Simple Poker Bluff Math

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Many players are scared of poker math.  It can look overwhelming at first, but with some basic knowledge it becomes very easy to do.  And with a just little bit of extra practice you can memorize a few things which allows you to estimate the value of certain plays at the table.  In this video my goal is to show you some simple poker math for bluffing, so you can understand how often your opponent needs to fold given your bluff size.  I even go a step further and give you some simple numbers to memorize so you can eye-ball things easier in real-time!  If you are the reading type feel free to read the entire script down below, but either way you’ll know how to solve for the breakeven % and put some math behind your bluffs!

(Turn the video to 720p and sub for more poker videos)

Hello, and welcome to today’s Quick Plays video on breakeven poker math. Poker math can seem very complex, but with some basic knowledge and practice it can become very easy. And better yet, if you use poker math correctly you can find easy ways to improve your winrate and become a tougher opponent. In this video I’ll show you how to figure out the breakeven percentage of certain plays…and of course why it’ll help you at the tables!

First, what exactly is a breakeven percentage? This is the mathematical way of saying “if X play works this amount it’s breakeven, or 0EV. If it works less then it is -EV and if it works more then it’s +EV”. Once we know the breakeven % necessary to run a bluff we can just use our hand reading skills to estimate if the bluff will work often enough to make it profitable.

break even math

The good news, if you are a math nerd like me, is that the formula is incredibly simple:

breakeven % = risk / (risk + reward)

Even if you aren’t a math nerd, that’s a pretty easy formula to remember. In poker we are constantly focusing on risk and reward, even if you’ve never visualized it like this. Every bet you make risks money, and you are making those bets in order to win the reward…or…what’s in the pot. Let’s look at an example to make this more tangible:

In this hand we raise from EP with 6♠ 6♥, the BB calls, and we see a HU flop of K♦ 9♠ 7♥. The BB checks and we bet for $4. Even though we have a pair in this hand, it’s doubtful to be ahead of the BB’s range if he calls or raises. So we can rightfully assume that our bet here is closer to a bluff than a value bet.

If we pull out our fancy breakeven formula, we only need to fill in two numbers. The risk is our bet size of $4, since that is what we are risking in this spot. And the reward is the pot, or $6.5. So $4/$10.5 = 38%.

This means if villain will fold 38% of the time this bet is breakeven. If he folds less than the bet is outright -EV. If he folds more than 38% of the time this bet is outright +EV. I purposefully use the word “outright” since there are plenty of times in poker where a single bet may be outright +EV or -EV, but in the context of an entire play it can swing the other way. For instance, a spot where the the continuation bet is outright -EV because he doesn’t fold enough given the breakeven %, but he’ll fold a ton on Turns and Rivers thus making the overall play +EV.

Not sure how to use EV? Watch this quick Poker EV Video now

You may be wondering how you can estimate if villain will actually fold more than the breakeven %. I personally use the tool flopzilla to work that out, and you can watch out full-length video on the software if you are interested. With enough off table practice with a tool like this you can more correctly visualize how common ranges hit or miss common flop textures.

poker software

Click to watch a full-length video on using Flopzilla

One last thing that I want to say here is that you should memorize some of these breakeven percentages. Whether you are playing 1 cent/2 cent online or $10/$20 live, the breakeven percentage math never changes. If you are betting half pot the breakeven % will always be the same, whether you are betting 15 cents into 30 cents, or $300 into $600. So here are the most common breakeven %s that you should memorize:

    • Half Pot = 33% Breakeven
    • Full Pot = 50% Breakeven
    • 2/3 Pot = 40% Breakeven

Know these percentages like the back of your hand because these are roughly the bet sizes we use when bluffing. If you decide to use a less standard size when bluffing, like 1/4th pot or an overbet, just pull out the formula and do a quick calculation. It should also be noted that your own equity will influence things. If you have a big draw you don’t require as many folds as a pure bluff since you can improve and win sometimes. But this hand has very few outs and thus we’ll treat it closer to pure bluff to simplify things.

In this exact spot villain calls our cbet. The turn is a 4♥ and he bets into us for $12. For giggles, let’s say we are considering a bluff raise up to $32. We can still use the same breakeven % to figure out how often we need villain to fold in order for this bluff raise to be profitable.

easy math

By raising to $32 our risk is $32, and the reward is the pot size before we make our raise…or $26.5. So $32/($32+$26.5) = 55%. Again, if we can expect him to fold more than 55% of the time we should bluff…if not…we should likely fold unless we really think our measly pair of sixes are ahead enough of the time.

If the only thing you take from this video is the breakeven % formula, you’ve won. If you also take the breakeven %s to memorize, then you’ve crushed. Understanding the breakeven % will help you put mathematical backing to all of your bluffs. Of course, figuring out if villain will actually fold enough is another skill set all together…but strengthening the math part of your game is never a bad thing!

Same as always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to let me know…otherwise good luck and happy grinding!

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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