Once you have learned the rules of poker it is perfectly possible to enjoy playing it, and even win money, without knowing much about the strategy involved. However, if you want to be truly successful playing poker, there are a several fundamental concepts that you really need to understand. Many of these can seem quite confusing to beginner players but, for the most part, once you get your head around them they are actually relatively simple.
One such concept is poker odds, commonly referred to as pot odds. With a decent knowledge of the odds you will find it becomes a lot easier to make decisions about when to call and when to fold. It is really just a matter of understanding the calculations involved and learning how to use them in your decision making process.
This introductory guide to poker odds teaches you the basics of what you need to know. We explain what exactly pot odds are, how you can calculate them, and how you can apply them during a game. We do only offer one page about learning and using odds to your advantage in poker, but if you’d like even more information on the subject, make sure to visit the Odds Shark guide for additional articles.
What are Poker Odds?
In simplistic terms odds in poker are used to determine your approximate chances of winning any given hand. If you know roughly what your odds of winning are, you can make a relatively informed judgement about whether it is mathematically correct to stay in a hand or to fold. In theory, if you make the correct mathematical decision every time then you should be profitable in the long run.
Calculating the odds is pretty straightforward in most situations. Although it is not an exact science, as you have to make certain assumptions, you really should take the odds into account when appropriate. It is not the only factor you need to consider in your decision making process, but it is certainly an important one.
Outs in Poker
The main principle in poker odds is that you make an assessment of what cards you need to improve your hand sufficiently to beat your opponents. For example, let’s say that after the flop has come down you have an outside straight draw in some combination of your hole cards and the community cards. If you don’t know what an outside straight draw is, this is when you have four cards in sequence – such as 3, 4, 5, 6 for instance.
If you have such an outside straight draw, and you believe that a straight will be good enough to beat your opponents hand, then clearly you would hope that either a 2 or 7 comes down on the turn or the river. Either of these cards will complete your draw to give you the straight. Assuming your original belief that a straight is good enough to beat your opponents hand is correct, then you will go on to win the hand.
Cards that will improve your hand sufficiently to give you what you believe to be the winning hand are known as outs. Therefore, in the above example all the twos and sevens in the deck are considered to be outs. The first stage of working out the pot odds in a hand is to calculate how many outs you have. In this case, there are 8 cards that are your outs (4 twos and 4 sevens).
Calculating the Odds
Once you know how many outs you have, you need to work out what the chances are of one of those outs being dealt next. You can do this by dividing the number of cards left in the deck that won’t help you by the number of cards in the deck that will. So, after the flop, you will have seen 5 cards in total – your two hole cards and the three cards dealt on the flop. This leaves a total of 47 unseen cards as there are 52 in the deck and you have seen 5 of them.
Although obviously other cards will have been dealt to your opponents, as you haven’t seen them you include them in your calculations. If there are 47 unseen cards and you know that 8 of them help you, then it obviously follows that 39 of them don’t help. So you divide the 39 cards that don’t help by the 8 that do, which gives you 4.8. This means that the chances of one of your outs being dealt next is roughly 1 in 5.
Using Pot Odds
Putting pot odds into practice is then a case of comparing the chances of one of your outs being dealt with the amount of the money in the pot and how much you need to pay to call and see the next card. You can then work out whether you are getting good value for money or not. If you are getting good value then you should call, if you are not then you should fold.
So, let’s say that you have worked out that the chances of an out being dealt are roughly one in five. There is currently $20 in the pot, and your opponent has bet $10. There is a total of $30 potentially to be won if you call that $10 bet, meaning you are getting 3:1 odds on your bet. With only a one in five chance of winning, this is mathematically not a good call. On average, every five times you call you will $30 once, but lose $10 four times. So you will lose money in the long run.
Now let’s imagine that you still have a one in five chance of winning the pot, but this time the pot stands at $50 and your opponent has bet $10. You still have to pay $10 to call that bet, but this time you have a chance of winning $60, getting 6:1 odds on your bet. On average, every five times you call will $60 once, but lose $10 four times. You will therefore theoretically win money in the long run.
This is a pretty basic overview of how poker odds work, but should give you an understanding of how to use them.