Probability and odds are huge factors in Texas hold ‘em. They are an integral part of determining how we will act at any given stage in any particular hand. The chances of finishing a flush or a straight, the probability of hitting an over card, the percentage of times we’re going to flop a set to match our pocket pair…these are all typical situations we’re bound to face at the felt.   How we react to them demands an understanding of how to calculate poker odds.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you spent the majority of your maths classes thinking about football, belting Jimmy Lace with a ruler, or ogling Ms. Bradshaw’s rack.  If only I’d known back then that paying attention to those advanced probability classes could have helped me learn how to calculate poker odds, I just might have paid attention. 

Nah!

In any event, the fact remains that understanding pot odds and statistics is a key to winning. In online games especially with very few (if any) visual tells, statistical knowledge can become a critical factor when choosing whether to bet, call, or fold.

Pot odds decisions are one of poker’s most elementary, and yet it is invariably an area where new and even some more advanced players continue to make errors and labor under misunderstandings (present company not always excluded).  We’ve all seen players who ignore pot odds, or calculate them incorrectly, and then complain when they miss their draw.  These sorts of players are bound to wind up paying the table.  We don’t want to be those players. 

We’ve already looked at a super simple way for calculating poker pot odds.  But it benefits us to make a more analytical study of how to calculate poker odds.

In Texas Hold ‘Em, we commonly use ‘outs‘ and ‘pot odds’ the most. To those out there who “ain’t good at countin’ much”, you better get good because if playing poker without understanding odds makes it a lot like a crap shoot.

To recap, ‘outs’ are defined as a card in the deck that helps us make our hand.  At this point it’s only simple division. 

The numerator (top number) will be the number of outs we have. The denominator (bottom number) is the number of cards left in the deck that we haven’t seen (note – when calculating this number, do NOT subtract the cards in other players hands…since we haven’t seen these cards, the laws of probability requires that we include them in the number of cards left in the deck).

The resulting figure of deviding the top number by the bottom will be the percentage chance of making one of those outs. Therefore, the most math we’ll be doing will be dividing small numbers by 50 (pre-flop), 47 (after the flop), or 46 (after the turn)

Pot odds are as easy as computing outs. We compare our outs or our chance of winning to the size of the pot. If our chance of winning is significantly better than the ratio of the pot size to a bet, then we have good pot odds. If it’s lower, then we have bad pot odds.

For example, say we are in a $5/$10 hold em game with Jack-Ten facing one opponent on the turn. We have an outside straight draw with a board of 2-5-9-Q, and only the river card left to make it. Any 8 or any King will finish this straight for us, so we have 8 outs (four 8′s and 4 K’s left in the deck) and 46 unseen cards left. 8/46 is almost the same as a 1 in 6 chance of making it. Our sole opponent bets $10. If we take a $10 bet we stand to win $200. $200/$10 is 20, so we stand to make 20x more if we call. Our chance of hitting our hand, which we calculated as being 1/6, is larger than the bet size to pot ratio of 1/20, so pot odds say that calling in this spot is the right play.

The next step is to use ‘bet odds’ and ‘implied odds’. This is a little tougher, because it involves predicting reactions of other players, which for most of us is an inexact science. With bet odds, we try to factor in how many people are going to call a raise. With implied odds, we’re thinking about reactions for the rest of the hand. One last example on implied odds…

Say it’s another $5/$10 hold em game and we have a four flush on the flop. Our neighbor bets, and everyone else folds. The pot is $50 at this point. First we figure out our chance of hitting our flush on the turn, and it comes out to about 19.1% (about 1 in 5). You have to call this $5 bet versus a $50 pot, so that’s a 10x payout. 1/5 is higher than 1/10, so bet odds are okay, but you must consider that this guy’s going to bet into you on the turn and river also. That’s the $5 plus two more $10 bets. So now you’re facing $25 more till the end of the hand. This increases the favourable odds even further, making a call an absolute no brainer for $5. 

Pot odds can also be used to determine our own betting size.  For example, if we believe our opponent is on a flush draw, it makes sense to bet a sum which does not provide our opponent with the right odds to draw to their monster hand (or at least makes them pay for it if they try and miss). 

It’s worthwhile getting comfortable with the practice of how to calculate poker odds.  When playing online, we can use tools such as poker odds calculators, but in a brick and mortar game, we have no more than our own ability to see us through.  This is one ability well worth cultivating.

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