Although equity in poker may sound like it requires the knowledge of complicated math equations, it is actually very simple. A quick check at dictionary.com shows the word equity to have several meanings. However, when using the word in poker terms, it takes on the meaning of “ownership, especially when considered as the right to share in future profits or appreciation in value.” In other words, when we talk about equity in poker, we are discussing the amount of the pot, and a player’s ownership or right to some or all of that pot.
To put it another way, your equity in a poker hand is the amount of the pot that belongs to you according to the odds or percentage of winning that pot at various stages in the hand. Let me explain further. Of course, many of us have watched poker on television where players’ hole cards are shown. The players involved in the hand will have their names on the screen with their hole cards under their names and their current percentage chance of winning the hand right next to their cards. That percentage is their equity in the current hand. For instance, let’s imagine that a short-stacked Phil Hellmuth is running out of time in a tournament with the blinds and antes eating his remaining chips, so he moves all-in holding , while Doyle Brunson calls the bet with .
The announcer will say something like “Brunson is a 65% favorite to win this hand and knock Hellmuth out of the tournament.” That means that Hellmuth’s probability of winning is just 35%. That is the equity of each player at the current stage of the hand, 65% for Brunson to 35% for Hellmuth. That is their respective current “ownership” or “share” in the pot. It’s not that simple though, as the equity constantly changes as the flop, turn and river cards are revealed, enabling some hands to get stronger and others to get weaker. Pre-flop, Brunson has a nice lead, almost double the probability of winning over Hellmuth. The players wait for the flop while the Poker Brat (Hellmuth) moans and complains about his bad luck. The dealer burns a card and reveals a flop of . Amazingly, Hellmuth flopped two pair and the percentages on the TV screen now show him to be a 78% favorite to win the hand, while Brunson is now the underdog with the turn and river still to come.
The percentages that define pot equity are taken from plugging all possible hand situations into computers over and over again to ascertain the likelihood of every hand’s probable success or win rate. There are many Internet websites where you can download various types of odds calculators to arrive at equity rates for any given poker hand.
Now that you know what equity in poker is, I’m sure you’re curious about how to use that information to help you to win while seated at the poker table. Even though you will never be 100% certain of the hole cards of your opponents, you can learn to make educated guesses based on their style of play and betting patterns. In that regard, being aware of your pot equity at each stage of the progression of the hand can really shed light on explaining the reasons why it is mathematically correct to be betting and raising when your hand is likely the best hand at that particular stage. Betting when the pot equity is in your favour gives you the greatest value because most of the equity in the hand is yours and belongs to you.
Let’s go back to the hand between Brunson and Hellmuth and pretend for a moment that both players are not all-in and are playing a cash game with lots of money stacked in front of them. Hellmuth should be making a sizeable bet with his two pair and 78% pot equity following the flop. Brunson, of course, doesn’t know that Hellmuth flopped two pair and counts his outs at 10. The remaining 3 Aces and 3 Kings give him 6 outs for top pair (which he may see as the best hand depending on Hellmuth’s betting) and catching one of the 4 Queens would give him an Ace-high straight. If a Queen did arrive on the turn, the pot equity would again experience a major shift, giving Brunson a 91% chance of winning, while Hellmuth would be at a paltry 9%. Hellmuth would need a Jack or Ten to make a full house and win, but has only the river card in which to do so.
Based on Brunson’s 91% equity after the turn card, that means that in a cash game he will make 91 cents for each dollar put into the pot in these same situations over the long haul. For that reason, when you feel you have the best hand and your pot equity is greater than 50%, it should be your goal and intent to get as much money from your opponent into the pot as possible. Because the pot equity is in your favor. That’s known as value betting and is a big reason why playing aggressively is generally better than playing passively, because aggressive players get more money into the pot when they have a high percentage of pot equity and the best odds of winning the hand.
That’s also why pre-flop raises with premium starting hands are the correct plays. Because with the greatest probability of winning or the highest equity at that stage, you are getting more money into the pot that “belongs” to you. Or to borrow the definition of equity from dictionary.com, it is your “right to share in future profits.” Also, a raise pre-flop will tend to eliminate players who were looking to limp in with a drawing hand and gain equity in the hand by connecting on the cards appearing on the flop, turn and river. You want to avoid that happening with a premium starting hand, even if it means winning only a small pot. Better to take a small pot than get sucked out on by a worse starting hand that was able to continue playing due to your lack of betting.
Equity in poker (or pot equity) is a basic principle that explains why betting and raising is the proper strategy when holding the probable best hand. By doing so, you are betting for value and increasing the money that you stand to win when the odds or percentages of winning are in your favor and when you have the majority of the pot equity. Similarly, checking or folding when the equity is better for your opponent can also go a long way in minimizing losses. Your actual equity in a hand can be increased by other things beyond the standard pot equity, such as fold equity. To find out more, check out our article on fold equity.