A Basic Understanding of Pot Odds


Learning how to calculate pot odds and count your outs is imperative in becoming a winning poker player. Sure, math probably wasn’t your favorite subject in grade school, but don’t worry. You don’t need a statistics degree to figure out the percentages involved in a poker game.

This poker strategy article will help give you an understanding of the basic probability and its place in Texas Hold ’em. The following concepts don’t always need to be perfected, but using them as a guideline will certainly help to improve your poker game.

How to Count Your Outs

In Texas Hold ’em, we can make educated guesses that allow us to calculate our odds of drawing a card to make the winning hand, and therefore our pot odds. To do this, we need to count the number of cards that can come to help us. These cards are called outs.

Counting your outs can take time if you’re just learning how to play poker, but the more time you spend practicing calculating pot odds, the easier it will become. Here’s an example: We have the Jack-Ten of hearts and the flop comes A-7-2 with two hearts. One poker player bets and the action is on us. What do we do?

First, we need to figure out where we stand in the hand by counting our outs. Our opponent is a tight player, so we’ll assume that he’s betting with an Ace in his hand. Therefore we’re likely drawing to make a flush only. There are 13 hearts in the deck; we hold two and there are two on the flop. That leaves us nine outs to make a flush.

Now, we know our two cards, and the three cards on the board, so there are 47 unknown cards left in the deck. Of these 47 cards, nine are good cards for us, and the other 38 won’t help us. This gives us a ratio of 9:47 to make our hand, giving us about a 19% chance to make a flush.

This simple math can be applied any time you have a drawing hand. Here’s a look at some other drawing percentages, calculated with one card to come and two cards to come:

Draw Type Outs One Card % Two Card %
Pocket Pair to Make a Set 2 2% 4%
One Overcard 3 7% 13%
Inside Straight Draw 4 9% 17%
Two Overcards 6 13% 24%
Open-ended Straight Draw 8 17% 32%
Flush Draw 9 19% 35%
Flush , Inside Straight Draws 12 26% 45%
Flush, Open-ended Straight Draws 15 33% 54%

Be careful not to count an out that might give your opponent a better poker hand. For example, if we have a flush draw but the board is paired, making our flush might give an opponent a full house. Keep this in mind when counting your cards as it could significantly effect your pot odds.

Pot Odds

Now that you know how many outs you have to win the pot, it’s time to calculate whether or not we should stay in the hand. This is where pot odds come into play. Pot odds are the ratio of the amount of money in the pot to how much money it costs to call.

Let’s use the same example as above. On a flop if A-7-2 with two hearts, we have Jack-Ten of hearts, giving us a flush draw. Our opponent bets $5, increasing the total pot to $25. The pot is now laying us 25:5 or 5:1 odds to make the call. Since we already know that we have a 19% chance to make our flush, we’re about 4:1 to make our hand.

At this point we need to figure out the expected value of our poker hand. The expected value is determined by comparing the pot odds to the odds of drawing a card that wins the pot. When the odds to call are better than the odds in the pot, the call has a positive expectation over time. In this example, our odds to call (4:1 or 19%) are higher than those in the pot (5:1 or 16.7%), making a call profitable.

Going further, let’s say the turn brings the King of diamonds. We now have an inside straight draw with our flush draw, giving us three more outs (the Queen of hearts was already one of our outs). Our opponent bets $10, making the pot $40. Since we now have 12 outs to make our hand, and 46 cards left in the deck, we’re a little less than 4:1 to make our hand. But since we’re getting 40:10 or 4:1 odds to make the call, we should call again and hope our draw hits on the river.

Whenever you’re getting the correct price to make a call in a poker game, like in our example, it will make for profits in the long run. Just make sure you’re always aware of your outs and the pot odds you’re receiving.

Implied Odds

As we’ve discussed so far, pot odds are calculated by looking at the amount of money in the pot. The next step is estimating how much money will be in the pot in the near future. This is where implied odds fit into poker.

Take a look at an example. Let’s say there is $50 in the pot and you’ve flopped the nut straight draw. One poker player bets $25, another poker player calls, and the action is on you. You’re getting 4:1 odds to hit one of your eight outs on the turn, but with two players in the hand, you stand to make more money on the turn and river if you make your straight. While these implied odds can almost never be calculated accurately, you can usually gauge an approximate amount based on the skill and style of your opponents. If you’re playing against weak poker players who tend to make poor calls, the implied odds increase. But good poker players can usually sniff out a big hand and won’t pay you off nearly as much.

Always keep implied odds in mind when you have a draw, or even when you think an opponent is drawing against you. Implied odds can compensate for the slightly inferior pot odds being offered, so calculate the simple math and bet or call accordingly.

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