I've been thinking about is new ways to break down and describe the fundamental
ideas of poker. Right now, we use terms like value, bluff and protection to
describe why we bet. It generally makes things easy and works quite well for a
game like NLHE, which is why they have come about and stuck, but I don't think
they necessarily translate to other games, and don't always make complete sense
If I were to explain the
theory of poker to someone who already has an okay understanding of it already,
I would break it down like this:
There are two ways to
win, and that is through showdown equity and non-showdown
You gain or lose showdown
winnings where the true equity* is dished out among
the players remaining in the pot. You gain non-showdown winnings when everybody
but you has folded - it is giving yourself 100% equity of the final pot and
everyone 0% equity.
* True equity - The chance of winning given
All your actions are
geared to either maximise equity through one of these ways. Actions can be
broken down as such:
Folding - Cannot create either positive or
negative showdown winnings. Cannot create positive non-showdown winnings.
The only way to create negative non-showdown winnings.
Can create either positive or negative showdown winnings.
(betting/raising) - Can create
either positive and negative showdown winnings and
positive non-showdown winnings.
Note: These descriptions
only apply strictly in heads up pots.
Folding, checking and
calling only ever achieve one type of goal, which is why current terminology
does not class them in the same way it categorises betting. Aggressive actions
can be broken down though into two different objectives though, and that's where
our current terminology attempts to address that with terms like value, bluff
Now, value makes a lot
of sense. It's simply positive showdown winnings when called.
I like value, it's simply making money on your opponent's call
because he had less than 50% equity, it's well defined so let's keep it.
Value can also apply to calling. When you bet and your opponent calls, value is
transferred one way or the other. The player with less equity gives away value,
and the player with more gains it.
Bluff is a mixed one;
the idea is getting someone to fold a better hand. It makes sense, it's
creating non-showdown winnings. It creates fold equity,
when you have caused your opponent to fold his equity and now has 0%.
What about protection?
It is often cited as the third reason to bet besides value or bluff. There are
sometimes situation when you should bet even though you don't fold out better
but you don't get called by worse, but you should bet because opponent has equity
and will fold it. Wait a minute, folding his equity...fold equity? That's
right, protection and bluffing are the same purpose, to get your opponent to
fold their share of the pot.
So if I were to teach
someone why they're betting, I would describe it as a sum of both value and fold
equity. The concept of merging ("it is both a value bet and a
bluff") is a lot more intuitive under this system, it merely indicates
that both are positive.
What about semi-bluffing
then? Where does that come under? Well semi-bluffing requires the introduction
of a new concept, which is based around the fact that each action does not end
the hand - there is the chance of subsequent actions. Whenever you bet, you can
get raised, and now you have a new opportunity to fold, call or raise. Whenever
you call a non all-in bet on a non-river street, the next street opens up a new
round of betting where you have the chance to be aggressive, passive or fold,
and therefore the ability to create new showdown or non-showdown winnings.
This touches on what is
commonly referred to as implied odds. Implied odds is
generally taught as the chance to win more money on a later street, with a high
emphasis on playing a draw, which is usually just a small piece of the puzzle.
I would define it as the sum of all future showdown and
non-showdown winnings. It is therefore easy to see how it can be
broken down into the following:
Implied value - It is the amount you have gained or lost
with future passive and aggressive actions.
Implied fold equity - it is the amount you have gained with future
aggressive action and lost with future folds.
Note that we can specify
losing by saying reverse implied odds, value or fold equity.
When we consider any
immediate decision, these must be taken into account. A call might be
profitable if you assumed the hand ended immediately and equity was divided up,
but not if you factor in the rest of the hand.
With these new concepts,
you can see what a semi-bluff is. Let's say you have a flush draw, your opponent
checks, and you bet.
The bet has:
- negative immediate
value (but it is still more than if you had a "pure bluff",
something with no true equity when called.)
- immediate fold
equity if your opponent folds the current street.
- implied value when
you do improve, bet and get called.
- implied fold
equity when you don't improve, but bet and cause a fold.
implied value when you get raised immediately and have to call a bet
behind, or when you make a worse flush than your opponent, or when you bluff
later and it fails
implied fold equity when you get raised now and have to fold some
equity on the flop or turn.
There are many
possibilities that you have to factor in that will affect your equity, whether
it is positive or negative, immediate or implied, showdown or non-showdown. The
complexity of thinking forward, accounting for several different scenarios, is
a reason why it is very hard to work out the implied equity of any particular
bet while there is still a long way to showdown.
Most analysis that I see
during poker discussions is flawed because they will focus entirely on
immediate equity and brush implied equity aside as it's too difficult to
quantify. Because of the nature of NL where bets increase in size on later
streets, this can throw the solution off by a long way. Just remember, the
hand must end in either a non-showdown or a showdown. If it ends in a showdown,
that means it must get past betting action on the river or someone must go
all-in before then. If it is a non-showdown that means someone's true equity
does not get realised.
Laying out the
fundamentals this way may encourage a better way of thinking for each
- Instead of calling
bets value bets, bluffs, semi-bluffs, realise they are a combination of
different types of equity that must be accounted for.
- Instead of considering
if you have the current best hand, you should be considering how the hand will
play out, whether it will showdown and if it does, who will have the best hand
on the river? If it doesn't, who will be the one who folded?
- Instead of thinking
about the action you're making now, imagine what future betting action will
look like. Who will be making the bets, and of what size?
Then, consider how your
action on the current street will change the answer to all these questions.
I hope that people will
take on this new terminology when trying to discuss or think about situations.
I think it is clearer and actually reflects how equity works.