Expected Value (EV) in Poker: A Crash Course for Beginners

expected value in poker

If you want to consistently win at poker, understanding expected value (EV) is mandatory. EV is one of the most important concept for making optimal decisions that maximize your win rate. In this crash course for poker beginners, we’ll cover everything you need to know about EV including what it is, how to calculate it, real hand examples, and its limitations.

What is Expected Value in Poker?

Expected value is a mathematical concept that determines whether a particular play will generate profit or incur losses over many repetitions. EV analyzes whether the potential reward of the play sufficiently outweighs the risk taken.

Positive EV means the play is profitable and worth making. Negative EV means the play will lose money over time and should be avoided. Understanding whether your potential poker plays have positive or negative expected value is the key to making winning choices.

Calculating Expected Value

Here is the formula for calculating EV:

EV = (Chance of Winning) x (Size of Win) – (Chance of Losing) x (Size of Loss)

Let’s use a simple example to demonstrate. Your opponent has moved all in on the river for $200 into $300, so you now have to call $200 for a pot of $500 which makes the pot $700, factoring in your call. You estimate they are bluffing 50% of the time. Lets run the math:

  1. 0.50 (percentage chance of winning as decimal) X 700 (pot size) = $350
  2. .50 (chance of losing as decimal) x 200 (amount to call/lose) = $100
  3. $350 less $100 = $250

As you can see, making the call is a positive EV move as it returns $250 in the long run. If we  change the estimation of our opponents bluff to 20%, we are losing $20 in the long run.

Making +EV Plays

When you consistently make +EV plays over thousands of hands, your overall win rate improves substantially. Seeking +EV situations and avoiding unprofitable -EV spots must guide your poker decisions. This is how you crush the game over the long-term.

Examples of Using Expected Value

You can leverage EV to determine:

  • If calling a flop bet with a flush draw has adequate pot odds
  • Whether to call down a river bet with top pair weak kicker
  • If 4-bet bluffing with a middling hand has good risk/reward against a nit
  • Which hands are profitable to open raise preflop from each position

EV applies to every poker scenario and decision throughout a hand.

EV Changes Dynamically Based on Many Factors

It’s crucial to realize EV is fluid, not static. It fluctuates hand to hand based on your position, the opponent’s tendencies, pot odds, board texture, and game flow. No plays always have automatic +EV or -EV. You must estimate EV in the moment based on all factors and information available.

EV Estimations Have Limitations

While EV is very powerful, it does have limitations. Firstly, your EV calculations are only as good as your estimates of the key variables. The percentages you use for win probability, pot size assumptions, and risk/reward ratios impact EV accuracy significantly.

Secondly, EV tells you which plays are +EV over thousands of repetitions. It cannot predict the outcome of a single occurrence. Sometimes you make the mathematically +EV play and still lose in the moment due to variance.

Developing Your EV Instincts

As you gain experience using EV frameworks, you will start intuitively making +EV decisions without doing all the math each time. Your EV instincts will become second nature – allowing you to crush your opponents.

Understanding expected value is a vital poker foundation. Making disciplined +EV plays will ensure you win over the long run. Use this crash course as a blueprint to optimize your game!

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Paul Dixon
Paul Dixon
19 September 2023
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28 March 2023
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aelred o'doherty
aelred o'doherty
27 April 2022
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12 October 2021

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: info@texasholdemquestions.com