folks are numbers people. Others aren't. Most among us fall
somewhere in between. We run the gamut between those who
are quite mathematically literate and those who never met
a number they really liked -- or even understood. While
you might be prone to say "different strokes for different
folks" right about now, the fact remains that there are
mathematical and statistical underpinnings to poker that
cannot be ignored. You can try, of course, but you do so
at your own peril. After all, these relationships are always
at work, and they don't care whether you pay attention to
them or bury your head in the sand like an ostrich.
somewhere in the middle. I'm not a numbers guy -- not by
a long shot. That's the province of Mike Caro, David Sklansky,
and an entire coterie of poker players who post to the Internet
newsgroup, rec.gambling.poker -- many of whom are as quick
and facile with numbers as a magician with a hatful of rabbits.
those of you who are numerically challenged, or statistically
phobic, this column is for you: A simple, easy-to-use, paint-by-numbers
piece. It's not the whole answer either, not by a long shot.
And it won't provide the same kind of clarity and depth
of understanding that a knowledge and familiarity with mathematics
and statistics will. But it is a crutch, and for those of
you who need it, it's a lot better than nothing at all.
Quick Count Number 1: How Many Opponents? Consider
these common situations.
Questions like these, and a wide variety of others can be
answered by counting the number of opponents in the hand
with you. In most cases the magic number is three. If you
have only one or two opponents, these and many similar questions
can be answered affirmatively. With one or two opponents
you can be aggressive. Even if the flop missed you entirely,
Big Slick may be the best hand, and a bet gives your opponents
a chance to fold.
you have three opponents, you are right on the borderline
between aggression and caution -- and I'd lean a bit more
on the side of caution in most cases. With four or more
opponents, it becomes progressively more unlikely that your
prayers will be answered. Anytime you have four opponents
or more, you can usually count on the flop helping someone.
If you're not that certain someone, it's best to assume
that one of your opponents now has a hand that's better
that happens you need a draw to a good hand -- or some other
reason, aside from your intuition, the fact that you've
got your mojo working, or the coming of a long-awaited harmonic
convergence -- to pay for another card.
moral to this story is simple. As long as you can count
to three, that's all the mathematics you need know to provide
a foundation for play when confronted with these kinds of
Quick Count Number 2: How Many Times Does the Flop Have
to Hit You?
I called in late position with 7c 6c and five others also
took the flop, which contained a seven. What should I do?
While a bit more information is needed to answer this question,
you can make a couple of assumptions that generally prove
out. If overcards flop and there is any appreciable action
before you act, you can usually count on at least one of
your opponents having a hand that's superior to yours. If
the flop contained all low cards -- perhaps it was 7-3-2
of mixed suits -- you might have the best hand right now.
When that's the case, go ahead and bet, especially if you
believe it would force some of your opponents to fold, thereby
reducing the likelihood that one of them would get lucky
on a subsequent betting round.
What if you call from late position with the same hand,
only to have the button or one of the blinds raise? With
more than three players active, you're forced to call the
raise. But now you know the odds favor one of your opponents
having a hand that's bigger than yours. So you take the
flop knowing that it will have to hit you twice to give
you much hope. If you're incredibly lucky it will hit you
three times, and serve up a straight on a silver platter.
But the odds of that are really miniscule. You've got about
a two percent chance of flopping two pair, and that coupled
with the chance of flopping a straight or flush draw, or
the minor possibility of flopping trips will allow you to
see the flop.
if none of those longshots comes to fruition, and the flop
did not hit you twice -- three times hit is even better
-- you are skating on thin ice if you continue to play your
puny pair of sevens in the face of any appreciable action.
second and final installment of Quick Counts will explore
the number of outs for various hands, provide you with some
handy odds to use whenever you're confronted with common
hold'em situations, and we'll also delve into counting the
pot and comparing the payoff that it offers -- the pot odds,
as it's called -- with the odds against making your hand.
Once you can do this, and it's not difficult at all, you'll
be able to play within the mathematical parameters of the
game. In other words, you won't find yourself taking the
worst of it simply because you might be confused by the
seemingly difficult mathematical computations that go into