equity distribution in poker

What Is Equity Distribution & Why Does It Matter?

There’s no doubt about it: Poker has gotten tougher over the years.

There are many concepts that shape modern strategy that were unheard of during the height of the poker boom. One of those concepts is equity distribution.

If you want to play (close to) optimal poker in certain scenarios, understanding equity distribution is crucial.

But if you read on and find this concept too complicated, don’t worry. This is “high-hanging fruit” on the tree of poker concepts, and disregarding it will not prevent you from making money in your games.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is Equity Distribution?
    • Linear Distribution of Equity
    • Polarized Distribution of Equity
  • Why Does Equity Distribution Matter?

Without any further ado, let’s begin!

This article is marked as advanced. If you’d prefer easier reading, check out our introductory articles here or intermediate articles here.

What is Equity Distribution?

In poker, equity distribution refers to the way that equity is distributed across different parts of a range of hands.

We’re about to look at some equity distribution graphs. Keep in mind that for each of them:

  • On the X-axis (horizontal), you have the percentage of the range presented.
  • On the Y-axis (vertical), you have the amount of equity that part of the range has vs the opposing range.

Let’s take a look at example graphs that represent the two ends of the equity distribution spectrum: linear and polarized.

Linear Distribution of Equity

A linear distribution of equity means that our equity is spread fairly evenly across our entire range.

This is extremely often the case on the flop, where we have value hands, marginal hands, semi-bluffs, and air in our range. It looks like this:

linear equity distribution

A few observations about this graph:

  • The bottom 20% of the range has between 25% and 40% equity in the pot.
  • The exact middle of the range has just about 50% equity.
  • The top of the range has 80-90% equity.

This is much more evenly distributed than you’ll see in the next section.

Polarized Distribution of Equity

The other type of equity distribution is a polarized distribution of equity.

When equity distribution is polarized, there is no smooth transition between the bottom 33% of the range and the top 33% of the range. This is the opposite of what we just saw in the linear distribution.

This is best exemplified when looking at a river betting range, because such ranges are split between 0% equity bluffs (most of the time) and high equity (value) hands. It looks like this:

Notice that the bottom 35% of the betting range has 0% equity, while the top 65% of the betting range has between 70% and 100% equity. That’s polarization!

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Why Does Equity Distribution Matter?

This is where the particularly advanced part of the concept comes into play.

(But don’t worry, just because something is advanced doesn’t mean it’s beyond your understanding. It just means that you need to understand other, more basic concepts first, in order to understand this one as well.)

On their own, the graphs above don’t tell us much about how we should play. But when we compare our range’s equity distribution to that of our opponent’s range, we start to get some useful information that we can use to shape our strategy.

Let’s look at some example graphs for a common scenario: single raised pots as the preflop raiser in position (button vs big blind).

We shall compare two flops:

  1. The fairly dry Q♠ 8 3.
  2. The coordinated 8♠ 7 6.
equity-distribution-comparison v2

The button’s range is represented by the red line and the big blind’s range is represented by the green line.

The two main things that we can take from these graphs are:

1. On Q♠ 8 3, the player who is in position has a large equity advantage compared to a small equity advantage on 8♠ 7 6.

This large equity advantage is shown by the equity disparity between corresponding parts of the range distribution. Compare this to 8♠ 7 6, which has much closer to symmetrical equity distribution.

2. On Q♠ 8 3, the player who is in position has a large equity advantage in the top 20% of the hand distribution (check out the equities between 80-100 on the X-axis).

However, on 8♠ 7 6, we can see equity parity in that area.

How Should These Observations Impact Your Strategy?

The way your equity distribution matches up against your opponent’s should impact how frequently you bet and the size of you choose to bet. Specifically:

  • When there is a large, consistent gap between the two ranges, the player with the stronger range should bet more frequently (see concept: range advantage).

When it comes to the flop, the bigger the gap between the equity distributions of the two ranges, the more aggressive the in position player can to play. His opponent simply does not have the hands in his range to combat the increased aggressiveness.

This is what we can see happening on Q♠ 8 3, on which we see a large gap between the equity distributions. As a result, the in position player should be c-betting significantly more frequently on Q♠ 8 3 than on 8♠ 7 6.

  • When there is a gap in the top 20% of the ranges, the player with more strong hands should bet larger (see concept: nut advantage).

The key takeaway here is that the bigger the advantage that you have at the top of the ranges, the bigger the bet size you should use. This is true for all parts of the game tree (flop, turn, and river).

Returning to our example comparison, the strategic implication is that the in position player can to increase the c-bet size on Q♠ 8 3 compared to 8♠ 7 6.

Wrapping Up

Although this is not the complete story on equity distribution and how it impacts the development of optimal strategies, the information here provides a wide and solid base for understanding more unusual scenarios.

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed developing it! If you have any questions or feedback please feel free to leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best to reply.

Want to learn more about how certain types of advantages should impact your strategy? Read How to Use Positional, Range and Nut Advantages to Maximize Profit.

That’s all for this article! Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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