The Concept Of Equity In Poker

“Equity” has a variety of different meanings in fields like law, finance and property. In poker, “equity” is a term used to describe how much perceived value you have in a hand and is best understood as follows.

There are only two ways to make money by playing no-limit holdem and they are either to have the best hand or to steal the pot.

“To have the best hand” means that your hand is better than your opponents. This is also known as showdown equity – the potential to win money at showdown.

“To steal the pot” means you forcing your opponents to fold thereby winning the hand before showdown. This is also known as steal equity – the potential to win money before showdown.

The above may sound very basic but is it something that you really think about every time you are deciding what play to make during a hand? For most people the answer is no. Understand and internalize the above and you can become a great no-limit poker player, it is very powerful to know and understand that all your profit can ONLY COME from either having the best hand or by stealing the pot.

All hands therefore have two types of equity: Steal equity and showdown equity. For example say you have J10s in the cut off. You might win the hand by winning at showdown by making a flush, straight or top pair (showdown equity). Alternatively, you can win the hand by raising before the flop, betting on the flop with nothing or bluffing the river, in each case forcing your opponents to fold (steal equity).

A common error that poker players make is to focus too much on their showdown equity with speculative hands like suited connectors. Players will call a small bet preflop hoping to see the flop cheaply and catching a big hand. The chances of connecting with the board are not good yet most players will just fold when they miss. This is bad play. Speculative hands like suited connectors do not have good showdown equity as they will not connect with the board often enough. In order to play speculative hands profitably then you need to be prepared to steal.

Another common error that players make is to understand the principle addressed in the above paragraph but to then try and steal every single hand. This is also bad play. The key is to know that your hand relies on stealing and therefore when a profitable steal situation arises you must take advantage of it.

The secret to playing no-limit holdem is to ascertain your combined equity during every hand. When your combined steal and showdown equity is of a higher value than the risk that you take by playing on then the situation is profitable. If your combined equity is of a lower value than the risk you take by playing on then you must fold.

Every time you play a hand you need to evaluate your equities. There are other types of equity in poker such as reverse equity and folding equity which are addressed in later articles.

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