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Short-Term vs. Long-Term EV in Turbos

October 31, 2019
by Pete Clarke

This article will be a little more theoretical than usual. We shall focus on the distinction between two types of EV and how to choose which one is more important. In Turbo tournaments, we shall learn that short-term EV is by far the most important thing to maximize, but first let’s meet these concepts in more detail.


EV stands for expected value. It is the measure of your overall monetary expectation from taking a certain action calculated by considering all possible outcomes and their frequencies. EV may be worked out exactly in simple cases or, more commonly, just estimated to be good or bad, or perhaps higher or lower than the EV of taking some other action. For example, we call a pot-sized river-bet with second pair in a heads-up pot and believe that we will win around half of the time. Our EV is as follows:

  • When we win our outcome is +2 units (we win the pot and our opponent’s pot-sized bet. We multiply this +2 units by the frequency of occurrence which is 50% to arrive at +1 unit.
  • When we lose, our outcome is -1 unit (we lose our call). Again, we multiply this by its predicted frequency, which is again 50%, to arrive at -0.5 units.

Our total EV then is 1 unit + (-0.5 units) = +0.5 units from making this call and so we should get those chips in the middle as fast as possible.

Poker Chips in hands

Short-Term EV

The above calculation is about Short-Term EV because it focuses only on the monetary outcome of this one hand without making any predictions about how our call will affect future hands against this opponent or other opponents who have witnessed the hand. We are concerned only with the present decision and do not try to estimate what the strategic impact will be of playing this way in the long-term.

Long-Term EV

Long-Term EV is estimated by factoring in how our decisions and the information we give away about our strategy by making them impact our future opportunities to make money. To make sense of why and how this might be relevant consider a very common situation such as 3-Betting an opponent pre-flop. Moreover, let us imagine that we are playing in a slow-paced deep stacked tournament. We might think that the opponent in question folds too often to 3-Bets. We might look down at 94o after this opponent opens the small blind and we are in the big blind. It is entirely possible that we can 3-Bet this hand profitably in terms of Short-Term EV. If Villain folds enough to our 3-Bet, we can make a profitable re-raise regardless of how bad our hand is.

The problem lies in the fact that if we continuously 3-Bet 94o and similar terrible hands against this same player and at this same table, it will not be long before we lose fold equity due to our opponents correctly realising that they should not fold to our 3-Bets. In other words, by 3-betting such a bad hand for a very small short-term gain, and by doing so on a regular basis, we have caused Villain to play a better long-term strategy. In a few orbits time, we may wake up in exactly the same spot with 86s, a far better hand, and decide that we cannot profitably re-steal due to our image being damaged by our reckless recent aggression. 3-betting 94o actually forced us to fold 86s later on. We could say that despite being profitable in the short-term, the 3-Bet with 94o was actually Negative Long-Term EV. Note that this was only so because we were playing at the same table for a long time with the same opponents and were taking an unbalanced and overly aggressive action in a spot that will arise very frequently, presenting plenty of opportunity for the gathering and utilization of information by the rest of the table. Now that we understand this distinction better, let’s see how it relates to turbos.

Turbo Tournaments and Types of EV

In turbos, tables break all of the time, players are moved around to compensate for regular bust-outs, and there are fewer hands played at each blind level. This means that even if we are liable to be punished in the long-term for an action that is profitable in the short-term, there may not be enough time for our opponents to gather their reads and then make good adjustments to our unbalanced play. The conclusion is that, in turbo tournaments, we should usually favour Short-Term EV and be prepared to make unbalanced plays that we expect to make money right here, right now because the spot in question will not arise often enough for there to be sufficient repercussions to deter us from making an exploitative play.

Let’s take a concrete example now. In the mid-stages as the antes and blinds are beginning to ramp up, we find ourselves on the BU with 23BB, holding A4o. An 18BB stack opens to 2.5BB in the CO. Villain has been quite ABC so far and has yet to show much of a bluffing frequency nor any calling-station tendencies. He has folded to 3/3 3-Bets this far. If we were to 3-Bet this type of holding over 1,000,000 hands, we would expect to lose a lot of the fold equity we currently have because our 3-Bet frequency would be obviously too high. This might force us to later fold ATo in the same spot and we would call the first 3-Bet with A4o a long-term mistake.

In this turbo environment, however, how many more 3-Bet opportunities are we likely to get against this one player at this same table? Very few, if any. Most likely one of us will soon be eliminated and so we should go ahead and seize that short-term EV while we can. It’s a bit like doing something reckless and immediately profitable such as raiding a shop with the knowledge that the world is about to end any way. While the ethics of such a real-life decision are perhaps still questionable, in turbo poker, Short-Term EV is the only thing that matters, and we must take that greedy short-term action. There is no such thing as an immoral 3-Bet.

There are many situations like this in turbos where we must simply seize the day. Stealing blinds; 4-Betting light; making a tight exploitable fold to avoid variance and protect our big stack from the threat of an even bigger one. The key is to do what is most profitable now and not worry so much about balance. Of course, we are not condoning the aimless and unjustified 3-Betting of hands like 94o in general. We are merely suggesting that if there is evidence that such a play might net us a positive expectation in the short-term then we should throw caution to the wind and do it.The Flipside
The lesson here can be inverted and applied in longer tournaments too. In a long drawn out live event where the same table will play together for a whole day we should concentrate on our own image and long-term strategy instead of being a slave to Short-Term EV as we should be in turbos.

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