When you play a game of poker, how do you measure your success? Do you think about the chips that you won or lost?
This type of thinking, known as results-oriented thinking, is the wrong way to approach the game and can greatly hinder your development as a poker player. Because of the elements of randomness, luck, and chance that are baked into the game, it’s possible for bad plays to win and good plays to lose.
Take, for instance, a scenario in which you go all-in preflop with pocket aces against an opponent with pocket queens. In this case, you’re going to win the pot 80% of the time.
Let’s say, however, that this is one of those 1 in 5 scenarios in which the player with queens hits their hand and wins the pot. Now, how do you feel about your play? You lost the pot, so where did you go wrong?
Thinking in Expected Value
To remedy this fallacy, we should start thinking in expected value, or EV. This refers to how many chips a certain line is expected to win or lose on average.
Let’s say that, in our above example, there was 100 chips in the pot. Your EV is 80 chips because you expect to win the pot 80% of the time, meaning that you have +30 EV. Your opponent, on the other hand, has -30 EV, or 20 chips.
Now, it’s actually impossible for you to win 80 chips or your opponent to win 20 chips. You will either win 100 chips, lose 100 chips, or, in rare scenarios, split the pot 50/50.
However, because your EV is 80 chips, you’ve made a winning play regardless of the actual outcome. This is because, in the long run, given enough iterations of this same scenario, you will ultimately come out ahead +30 chips.
Because of variance, anything can happen in a single instance. Yet, due to the laws of probability, a single, definite outcome will arise if we can get a large enough sample size. This outcome is our EV.
Trust the Process
If we want to get better at poker, we need to constantly assess our game. And yet we can’t stop with asking ourselves if we won or lost a pot or even a session. We need to dig deeper and figure out whether or not our play was +EV.
While this is much more difficult because it’s not as immediately available to our minds, this way of thinking is also incredibly liberating. We may need to put in more time studying the game, crunching the numbers, and getting into the nitty-gritty of it, and yet it gives us a way to remove chance from the equation and gives us a way to progress genuinely.
If you want to be a winning poker player in the long term, you need to trust the process. Know that EV is the real currency of poker and, instead of focusing on what you can’t control, put your efforts into making the best possible decisions. Results will naturally follow.