What are the odds?

February 15, 2009

What are the odds?

Do you ever find yourself thinking this phrase…or even saying it out loud…after a big win or loss at the table?  It’s one of those lines that creeps into our vocabulary and comes out almost all the time.

Beat on the river by a full-house draw?

“Oh, man.  What are the odds?”

Pull that last heart to topple a straight?

“Yes, bingo!  What are the odds of that?”

Well, before I go any further, I’ll certainly concede that many of you do know the odds, and probably came up with them in your head in the time it took me to write that opening sentence. I respect that greatly, and envy your ability and dedication to the game you love.

But I’m also guessing many other people would shrug their shoulders in ignorance, or simply not even think about it as a legitimate question that could be answered.  Instead accepting it as just another figure of speech.

Put me in with the later group, although I’m not too thrilled to admit it.  I can come up with the odds for a few simple scenarios, but when it comes time to really rely on the odds to make a poker decision, I’m shooting in the dark.

So why is that?  Why do we put real money at stake without playing the odds? 

I think back to whenever I catch a tournament being broadcast on ESPN, and you see the percentage of winning changing under each hand as more cards are revealed in any given Texas Hold ‘Em hand, and I’ll actually refer to that in conversation with whomever I’m sitting near.  Sometimes, like an idiot, I’ll even nod my head in agreement, like I knew that was going to be the change.

Well, I think we all know the benefit to knowing the odds, and the reason behind studying this part of the poker craft are fairly straightforward.  But if you play regularly like I do, why wouldn’t you be in the group that knows?

Here’s a couple guesses.

Lazy:  It’s much easier to watch ESPN or drop three hours a night on your PS3 than it is to figure out the odds for all the different poker scenarios.  For many people, it’s almost like studying for a test, and for many more I guarantee you it’s like being at work.  And retaining that knowledge isn’t something that’s going to be accomplished from a single blow-through of the information.  You have to stick with it and go over them time and time again, then come up on them in mock and real situations and learn through trial and error.  That takes a great deal of effort many of us just don’t want to put forth.

Apathy: Probably more suited for that casual player…that “hey poker is still cool” player.  Some of these people might not even know that you can prepare for situations by studying the odds.  If I had to choose the lesser of two evils between laziness and apathy, this one loses in a landslide.

Stupidity:  Maybe you’ve tried and you just can’t do it.  The brain power just isn’t there.  Hey, sometimes Adult Swim and flag football are just more up someone’s alley.  At least you gave it the old college try, chap!

Except for that last one, the first two explanations are obviously no more than excuses, and leave the uninformed at a gaping disadvantage when it comes time to go head to head with $100 in the pot. 

But hey, maybe you will get lucky, see that last queen turn up with a couple already accounted for.

What would be the odds of that?