As poker players, we should know exactly how often a bet needs to succeed in order to be profitable, as well as how much equity is needed to correctly call a bet.
Over 90% of live players who play $1/$2 NL or $1/$3 NL will incorrectly answer the following question — If you bet 1/2 the pot, how often does that bet need to succeed in order to be profitable?
The answer is 33% of the time
It is of the utmost importance that we understand how often a bet needs to succeed, with no hope to receive more equity on future streets — an absolute bluff. If we know that a bet can succeed with 0% equity, then we have found a way to generate profit without the need to hit any draw or pair. This establishes your skill edge in a game where chance is involved.
Whenever you make a bet, you are essentially laying your opponent(s) odds to call you. Because poker is a game that involves incomplete and uncertain information, it would be wise to know the frequency at which a play becomes profitable. Once again, if you bet 1/2 the pot, your bet needs to succeed 33% of the time as an absolute bluff.
Here’s how you calculate that percentage:
Imagine a pot with $30 in it. You bet $15. Now divide your bet size ($15) by the total pot you stand to win ($45). You do this because you get your bet back when the play succeeds. In this case, it would be 15/45 = .33 = 33%.
Understanding this basic poker math will save you thousands of dollars each year because it will ensure that your bet sizes aren’t risking any more money than what is necessary. Betting the optimal amount will subsequently maximize fold equity as well.
It should go without saying, the size of a bet should never be arbitrary. For example, if a player makes a bet of $100 on the river and is unable to explain why they selected that particular amount, it would stand to reason that they are oblivious to whether or not they are making a profitable play. Simply put, a player who unknowingly makes decisions that are -EV has a lot of room to grow.
Selecting the optimal size is critical to making a profitable bet. However, it’s equally as important to know how much equity the pot demands in order to make a correct call. If you are facing a 1/2 pot-sized bet, then you need 25% equity to correctly call.
This confuses many players because the first number throws them off. How can the bet need to succeed 33% of the time, when only 25% of equity is needed to react to it?
That’s not what equity means, remember that. You need to do something against your opponent 1/3rd of the time (bet/raise, fold, or call) to make sure they can’t bet into you without cards, but to make sure you’re not losing money when you throw chips in, you need to determine the required equity that the pot demands. In this case, it is 25%.
An example of calculating pot odds
Calculating that percentage is a piece of cake
For example, if you are facing a bet of $15 into a pot of $30, you need 25% equity to call. You’re risking $15 to win the total pot now of $60. ($15 bet + $15 call + $30 pot = $60 total). In this case, it would be 15/60 = .25 = 25%.
Now that you know how much equity is needed to correctly call a particular bet, you can easily determine whether or not you are getting the right price to proceed in the hand. If 25% equity is needed to profitably call, but your hand has only 18% equity, it makes folding a no-brainer.
Sometimes the numbers are close and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a tricky spot. Other variables such as implied odds, fold equity, and range advantage might then be taken into consideration in order to make the best decision.
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