How Tech and Statistics Add an Interesting Element to Online Card Games

Card games have been a popular pastime for the past 500 years. The nature of card games relies on a blend of luck and skill. When cards are dealt from a shuffled deck, the hand you get is a matter of luck. However, the way you play those cards is what makes the difference between winning and losing. 

Getting your strategy right and making the optimum call relies on having a basic grasp on statistical probabilities. The basic theory can be applied to a dozen or more different card games, but for purposes of illustration we will focus on poker, the most popular game in the US and one that is played online by about 120 million people worldwide.

Basic principles and poker odds

Put simply, when you are dealt a poker hand, you need to analyze the likelihood of it being a superior hand to those of your opponents. That means assessing your own cards plus the community cards, known as the flop cards, and then thinking about the odds of the cards you need for a winning hand, known as an “out” to be dealt as the hand progresses. 

So for example, suppose you have been dealt 7H and 5H and there are KH, 10H and 3S in the flop. You’ll immediately be thinking about the fact that one more heart will give you a flush on the turn. 

As well as thinking about your own hand, you need to take the other players’ hands into account. So not only are you considering the odds of achieving the cards you need for your desired out, you also have one eye on the different poker hand rankings, what poker hand could still beat you and how likely it is that another player holds such a hand. 

There are numerous online guides available that provide these raw details, so there’s no need to get into any serious statistical analysis work. The key is not so much in calculating the odds for yourself as being clear about how to use them. 

Working out the break-even point

This is a form of statistical analysis that poker players use when deciding whether or not to bluff. The break-even point is calculated by dividing the amount they must bet by the bet plus the amount in the pot. 

So for example, if the bet is $5.00 and the pot sits at $7.00, break-even is five divided by 12. That tells the player that he needs the opponent to fold 42 percent of the time in order to break even. 

There is no need to carry a pocket calculator or work out the mathematics every time. You can instantly see that if the bet is half the pot, break-even is 33 percent, while if it is the whole pot, break-even is 50 percent. How lucky do you feel?

Using software to track performance

One of the advantages of playing online is that there is a wealth of statistical data available to you if you just know how to use it. For example, you can track how often you raise, place a bet, or fold. 

In the right hands, this software is more than just interesting. By running correlations against whether you won or lost, you can find ways to fine tune your game, or even to try different strategies. It’s a little like A/B testing in the product development world – perhaps you need to bluff more often and are being too conservative – or even more likely, it could be that you are playing too many hands when you should have folded. 

The real beauty of this sort of analysis is that it is there for all players, not just you. Some online poker players use a head up display (HUD) that gives them instant information about each opponent and his or her habits. The ethical implications of using a HUD is a topic that we won’t go into here, but it has caused plenty of debate.

Even without going so far as using that sort of instant information, statistical data about other players can only help your own game. For example, there is a well-cited statistic that the best players fold 75 percent of hands preflop. How do you and your opponents compare with that? 

Written by Austin Crane

Austin is the principle web director for Untamed Science and Stone Age Man. He is also the web-director of the series for the High School biology, Middle Grades Science and Elementary Science content. When Austin isn't making amazing content for the web, he's out on his mountain bike or in a canoe.

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