Understanding Poker Equity

Poker.Org Staff
Published by:
Posted on: June 29, 2022 12:01 pm EDT

Equity is the value of something owned by a person or entity. In poker, equity is your share of the pot at the table. When calculating your equity, you don’t know how much of the pot you’ll actually win. Therefore, your poker equity is the value of the portion of the pot that you’re likely to claim. 

There are various ways to look at equity, but there’s only one proper way to calculate it. Once calculated, you can use the information in a variety of ways to influence your play and dictate the proper strategy. 

Understanding equity is part of the skill component in poker. Luck still plays a role in every hand, whether in Texas Hold’em or Omaha. It’s impossible to translate equity into winnings every time, but the equity calculation gives you the edge — if you understand and use it properly.

What is equity in poker?

Equity in poker is the portion of a pot at a poker table that should belong to a particular player. It uses a mathematical calculation to find the percentage of time that a player will win a poker hand. Equity is not what you will win in the hand, but what you should win based on several known factors.

Put another way, poker equity is the amount of the pot you can expect to win the majority of the time. 

The easiest way to calculate equity is to use a poker equity calculator. There are many available online and via numerous free apps.

As your poker game improves, whether playing live poker or online poker, you can learn to use more poker tools. You can incorporate other factors into your calculations, such as hand equity and fold equity. Tracking these numbers can help you make decisions to maximize your overall chance of winning hands.

Hand equity

Hand equity is the value of your hand, and the method of calculating your advantage in a hand. This type of equity is easily generated by a poker calculator, but experience gives players the ability to memorize the general percentages.

For example, let’s say a player named Poker Hero holds pocket aces, and Poker Villain holds any other pocket pair. Hero has 81% equity in that hand on a pre-flop basis.

The value of that equity can give you a different way of looking at the situation. Let’s say Poker Hero and Poker Villain are the only two players (heads-up) in the hand. There is $100 in the pot. Hero’s equity in the pot is $81. That number can change based on the number of players in the hand and post-flop calculations.

Fold equity

Fold equity is the value of the pot based on persuading an opponent to fold. We calculate this a little differently than poker equity, factoring in the likelihood that the opponent will fold to a particular bet or raise.

You use fold equity when playing with a shorter-than-ideal stack, or when you don’t have the best hand equity. This calculation allows for increased value by using bet-sizing to prompt a fold. In short, fold equity increases overall equity.

A large part of fold equity depends on your opponent’s play, such as their frequency of folding to a particular bet from early, middle, or late position.

Another component to fold-equity calculations is stack size. Your stack size matters, in that your short stack may not prompt many players with bigger stacks to fold. However, if you’re playing against someone who has only a few big blinds in her stack, your fold equity increases. That’s because the player with only a few big blinds is less likely to call a big bet.

How is poker equity calculated?

Poker equity generally appears in two forms. First, it can be the simple percentage or chance of winning with the better hand. It can also be the expected value of the hand, which is the amount of the pot in total times the probability of winning. 

Most players calculate poker equity through a poker odds calculator. There are free apps and even physical charts that can provide those numbers. However, for a hand where equity changes after every street, and when many hands involve a straight draw or a flush draw, you can use the calculation below.

The Rule of 2 and 4

The Rule of 2 and 4 is the number of outs for your hand and the number of cards yet to come on the board.

The Rule of 4 applies when you see a flop but not yet the turn or river. You can calculate the number of outs that remain and multiply by four to get the equity calculation.

Similarly, the Rule of 2 applies when only the river is yet to come. You multiply the number of outs by two to come up with the equity.

In an example, a player named Poker Hero holds ace-king of hearts and sees a flop of 7-9-J with two hearts. Hero needs another heart. Excluding the four in the flush draw, there are nine hearts left in the deck, which equals nine outs.

The Rule of 4 applies if the turn and river have yet to appear, meaning nine outs times four equals 36%. The Rule of 2 takes over after the turn, meaning nine outs times two equals 18%. 

This may seem like complicated math, especially if math is not your strong suit. But over time, it will become second nature. 

Using poker equity strategically

When a calculation is straightforward, strategy decisions come naturally. In another pot equity example, let’s say Poker Hero has the 81% hand-pot equity holding aces. In addition, Hero has an above-average stack and has the potential to put a short-stacked opponent all-in. Hero doesn’t even need the exact calculation to know that this winning hand has a great deal of value.

Equity must combine with stack size, position, and other factors to influence your poker strategy.

Poker equity strategy in tournaments

In poker tournaments, you have to consider your proximity to the money bubble or various pay jumps, but you also have to change your use of poker equity. 

If the tournament is a turbo, your stack size and your opponent’s stack size play an even greater role in your equity. If the tournament offers reentries and you know that a player named Poker Villain is ready to reenter if necessary, then your equity changes. That’s because Villain is more likely to call bets with a wider range of hands.

Reading opponents

Players can improve equity calculations by learning to read opponents. This can be easier in a cash game, because in cash games players change tables or leave less frequently. But it helps to stay aware of other players in tournaments as well. The most accurate equity calculation is only possible when you know your opponent’s hand or even their range.

Poker equity is there to use. Use it wisely by considering all known factors to do an accurate calculation.

Range and poker equity

Equity can give poker players a significant advantage in a hand. But even if you can’t calculate equity exactly, you can use range to understand the value on the table.

Range is simply the group of possible starting hands. A player’s range is the collection of likely hands that a player could have in a particular situation.

Range — sometimes called “range advantage” or “range equity” — is a more general equity calculation. It requires knowing your opponents’ playing styles and betting history. That makes it an easier theory to use in online poker, when you’re taking notes on your opponents. 

To use a range calculation, you need to understand how some ranges fare against others. This isn’t as precise a calculation, so you must compare raw equity and equity distribution over a particular range to understand your range advantage.

Pot odds and poker equity

To properly understand equity and how to use it strategically, a good player also understands pot odds. It’s somewhat easy to calculate simple pot odds, and they can translate into better decision-making in various stages of a hand.

Pot odds is a term used for the value of a hand based on the total amount of money in the pot and the size of a bet. 

This is another calculation that becomes much easier over time and with experience. A simple example is to look at a pot with $100 in it. Poker Villain bets $50 into that pot. The full pot becomes $150. Poker Hero must call $50 to stay in the hand. Those two numbers combine to create the odds. The pot odds are 150:50, which divides down to 3:1, as 150 divided by 50 is three. 

That 3:1 number is equal to approximately 25%. That equates to 25% equity.

The takeaway

Equity in poker can be complicated. The more your game progresses, the more factors you can use in calculating proper hand and fold equity. 

Poker equity is one of the most basic and useful strategy components. It separates the players who use skill to maximize their hand values from the amateur poker players who make moves based on general observations.

The most important takeaway here is to fully understand the concept of equity. Once you’ve got the idea, learn how to calculate equity quickly. Finally, incorporate other factors, like pot odds, implied odds, range advantage, and tournament structures into your equity calculations to improve your game dramatically.

Featured image source: Flickr by World Poker Tour used under CC license