tools for Measuring the World and Beating the Odds
ISBN: 0596101643
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 114
Authors: Bruce Frey

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