Could Learning the Kelly Criterion Improve Your Poker Game?

According to the 2.6 percent of the adult population who consider poker to be something more than a hobby is constantly looking for ways to improve and get to a higher level. In the cutthroat world of poker in which more and more people are competing every year, this is imperative. The playing figures at the World Series of Poker say it all. In 1970, there were only seven entrants to the Main Event where it was decided that Johnny Moss was the best in the world, but in 2017, when Scott Blumstein emerged victorious, there were 7,221 players. This massive increase not only shows the growing popularity of the game but also highlights the fact that getting to the latter stages of major tournaments like this is getting ever more difficult.

To get to the top, players need to incorporate new techniques and strategies, and use systems that others may not know about. One option could be to use a betting system such as the Kelly Criterion. But what is it, and how can it be applied to poker?

The Kelly Criterion

Once you know how to play poker, the next step is to master ways to improve. Knowing how much to bet and when is an important aspect of the game, and the amount that a player stakes can tell others a lot about their hand. Of course, in tournament scenarios and cash games the types of bets can differ greatly. In tournaments you have a set buy-in – in the WSOP it is $10,000, for instance – and then you are given a certain number of chips to play with in the competition. But when playing in a cash game and betting with your own money, you may be a bit more cautious about how much you put into the middle.

Sticking to a system such as the Kelly Criterion can help with this. The Kelly Criterion was developed by J.L Kelly in 1956, and is also sometimes known as the Kelly Bet, the Kelly Strategy, or the Kelly Formula. It is a system of probability which is used to decide the optimal size of a series of bets in order to get the best possible returns. It can frequently be applied to gambling and investing scenarios. To apply the Kelly Criterion in real-world circumstances, players need to learn a simple math equation, which is:

(bp – q) / b = f

The letter b refers to the multiple of the odds on the bet, or the decimal odds minus one. The letter p refers to the chances of the bet winning, and the letter q refers to the chances of the bet losing. The letter f is the answer to the equation, and tells you the fraction of your betting bank that you should use in the bet.

Kelly Criterion – Examples of Usage

The Kelly Criterion has most commonly been used for betting in general, as it’s easy to complete the equation with the readily accessible information. Using the odds provided by sports bookmakers, players can work out the formula and decide how much they want to bet on a certain outcome. If the probability of a bet being successful is higher than the implied probability of the odds for the bet, it is considered a value bet. Some of the more experienced roulette bettors may already know how to put this system to good use on the spinning wheel. When it comes to choosing the numbers, according to Betway Casino there’re numerous roulette strategies in existence already. For instance, some players may incorporate block betting combined with a Martingale strategy. However, the Kelly Criterion can still be useful to the block betting player, to show what percentage of a player’s bankroll they should be staking on each section. Obviously, a higher portion would go on a line bet than a single number, but what is the optimum amount? The system can be used to see how much you should stake on the lottery as well. In the Irish National lottery, the odds of winning a prize are 30.00. So the formula would be:

(29 x 0.034) – 0.066 / 29 = 0.032

This shows that you should only be staking a minuscule amount of your bankroll on the lottery; something which most lottery players would agree on. Other areas where the Kelly Criterion has been used have been in blackjack, and the stock market, where investors constantly have to calculate risk.

How Can you Apply it to Poker?

If you want to use the Kelly Criterion for poker, it would be wise to use it online so that you can quickly click between screens as you work out the formula and discover how much you need to bet. Once you’ve signed up to an online poker site, you want to head straight to the cash games where you will stake with your own real money. This way, you can keep track of exactly how much you are betting each time. Watching poker pros like Daniel Negreanu, winner of six World Series bracelets, play on shows like GSN’s High Stakes Poker is a good way to get a feel for how cash games are played. You will want to combine some of the experts’ tactics with the Kelly Criterion in an effort to maximize your returns. The Kelly Criterion can be used to assess how much stake you should bring to a cash game, and how much you should reload when you are running low.

Of course, if you really want to get to a stage where you are rubbing shoulders with the very best in the world, getting used to systems like this is just the start. You need to hone in on others’ psychological cues, as well as learning how to bluff successfully yourself.

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