Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Maximizing Edge(s)

The second commandment of winning poker is: Thou Shall Maximize Edge. Fine, but what the heck is "edge"?

Edge, in simple terms, is having an advantage over that of your opponent. It's what sets us apart from losing players. It's where our profit at the poker table comes from*.

In the short-run, poker is largely a game of luck, or "variance" as it is known in poker circles. Over the long-run, however, poker is a game of skill. If I  am more skilled at the game than you, and we play enough times and/or for a long enough period of time, I will win more money at the game than you. If I have an edge over you, I will have the advantage-- and therefore I will ultimately take your money away from you.

But this brings us back to the definition of edge. The way I see it, there are essentially four** different types of poker edge that we can maximize and exploit:

Equity Edge. Another way to say this is "hand strength" edge. Simply put, if I have a better hand than yours at showdown, I will take your money. And the way I can do this more frequently is to be more selective with my starting hands than you. A simplistic example would be if I knew, for instance, you played every A-x hand that was dealt to you, but no other hands, I could then have an advantage by playing only those hands that tend to dominate yours. Pairs and big aces, for example. Said another way, the hands I choose to play would be stronger than the range of hands you choose to play. Therefore I would have an equity edge.

Positional Edge. We all know that having position on our opponents is a good thing. But why? Simple: having position (1) allows us to have more information available when it's our turn to act in a hand; (2) allows us to better control the size of the pot; (3) lets us steal dead money and blinds more easily; (4) allows us to bluff more easily; and (5) lets us isolate (and exploit) worse players than us. If we enter more hands in position than out of position, we can accomplish these five things more frequently, and therefore we can exploit this edge and make more money than someone who does not play a positionally-aware game.

Proficiency Edge. If we are more proficient at the basic (and advanced) skills of poker, we will have an edge over our opponents, and therefore be at an advantage and make more money. Things that fall into this (admittedly big) category include: (1) the ability to read hand ranges better than our opponents; (2) the ability to understand and exploit pot and implied odds; (3) the ability to bluff successfully; (4) the art of maximizing profit with our winning hands and minimize our losses with the losers; etcetera.  Said another way, making fewer mistakes than our opponents is the same as having a proficiency edge.

Discipline Edge. Playing strong hands in position while being very proficient won't mean a damn thing if you can't maintain discipline when playing. This category of edge includes such things as: (1) not being results oriented; (2) having patience; (3) not tilting; (4) warming-up (and cooling-down) before (and after) a session; (5) performing good table and seat selection; (6) exercising good bankroll management habits; and (7) paying attention, even (especially?) when not in a hand.

And that's all the time I have today...

All-in for now...

* Poker columnist Roy Cooke has often written that Edge x Volume = Profit.

**In tournaments, I think there is a Stack Size Edge that can also be exploited. If my stack is bigger than yours, I can wield it like a club, putting you at risk of getting knocked out of the tournament. In cash games, this doesn't apply, as we are playing effective stack sizes and the loser of an all-in can simply re-buy.

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