Looking To Show Down Better Cards Than Our Opponents

Guide To Winning Poker (14)

  • We want to play all situations that are profitable
  • This involves losing more hands at showdown than we win
  • How often our opponent shows down will determine a lot of what we do

It’s Not How Many Showdowns You Win

A big part of the success that you have as a poker player has to do with your having better cards at showdown than your opponents. This doesn’t mean though that we should strive to have a showdown percentage of a certain amount, or even make the mistake that some people make by looking to increase it to a certain amount, like 60 or 65%. There’s a stat that a lot of poker players look at, which is the percentage of hands won at showdown, and even surprises me that so many players put so much weight on it. Like many commonly used stats, it’s not only useless, but it can do some real harm by confusing players about what really matters.

I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get confused as far as what we’re after here. There’s a big difference between wanting to get value out of our good hands, and in fact even knowing what our good hands are in the first place, since our hand strength is always relative to what other people have, and looking to improve or batting average at showdown or even to be paying attention to it. The main reason why the two are different is that the pot will be laying us odds to show down hands, so if we’re playing properly, it follows that we must lose more hands at showdown than we win. For example, if we get 2 to 1 to call and only have a 40% chance to win, we will want to call.

High Showdown Winning Percentages Often Mean You Fold Too Much

On the other hand, I see so many players, most players really, whose percentages are over 50 percent, and many over 60. What makes this even more amusing is that these players prance around like proud roosters over their very nice and high stat here. We’re not just taking about new players here or novices, we’re talking some so called regulars as well, many of whom make a half decent living playing poker. So while we’re on the topic of showing down cards, I do not want any of you to get confused here and fall into this trap, which will have you folding in a lot of situations where it would be profitable not to. We’ll leave that to them, and in fact these are among the players we are going to look to pound on as we improve our play, so we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So let’s get back to the concept of average hand strength. From time to time, for the purposes of illustration, I’ll be presenting you with a simple deck of cards, to make concepts easier to understand. The use of these simple decks are completely valid and serve to keep things simple enough to demonstrate certain things. The first thing we need to get clear on is what I’m talking about here when I speak of average hands, and this simple example will do the trick.

A Simple Example Of This Concept

So let’s say that there are 10 cards in this our special deck, with values ranging from 1 to 10. So we know, for instance, that a player bets 50% of the time in a certain spot. So what is his average hand strength? We’ll be making the assumption that he’s playing straightforward for now, so he’s betting 6-10. So that’s an average hand strength of 8, which is the point exactly in the middle of his range. So any time we have a better hand than the average hand strength he’s playing here, we will win more times than we lose. We know this with absolute certainty in fact.

However, this doesn’t take pot odds into account, and in fact we won’t just want to be playing for value with hands we only are ahead of on average, we’re going to want to account for the fact that hands behind will be profitable as well. If we’re only a 50/50 favorite to win, for instance, and we’re getting 2 to 1 when we win, then it’s obviously profitable to play on. If it’s only 40% with the same odds, we win 2 units 40% of the time (+80) and lose 1 unit 60% of the time (-60), so that’s a net gain of 20 units over 100 hands, or 0.2 units per hand.

The Odds Are Greater Than Even, Meaning We Need To Win Less Often

We’ll get into pot odds in much greater detail later, and all you need to be concerned about here is the fact that there is a certain amount of money to be won, and the amount you will be risking will always be less by definition if the other person is the aggressor. You can get yourself in trouble here by over-betting the pot yourself, we need not concern ourselves with that for now. I wanted to throw all this in just to ensure that you weren’t thinking just along the lines of playing better cards. What’s important to know at this stage of the discussion is that we do need to know what he’ or she is playing on average, so that we can calculate our equity with how we stack up to it and the pot odds factored in as well.

An important point does emerge out of all of this, and sharper players may realize that any time an opponent is the aggressor, we do not need as strong a hand as they have to continue on. This is something that less skilled or experienced players miss out on, as opposed to skilled players who always look to get a good idea of what sort of chance they need to play on with a hand. In all cases though, the real trick and the real challenge in fact is to have an accurate an idea as possible about the range that is being bet or raised by an opponent, and it is then and only then that we can calculate whether we have enough equity or not. So our looking into average hand strength is pretty important stuff indeed.

The Better The Hands They Play, The Better Hands We Need To Play

We’ll get into translating stats to actual hands a little later on, and for now we’ll start out by just focusing on the frequencies themselves, where the greater the frequency, the less someone has, and the lesser the frequency, the stronger the hand the player has. This is also a good place to start when it comes to determining fold equity, where the more a player folds in given situations, the more we can take pots from him or her, and the less a player folds, the more often we’ll need a real hand to win. Then, as you get better at figuring things out through increased understanding and practice, you’ll be able to refine these reads and use math more and more to become more accurate with them.

The same is true with average hand strength, although things are a little more involved, as you have to think things through a little more to be able to decide, for instance, what a 33% bet rate on the flop represents. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good handle on things right from the start, as in this case we know that a player hits a pair about this often, which may be top, middle, or bottom pair, and the average would then be middle pair. Not all calculations are this simple though and there’s a fair bit more that will go into it as you progress, as in what starting cards they tend to play, the board texture, looking at what they tend to do later in the hand, and other refinements, but just getting the gist of what we’re looking to do here will certainly get you a big leg up on the people you play against.

It’s All About Going After All Profitable Situations

The other side of this coin is looking at what ranges players don’t fold, including both calling and raising our bets, and again we’ need to look at this from an average hand strength perspective. There’s two parts to this, with the first and simpler one being what average strength a player plays on with. For instance, if we have a marginal hand and a player is tight and thus folds a great deal of the time, merely getting called can tell us that we’re in trouble. If, on average, he’s calling with a hand that we’re going to lose to more often than not, we may be done with the hand right there, as it may not be profitable to try to bluff him off it at this point, and if he bets later we may not have enough of a chance to win the hand to profitably call. If we get raised, we of course may be in even more trouble, if he’s doing this pretty infrequently and thus with better cards on average.

The other use of this is to determine what the best course of action would be in deciding how to proceed with a good hand where we’re looking to get the most value out of. In this case we want to get called, and we want to get called for the most money. So we’ll need to look at a player’s frequencies here, both passive and aggressive ones, and not only on the present street but on future ones. This isn’t really a matter of average hand strength though per se, it’s merely looking to extract maximum value, but at the same time we do need to figure out what he or she has on average with a particular line we’re planning to ensure we’re not looking to go after this value without enough of an advantage in hand strength.

So that’s some of the basics here, things that we want to keep in mind as we look to incorporate the use of poker stats into our game, which are always geared to looking to give us the most accurate information possible to make the best decisions possible. Poker is indeed, as they say, a game of incomplete information, and those who both collect the best information and use it to their advantage the most are the ones that come out on top in the long run.

So with all of this out of the way, giving you at least a basic idea of what I’m talking about when I refer to using player frequencies properly, we can now move on to other topics, although we’ll certainly be revisiting all of this in later sessions as we look to gain an even better understanding of the best use of these powerful tools.

Ken’s Guide To Winning Poker – Index

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series