Whoever said that maths doesn't have everyday applications?

One of the most compelling and entertaining examples is the connection between this reputedly difficult discipline of maths and poker. Now this will help you learn to love maths.

Did you know that maths plays an important role during poker tournaments?

Is it possible to win at poker without integrating maths into your game?

While a good level of maths may not be enough to win in a poker tournament and it may not get you all the way to final in the world series of poker, a good knowledge of probability can certainly give you an edge over those who don't use it.

Use maths and win real money..... intriguing, isn't it?

The Maths Behind Poker

Poker is not a game of chance and there is more to it than the variant known as "Texas Hold'Em" - one of the best-known and most played styles in the world. Instead, it involves making combinations, and bears much in common with bridge.

It is not luck that prevails in poker, but rather the richness of combinations employed as well as a perfect mastery of one's emotions, a few tactics and a dash of well-placed opportunism.

So could poker be considered a maths puzzle?

Can maths really help you learn how to play poker?

Should we learn Maths to Play Poker?

It doesn't have to be a complete gamble. There are many different applications of maths and maths lessons to be found in poker.

Basically, in the first instance, it is a question of calculating the probability of the pot and considering questions like "do I have a chance to win this hand?"

Poker: A mental maths test?
There are as many sides to both poker and maths (Source: Flickr.com - Jim Sher)

You can not escape the aspect of probability, as a good knowledge of numbers provides an essential basis for playing poker well.

So, theoretically, fear of maths is illogical at the poker table.

There will always be players, especially older ones, who will try to convince you that poker is, above all, a game of wills and that intuition counts for everything.

While there's no need to have the genius of Einstein to play poker, this is not a piece of advice to be followed blindly: How can you let your gut feeling determine your chances of winning a big pot? It's impossible; in this respect, at least, poker is purely mathematical.

This may seem a little abstract to non-poker players, but the key lesson is this: In poker, the most important thing to know is the frequency with which a certain draw will appear based on the hand you are holding.

Start off by practicing your poker online and see how you do. You might also consider an online math tutor to help.

Psychology and Maths in Poker

If poker were simply a game of chance, it would not attract so many followers all over the world.

The dynamics of this game are primarily driven by strategy, which depends on two essential factors: Maths and psychology.

It is certainly possible that mathematicians have a slight advantage over other players. Among the great "poker mathematicians", are players like Andy Block, Paul Magriel and Chris Ferguson.

But it is surely the mathematical genius John Forbes Nash (played by Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind"), a specialist in game theory, who solidified the link between poker and maths.

Nash was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on the Mathematics of Game Theory. You can see a more accurate representation of his troubled life by watching the TV documentary 'A Brilliant Madness', released in 2002.

Game theory is the branch of applied mathematics that Nash specialised in and which provides tools for analysing situations in which players make decisions that are interdependent. It is thought that this interdependence causes a knock on effect and each player will then consider the opponent's possible decisions, or their strategies, in formulating his or her own next steps.

Dominate the game by bluffing
There are maths games, then there’s poker (Source: Pixabay.com - quinonesnaomy)

From Counting Games.... to Poker

The mathematical principles generally applied to poker are fairly basic and accessible to most people.

Among the most important are:

  • The context on which the poker odds rest, i.e. the cards: There are 52 cards in a pack, and 13 in a suit.
  • There are the odds and the probabilities: These are concepts that it is imperative to know your way around. There is a simple rule of thumb that can give you an idea of your draw's chances: Multiply the number of "outs" on the flop, using the "turn" and the "river". (In Texas Hold'Em and Omaha poker, a flop is the first 3 cards of the board, this draw coming after the first round.)
    An out is one of the cards, potentially in the deck, that can improve your hand (the 2 closed cards). By knowing your outs, you can calculate your chances of getting one of the cards still in play that will give you a strong hand and a winning combination.
  • Calculating life expectancy (or predicted gain): This is the profitability of a play, which a bet can bring you. It may be negative or positive. By calculating this chance, you can anticipate potential changes in the situation, and in so doing determine your actions and style of play.

As an example: If you toss a coin, you may bet £1 on heads and the same amount on tails. The odds are then 1: 1.

The mathematically predicted gain is therefore zero, because it is very unlikely that you will either be ahead or behind, whether after 2 or 200 coin tosses.

How can you calculate life expectancy?

You subtract the amount you bet in the pot from the probability of winning the pot.

If the result is positive, then you will have a greater chance of winning in the long run. If the result is negative, you can still win at the table, however the more you play the lower your chances of winning, in the long run, will be.

Maths is not Everything in Poker

But beware, maths lessons won't do everything for you in poker: One mustn't forget that it is a game you never have all the information necessary to be certain of your chances of winning the bet.

Maths can be counterproductive if it takes precedence over experience and intuition. All it takes is one little mistake at the start of a game, and maths won't be of any help during the rest of the poker game or the tournament.

If there's one thing to remember about maths and poker, it would be that it doesn't help with all parts of the game: It can help you estimate the profitability of risk in your poker games, over the long term, and nothing more.

Become the king of the table!
Even basic maths concepts can boost your game (Source: Commons.wikimedia.org - Johnny Blood)

Maths Skills That Are Useful in Poker

Percentages and probabilities

A good poker player knows percentages and probabilities, he knows that he has one chance in eight of having three of a kind if he holds a pair, and that he has one chance in three of a flush on the flop.

The importance of "outs"

A poker player knows the importance of "outs": The number of cards that will improve your hand strength.

How's it done? Count your outs, multiply by two, add two and you get the chance of landing a great poker hand.

Pot odds

A mathematically strong poker player knows how to calculate the pot odds.

This is an essential factor in making your decisions in poker.

Pot odds refers to the relationship between the size of the pot and the size of the stake. For example, if there are £10 in the pot and you placed £2, the odds are 5 to 1.

If you saw a bet of £5 in the pot at £10, then the pot is at 2 to 1.

Even if it sounds a little complex at first, calculating the pot odds is essential for playing in the medium to long term.

Whatever happens, you should always be aware of the size of the pot.

Maths Essential in Poker

Using maths in poker is not a must, like the ability to trick others into thinking you are bluffing, but it becomes a necessity if you want to progress and succeed in the game.

This is especially true if you play online poker (against a computer). And yes, maths and computer science are also related.

It is not always easy to master, because you need to know in real time your chances of winning or losing depending not only on your cards, but on those in the deck as well.

An average poker player usually doesn't calculate anything, and avoids headaches by going "all-in", i.e. placing all remaining chips on the table as soon as he gets a pair or has a big hand.

There are, however, some numerical benchmarks to be kept in mind: For example, if you have a pair, your chances of having three of a kind are 1/12. You should know how much you'll win if you get such a hand - This amount should be greater than the sum of the other 11 bets.

Most of these mental calculations are nevertheless quite simple to master. While not necessary if you are playing inexperienced opponents, but if you want to become a top poker player, maths and knowledge of these rules is a must.

In the same way that you can't write words and phrases without knowing the letters that make them up, it is impossible to play poker well without understanding principles like pot odds, for example.

Learn to master certain mathematical concepts, learn how to handle the "bankroll" (the total amount that a player has available to wager) and how to keep your cards balanced.

And above all, you will have to progress in mental calculations!

Luckily, most mathematical concepts related to poker can be easily learnt by memorising tables.

Having a well-trained reflex for mathematical calculations will always help you stay ahead, and will help you get out of all kinds of tricky situations. If you need to find a math tutor, why not use Superprof to search for 'maths tutors near me'.

Constantly analyse your game and determine which decisions can improve or reduce your chances of success at solving maths problems.

To learn more, why not explore the world as explained through maths!

Shedding Light On Poker In The Community

While poker is, and has been for many years, still a popular game for people to play in rooms using cards (as opposed to sitting at their computer!), it is also a really popular activity to watch.

Some of the most renowned poker players boast numerous fans who just can't help getting excited to watch their idol perform under pressure. For those who are keen on learning the tricks as well as those who have no idea how on earth the players do it, watching a poker game can be thrilling.

Top pokerstars

According to the website Gambling Sites, the following are the top 15 poker players of our time.

  • Johnny Moss
  • Amarillo Slim
  • Chip Reese
  • Doyle Brunson
  • Chris Moneymaker
  • Phil Hellmuth
  • Vanessa Rousso
  • Dan Harrington
  • Phil Ivey
  • Annette Obrestad
  • Viktor Blom
  • Daniel Negreanu
  • Liv Boeree
  • Stu Ungar
  • Tom Dwan

What's interesting about this list is the mixture of male and female poker players, which shows that poker isn't just a man's world anymore.

However, the fact that there is still some level of inequality on the felt course (felt mostly by women players), also shows that poker is not just down to how good you are at calculating your next steps. It is down to much, much more.

For example, your personality, the way you hold yourself and other personal traits come into play at the table. This is why some poker players have gone on to become celebrities whilst others haven't - and it's not necessarily because they are the absolute best at what they do.

Celebrity poker players

Some poker players have gone on to become famous names because of their presence on the poker scene, whether we're talking about their character or the amount they've won. Yet, some who are famed for different careers famously like to dabble with a game or two of poker too.

See just some celebrities who love to get involved in gambling and why they love it so much.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, best known for writing and appearing in the film 'Good Will Hunting', about a Maths genius, is well-known on the poker scene according to Casino Las Vegas Blog.

The actor stands firm on his statement that he is not addicted to gambling and simply enjoys playing, gaining a reputation over the years for being a 'pleasant opponent'. He has reportedly taken lessons from professional players and regularly takes part in face-to-face high stake games.

Shannon Elizabeth

Famous for her role in the 'American Pie' films,  Elizabeth also has a solid reputation as an excellent poker player.
The actress once described poker as her 'second career', and at that time she would visit Las Vegas casinos two or three times a month to take part in games. This goes to show just how much weight is placed on the game in terms of the practical elements of playing and developing skills the and financial benefits (or losses, as the case may be).
Aaron Paul
Aaron Paul, everyone's favourite bad*** from the series 'Breaking Bad', is yet another celebrity who is known for spending lots of time in poker rooms. He has demonstrated his love for the game by taking part in poker matches and by being the face of a poker advert alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Teddy Sheringham

Last but not least, Teddy Sheringham is an ex-footballer who has managed to turn an interest in poker into cash, and not just a little bit of it!

He's taken part in many big poker matches over the years and has earned a fair amount from multiple wins. Used to the thrill of winning thanks to his sporting career, this retired footballer clearly isn't ready to walk off the green floor just yet... at least not the felt one!

Sheringham can often be found playing poker on the London poker circuit.

Films about poker and gambling


According to Wikipedia, 1998 film 'Rounders' is:

"a 1998 American drama film about the underground world of high-stakes poker, directed by John Dahl and starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton. The story follows two friends who need to win at high-stakes poker to quickly pay off a large debt. The term "rounder" refers to a person traveling around from city to city seeking high-stakes card games.

Rounders opened to mixed reviews and earned only a modest box office. With the poker boom in the early 2000s, the film later became a cult hit."

While preparing to star in the film, Damon paid 25,000 Dollars to gain experience in playing in poker tournaments.

Casino Royale

Wikipedia describes this 007 movie, released in 2006 as a:

"British spy film, the twenty-first in the Eon Productions James Bond film series, and the third screen adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1953 novel of the same name. Directed by Martin Campbell and written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, it is the first film to star Daniel Craig as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond, and was produced by Eon Productions for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, making it the first Eon-produced Bond film to be co-produced by the latter studio. Following Die Another Day, Eon Productions decided to reboot the series,[4][5] allowing them to show a less experienced and more vulnerable Bond.[6]

Casino Royale takes place at the beginning of Bond's career as Agent 007, as he is earning his licence to kill. The plot sees Bond on an assignment to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game; Bond falls in love with Vesper Lynd, a treasury employee assigned to provide the money he needs for the game. The film begins a story arc that continues in Quantum of Solace (2008)."


This 1994 film starring Mel Gibson:

"is a 1994 American western comedy film directed by Richard Donner and written by William Goldman. Based on the 1950s television series of the same name created by Roy Huggins, the film stars Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a card player and con artist collecting money to enter a high-stakes poker game. He is joined in his adventure by Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), another con artist, and lawman Marshall Zane Cooper (James Garner). The supporting cast features Graham Greene, James Coburn, Alfred Molina and a large number of cameo appearances by Western film actors, country music stars and other actors."

The highlight of the movie is the poker scene where the protagonist plays in a high stake poker tournament and reaches the final table then (unrealistically) takes his time showing his cards one by one eventually winning the game with a royal flush.

There are, of course, many more films that highlight the realistic and the unfeasible goings ons of poker play.

Gamble Aware

For many people, playing poker is fun and rewarding but if it should ever turn into an addiction or problem, then you must seek help before it is too late.

The Gamble Aware website offers some very useful tips to remember when gambling, which are as follows:

1. Don't think of gambling as a way to make money

2. Only gamble with money you can afford to lose

3. Set a money limit in advance

4. Set a time limit in advance

5. Never chase your losses

6. Don't gamble when you're depressed or upset

7. Balance gambling with other activities

8. Don't take your bank card with you

9. Take frequent breaks

10. Don't drink or use drugs when gambling

Furthermore, the website offers more guidance on staying safe when gambling in matches or via an online casino, including a description of games and gambling terms associated with them, materials for youth workers, facts about how the gambling industry is regulated, and confidential help avenues should you feel the need to talk to a professional about your gambling habits.

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