The Real Objective Of Poker

Jack Wilcox (Hoodlincs) Profile Photo

By Jack Wilcox

27 Feb, 2011

I feel like the title of this article will lead to people thinking that I will write something very patronizing. In fact, it may come across as patronizing to some, but I feel that it is a concept that almost every player at the micro and small stakes either ignores, or forgets.

The concept is:

Every hand you play at a poker table should be played in the manner which allows you to make the most money. Poker is a game of EV, and it doesn't matter whether you are winning at a ridiculous win-rate already — passing up +EV situations can never be excused, because ultimately you are giving away money by doing so. Money not won is exactly is the same as money lost.

A quick example is this type of scenario:

“I am playing vs a regular who is playing 20/18 and folding to 3bets 72% over 300 hands. We have no history, and I have been quite tight so far. I have K7s on the button and they open in the cutoff. I fold because I don't have a very good hand."

Most people do just fold without really thinking past the level of "I have K7s that isn't a very good hand". But as the hand is described, this is definitely a +EV spot to 3bet because:

  • They are folding to 3bets enough over the sample you have to show a straight-up profit. (See this 3betting maths article.)
  • They are out of position, in a spot where their range should be wider than average, making it likely that they will be folding more often than usual, especially as you have been tight.
  • Your hand has a decent amount of equity when called. Plus, because you are in position and people usually check the flop to the preflop raiser expecting you to cbet (see initiative), you can see at least 4 cards (the flop and turn) for free almost always — hence your raw equity plays a huge part in the hand as opposed to pure "playability".

This concept might seem simple and pointless, but I cannot believe the amount of times I hear the concept in this form:

“Oh, but you don't need to make that type of a play at the micro-stakes, you should wait until the higher stakes.”

Why should you? Passing up +EV spots is clearly inexcusable and every time you do so, your winrate is lower than it could be.

If you think like this, then re-read the concept posted at the top until you really understand it.

From what I can gather, a lot of the reasoning for this statement is that players recognize that they perhaps do not have great postflop ability. If this is your reasoning, then it is great that you recognize it, as obviously that means you at least know where your weaknesses are, but the problem is your lack of enthusiasm to do anything about the leak you have identified.

Dealing with leaks.

Leaks in your game are things you will always have to deal with in your poker career. Whether you deal with your leaks now or in the future is up to you. However, you should bear in mind a couple of things:

  1. If you deal with a leak now, then you can begin making more profit. Let's say you identify a few leaks which will altogether take one month to "fix", and the process of fixing them in that month will mean you break even. For whatever reason, you know that fixing these leaks will increase your winrate by 1bb/100 (hypothetical, I know). That may not seem much, but if you currently win at a rate of 4bb/100, by adding 1bb/100 you have just increased everything you earn at the tables by 25%. Imagine you were in a job and your boss said you have to give up one month's wages to do a qualification, but afterward you will be given a 25% pay rise – assuming you plan to work in that career field for longer than 4 months, I doubt you would pass up the opportunity.
  2. If you know that when you get to higher stakes you will need to fix part of your game, then fixing it now will be a hell of a lot cheaper. Any mistake you make at NL50 will cost you 4x as much to make at NL200. So waiting until you get to NL200 to fix your leaks is something that seems rather silly in my opinion, since why would you voluntarily pay 4x as much to learn the same thing?

I think a lot of people justify not making certain plays as “I don't need to do that. I am already beating these games for a good winrate”, but that is totally irrelevant to the point here – poker is entirely a game of EV, or expected value:

  • You miss a +EV spot, you cost yourself money.
  • You exploit a +EV spot, you make money.

It's that simple.

I feel that a lot of players who use the excuses listed above are basically just scared of change. They have a set system of playing, whereby they have watched a few videos and they know roughly what hands are good and what hands aren't – they have found a way to play and rock out a 4bb/100 winrate, and they fall into the trap of assuming that this is fine. They aren't prepared to give up some of their winrate short term in order to maximize it long term.

However, they accept they aren't improving very quickly, so they start to analyze some big hands in Poker Tracker to see where they are losing money. But the problem is that the majority of the big pots you lose are not where your winrate is suffering – it's the small pots where you miss a great time to re-steal, or bluff-raise the flop, or double-barrel the turn, etc.


To demonstrate my point better, I'll break down an example winrate to see exactly how we make money:

You win at 5bb/100. You play 20% VPIP. You win 5bb for every 100 hands you play. In 100 hands you play 20 of them because that's your VPIP, so essentially you win 5bb/20, or 0.25bb/hand. Simple.

Now, if you can find spots where you can win an extra 0.25bb on average in each hand you play, your winrate doubles to 10bb/100.

Now 10bb/100 is crushing, whilst 5bb/100 is average. But all we have done is make 0.25bb extra per hand we play. Now you should be able to see how those small edges really add up. “I don't need to make a certain play because its micro-stakes” becomes meaningless when countered by this argument.

How can you increase your winrate?

If you lower the number of tables you play down to 2, 3 or 4, you will have time to actually think before you act. You can use your 15-30 second time allowance to sit there and say “OK, can I do something here to make more money?”

Sometimes the answer will be no, but often times the answer will be yes – finding a fold instead of making a bad call, or betting bigger for value when you think a fish has top pair.

If we are talking about 0.25bb/hand edges, think how fixing a specific leak will make a difference to your winrate. Like playing a particular river situation wrongly, especially since by the time you get to the river the pot is rarely less than 20bb in size. Fixing leaks on postflop streets can end up increasing your winrate on that hand by something like 4-5bb if you quantified it.

If a situation occurs once every 500 hands in which you can create a 5bb edge, you have already just added 1bb/100 to your winrate, and 0.25bb/hand.

Lowering the number of tables you play so that you can more advantage of +EV situations may initially decrease your hourly rate, but if you are playing at the micro stakes or the small stakes, I think your main aim should 100% be to keep moving up the stakes and improving your bb/100.

Sacrificing your hourly for a month or two now will make you so much more money in the long run – I cannot emphasize that enough.

Thanks for reading,