Tuesday, 2 November 2010
By Paul Jackson .
One of the most common words used to justify actions by poker players these days is “equity”, and I think it is time someone stood up for this poor over-used and often abused word, which is often thrown into sentences left, right and centre by less-than-knowledgeable people. Equity is so often the fall guy for the pain suffered by players on the occasions when a little knowledge in the wrong hands has proved a dangerous to be a dangerous thing.
All too often, when one party has had its sense of natural justice outrageously trodden on by a clown wearing comedy feet, poor old “equity” gets the blame, whether it deserves it or not.
The top young players of today, however, have an extraordinary understanding of pot equity and fold equity, and often older players like me do not even understand what they are talking about, even when we actually understand what they mean.
The better players of years ago understood pot odds very well, but in a basic form in comparison with the much more advanced modern pot equity considerations. Most decent players also understood fold equity back then, even though there wasn’t a specific cool name to describe it. After all, who wanted to describe it and risk educating those that did not?
It is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and, as Luke Schwartz says, “All older players are dogs”. I think he is referring to what is now apparently called “first generation poker players” and not the more respected second generation poker players or the super-brained third generation players.
I think I’ll be happy if I can regarded as a “Star Trek Generations” player and stick to just playing, rather than passing judgment of the technique of others, which I have been too guilty of in the past.
The great young players of today use pot and fold equity to maximum advantage and are generally very aggressive. When they make overlarge pot-committing bets, they have a good read that their opponent has an inferior hand that he will not fold and are using reverse psychology to extract maximum value.
If they are not raising or re-raising for value, and they always know what their plan and expectation is, then it is a skilful combined use of pot and fold equity to exert maximum pressure on opponents that often cannot take the heat, which is why they are targeted for punishment.
Because of this, they win lots of uncontested pots and get paid more when they actually have a hand, a concept Doyle Brunson was employing before many of their mums met their dads.
One of the biggest dangers of the use of pot and fold equity, however, is that you can end up creating the correct pot equity following several plays on the same street, which did not exist at the start of that street.
For instance, it may well be a very valid move to check-raise with a draw, and then, following that, when your opponent shoves, you may well have the right equity to call off your remaining stack. It may be that each move, at the time it was made, could be regarded as valid. However, if you are effectively getting it all in with, say, a 9/4 chance of winning, and getting odds of reward of only marginally better than evens, then surely this is some kind of mistake.
The very good young players appreciate this, and while no one always gets it right, they fully appreciate stack sizes and weigh up opponent tendencies. They make these moves regularly, but they also factor in additional variables to the frequency with which they find themselves in the above spot as much as possible.
The problem is that most of the rest: i.e., the first generation quality players who think they are fourth generation and talk like fifth generation (unless you actually analyse what they say) simply make these moves with no consideration for anything other than the move itself.
When it goes right, they played great; when they get it wrong and get lucky, they “made their own luck”, and when, as is most often the case, they get it wrong and go out, they were “coolered” but made the correct play according “equity”.
If the casino has a 5% edge on roulette and I have £1,000 in my pocket. If I put £100 on red, then, while the ball is spinning, is it always +EV to put the other £900 on red given my equity in my initial bet (it makes my head hurt when I try to think about the mathematics of that). However, Roulette is a –EV game.
All in all, I think players should stop quoting “equity” to justify their actions. Instead, they should spend more time considering what the optimal decision should be, rather than the optimal way to justify the decision they have already made.