By Tony Guerrera
When playing poker, we always want to maximize our hourly expectation value (EV), the amount of money we expect to make per hour. The obvious way to optimize your hourly EV at a casino is to make the best possible decisions in every hand. However, if you have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, you can add a second income stream to your casino visits: proposition bets. Proposition bets, also known as “prop bets,” are bets made on the side between players.
A common proposition bet that players engage in is betting on the color of the flop. For example, if the flop contains all red cards, player A gives player B $5, and if the flop contains all black cards, then player B gives player A $5. The probability of a flop of red cards is equal to the probability of a flop of black cards, meaning that in the long run, this is a “fair” bet in that neither player has an advantage. Even though neither player has an advantage in this bet, this bet might actually make you money in the long run because of something called table image. If people see that you are willing to gamble money on proposition bets, you might project a carefree, reckless image to some players. If you are at a somewhat action-filled table in which playing tightly is optimal, then engaging in some sort of proposition bet like this may make you look like “one of the guys (or girls),” making it more likely that you’ll get paid off when you finally enter a hand.
However, if you really want to go for the kill, then you not only want to get table image equity, but you also want to get involved in a proposition bet that is +EV in itself. Let’s change the flop color bet from above such that player A gives player B money when the flop contains three cards of the same color and player B gives player A money when the flop doesn’t contain three cards of the same color.
The probability of the flop being three cards of the same color is . There are 26 red cards in the deck and 52 cards total in the deck, so . P(All Black) is also . Therefore, . The odds against a flop having three cards of the same color are 3.25:1.
If player A can convince player B to take a payout ratio that is less then $3.25:$1, then player A will make money in the long run. If player B can convince player A to take a payout ratio that is greater than $3.25:$1, then player B will make money in the long run. For example, if player A gives player B $3 every time a flop contains three cards of the same color and player B gives player A $1 every time a flop doesn’t contain 3 cards, then player A’s EV is the following:
$0.06 per hand isn’t very much, but instead of $3:$1, suppose that you are player A, and you can find someone willing to do $30:$10. Now, you will make $0.60 per hand. Assuming you are playing 25 hands per hour, this equates to an additional $15/hr in EV plus the image equity you get by taking part in such action.
Running the numbers isn’t enough to be a good proposition bettor. There’s no use in having +EV propositions for yourself if you can’t get anyone to take the bait. The second part of making a profit from proposition bets has to do with getting fish to bite. There are actually two different aspects to making this happen.
First, people are usually more likely to make even money bets. Therefore, you might phrase your proposition as “I bet you $10 that the next flop will be cards of the same color.” To get action on even money bets, you might need situations that happen closer to 50/50. For example, the probability that a flop won’t contain a face card is . For this situation, you can say, “I bet you $10 that the next flop won’t contain a face card.”
Second, your offer needs to sound spontaneous. People won’t take a bet from someone who obviously ran the numbers at home before going to the casino. The proposition bet needs to be made in the flow of conversation. A great way to get a fish on the hook is to first engage him in a clearly fair proposition, like red vs. black. After betting on your fair proposition for a while, suggest betting on something else instead. If you happened to have profited from the even money proposition, you could even consider offering to buy your fish a drink if you think you can offset the cost of the drink from the edge you’ll have in your biased proposition bet.
Proposition bets are feeding grounds for the opportunistic. Perhaps there’s some wheel that’s spun every hour at the casino you play at, but the person you are betting against doesn’t know all the outcomes of the wheel. Perhaps you know the dealer rotation so you know the sex of every dealer that will be at the table for the next few hours. Ultimately, profit is made from proposition bets because there is unequal information, and you want to be the person with the unfair edge.
If someone offers you a proposition bet, make sure you carefully consider it before taking it. If it’s something involving the cards, make sure you know the odds before making the bet. If it’s something crazy, like a kid with an air cast betting that he can jump up and touch the ceiling, it’s most likely the case that the kid who supposedly has a third degree ankle sprain will get air that will make the winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Competition jealous. In general, you want to be the person making the propositions instead of the person accepting the propositions, especially since you want to seem spontaneous and because it’s tough to look spontaneous while running calculations in your head. However, if someone does offer you a proposition involving the cards that’s clearly in your favor, you should take it.
In short, you should be willing to think outside the box when it comes to making money at the poker table, and proposition betting is a great way to do it. First, it will create image equity, especially if you want to play tightly. Second, if you can get someone to take the -EV end of a bet, you will have added a second income stream to your pockets.
Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker by the Numbers
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