Poker Gut Check: Learn the Odds or Trust Your Gut?

There are three groups of serious poker players. There’s the mathematical player who knows all the odds and has a specific formula for every situation they find themselves in during a hand. The second type is the experienced player that goes with their gut when they have to make a tough decision. Both work hard on developing their skills, and often one type thinks the other is inferior. The third type of player is both, and takes advantage of the edges both types can provide.

Mathematical players use odds to determine if they’re in a favorable gambling position. They calculate the possible outs they’ll need to beat what they think an opponent is holding. Depending on the size of the bet, compared to the size of the pot, they decide if they should continue in the hand. In tournament poker they compare the size of an all-in bet to the size of their stack to determine if the price of calling a bet is favorable.

Playing proper mathematical poker should produce a profit over time, and will help you maintain a bankroll that you can play on without going broke. Mathematical players know that putting their money in the pot when they have favorable odds is a profitable play. Poker math isn’t rocket science. It’s basically converting ratios to percentages and comparing one sum to another to decide if you’re in a favorable position. Any junior high school student can learn to do it. Mathematical players can be robotic in their play, and often don’t hone their instinctive skills.

But for some reason a big percentage of players never learn to calculate pot odds. Those types of players are the gut instinct type of player. These players study their opponents and their betting patterns to determine if a player is strong or weak. These players often play the player, not the cards. They watch and remember how their opponents play certain hands, and then try to take advantage of an opponent when they recognize a pattern of betting that divulges an opponent’s hand.

These players often feel that they don’t require math to be a good player, and they never develop the mathematical skills that can come in handy when there’s no other information to base a decision on. That’s why the third type of player is the best type of player. They understand the advantage of mathematical play and use it to make their decisions. But they can also use their gut when they think they’ve picked up a read on an opponent, and decide to look someone up when things look fishy.

So you can be the type of player you want to be. If you think that poker is all about math you can grind out some profit; as long as your opponents don’t recognize that’s all there is to your game. If you think that you don’t need to learn how to calculate pot odds to be a good player, you can concentrate on picking up tells on your opponents. But that won’t serve you very well online where physical tells are virtually impossible to pick up. If you want to be an elite player you’ll develop both skills, and you’ll change them up within your game.