Pot Odds in Poker – Learn How to Make Math-Based Decisions
If you have ever had a chance to learn anything about poker from a professional, you have surely heard them use terms such as out pot odds, implied odds, reverse implied odds, and others.
Even if you try to figure out what all of these mean, you might be wrong, as there are many terms to master and a lot to learn about each.
This guide is made for players looking to learn how odds work in Texas Hold’em, starting with the most basic counting of outs and equity calculation and moving on to pot odds, implied odds, and more.
If you are new to poker, you will not want to skip any of it. I highly recommend going through each section a couple of times to make sure you understand all the concepts.
On the other hand, if you have been around and know how outs and basic odds work, you may want to jump over this part and move on to pot odds immediately.
Counting Outs and Calculating Equity
One of the very first things you need to learn in poker is that it is a game of equity and pure math. While other factors are at play, at the end of the day, each hand of poker comes down to principles that are founded in mathematics.
The very first of those principles are outs. The term “out” is used by a poker player to refer to a card that will help their hand improve into a made poker hand, such as a set, straight, or a flush.
Very often, in poker, players will have hands that need additional help in the form of another card, and this is where outs counting comes in handy.
When you are involved in a poker hand, you will want to know just how often you will have the best hand at showdown. To know this, you will need to learn how to think about your opponent’s hand but also understand what kind of equity you have with your current hand.
You will be able to come up with your equity in a hand based on the number of outs you have in the hand.
You can quite literally count the number of cards that will improve your hand, but here are some handy pointers as to how many outs you will have in the most common poker scenarios:
- One Pair: 5 Outs (improve to trips or two pair)
- Two Pair: 4 outs (improve to a full house)
- Set: 7 Outs (improve to a full house or quads)
- Gutshot Straight Draw: 4 outs (improve to a straight)
- Open-ended Straight Draw: 8 Outs (improve to a straight)
- Flush Draw: 9 Outs (improve to a flush)
- Open-ended Straight Flush Draw: 15 Outs (improve to a straight or a flush)
It is possible to count outs for other situations, such as when you have a gutshot straight draw along with some overcards, etc.
You might also consider some cards to be your outs even though they are not obvious if you believe your opponent to be bluffing.
Once you have counted your outs, it will be time to convert this number into your equity in the hand.
Equity is expressed in percentages, and it only deals with winning the hand at showdown, regardless of any bluffing.
For example, when calculating your equity with a flush draw against a set, you will only be concerned with how often you will make a flush and how often your opponent will improve.
Potential bluffs from either side are not calculated into this equation.
Your equity is calculated directly based on the number of outs you have. While getting the exact percentage is not feasible at the table, there is a simple rule to make your life easier.
Rules of 2 & 4
Using the poker rule of 4 and 2, you can easily calculate your equity in any situation. If you are on the flop, multiply your number of outs by 4 to get your equity. If you are on the turn, multiply the total number of outs by 2, and you will have your equity.
These numbers will be slightly off from the actual equities, but they will be close enough to make all relevant decisions based on them.
The poker ruled of 4 and 2 is how all professional poker players calculate their equity on the spot, and it is what they base their decisions off.
What’s even more, you should know what kind of equity you have with common drawing hands without even having to calculate it.
If you simply memorize the table below, you will know how much equity you have the next time you are drawing to a made hand:
- Open-Ended Straight Draw: 32% on the flop, 16% on the turn
- Gutshot Straight Draw: 16% on the flop, 8% on the turn
- Flush Draw: 36% on the flop, 18% on the turn
- Open-Ended Straight Flush Draw: 60% on the flop, 30% on the turn
- Gutshot Straight Flush Draw: 48% on the flop, 24% on the turn
- Flush Draw with One Overcard: 48% on the flop, 24% on the turn
Notice that I rounded all the equities in this table using the poker rule of 4 and 2 to make things simpler for you. These equities are all a bit off but are close enough for use in the actual game.
What’s even more, you should note that you never know if every single one of your outs is actually live, as flush draws can be up against bigger flush draws, and overcard outs sometimes only work against you.
Yet, if you are able to put your opponent on a hand or a reasonable range of hands, you will have every opportunity to make the right decision based on the equities you calculate using this simple rule.
What Are Pot Odds and How to Use Them?
The term pot odds is not directly connected to your equity in the hand but rather the ratio between the bet your opponent is making and the size of the pot.
When calculating pot odds, you will need to take into consideration all the money that is already in the pot as well as the bet you are currently facing to calculate the full size of the pot first.
The fact is that simply knowing your equity alone does not help you too much if you don’t understand pot odds. Pot odds are the true mathematical basis on which you should make your decisions.
Calculating these odds is a process made up of several parts, which you should go over every time you are facing a bet.
1. Calculate the size of the pot
Calculating the pot size is the first step in calculating your pot odds. If you don’t know how big the pot is, you won’t be able to tell the pot odds either.
Calculating the size of the pot is actually very simple. You should already know how much money is in the pot initially, as counting the pot is a part of playing the game. If you don’t know, you can always ask the dealer to spread the pot.
Now add the bet your opponent has made and your call to the pot size. You will come up with the final pot size. For instance, if the opponent is betting $100 into a $200 pot, the pot size will be:
- $200 (Main Pot) + $100 (the Bet) + $100 (your Call) = $400
2. Calculate the pot odds
Now that you know what the pot size is, you can easily calculate your pot odds. Simply divide the size of your call by the entire size of the pot.
In the above example, the calculation would be:
- $100 / $400 = 0.25
3. Get the Percentages
Now you will get the number that’s actually useful for gameplay. By multiplying the pot odds with 100, you will come up with a percentage, like this:
- 25 * 100 = 25%
This percentage represents the minimum equity you should have in a hand in order to make your call straight-up profitable.
This is actually what pot odds are used for, as they give you a good idea if making a call in a certain situation is profitable or not.
In the above example, we need 25% equity to make our call, which means that calling with an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw would certainly be a profitable decision.
Problems arise when we hold a hand like a gutshot straight draw in this situation, having 16% equity but needing 25% equity to make the call profitable.
However, poker is not quite as simple as calling when you get the right pot odds and folding when you don’t, simply because the hand does not end right then and there.
To get more into this, I want to explain the concept of implied odds, which refers to the amount of money or poker chips you stand to win on future betting streets when you do make your hand.
Implied Odds Explained
Implied odds are a relatively simple concept. If you call a bet now, possibly against immediate pot odds, you may stand a chance to win more money and compensate for the losses you are taking right now.
While implied odds are certainly very important, and you should not underestimate their relevance in a poker game, you also need to make sure you are using them correctly.
Many poker players use implied odds as the justification to make just about any play. They call with extremely weak hands and with shallow stacks, talking about all the money they will win if they hit.
Instead, you should make sure that you actually get to win the money you need to win when you hit your draws.
To show you how to calculate the implied odds, I am going to give you a simple equation that shows you how much money you need to win in our gutshot straight draw example to make it a profitable call.
- $100 (Amount to Call) / ($100 (Opponent’s Bet) + $200 (Main Pot) + $100 (Amount to Call) + $X (What You Need to Win) = 0.16 (Equity in Decimal)
- $100 / $400 + $X = 0.16
- 16 * $400 + 0.16 * $X = $100
- $64 + 0.16 * $X = $100
- 16 * $X = $36
- $X = $225
As you can see from this equation, you will need to win $225 on the future streets to make your call profitable.
Considering the fact we are facing a $100 bet now and that the pot will be $400 when we call, it is very reasonable to expect to win another $225 every time we do hit our straight.
In reality, calling a half-pot-sized bet on the flop with a gutshot straight draw is almost compulsory if we have a decent stack behind for this reason exactly.
Getting another half-pot size bet on the turn or river should be easy with such a disguised hand. This means more often than not, we will win even more than we need to when we make our straight.
Keep in mind that things would be different if we were facing a full pot-sized bet or if we had fewer outs to make our hand.
Also, when you brick on the fourth street, make sure to do the calculation all over again to make sure that a potential bet you are facing on the turn is still worth calling (which it usually won’t be).
Combining your knowledge of the poker rule of 4 and 2, pot odds calculations, and implied odds calculations, you should be able to navigate poker hands with ease and make the correct mathematical decisions in every hand you play.
How Reverse Implied Odds Work
Reverse implied odds are another important concept you will need to understand if you strive to be one of the best poker players. But, this one will require less math work and more intuition and common sense.
As you may have guessed, reverse implied odds refer to the amount of money you stand to lose if you make your hand.
Reverse implied odds are the main reason why professional poker players will often throw away hands like JT offsuit or 45 suited before the flop, even when facing a small raise and getting a great price.
The truth is that big pots in Texas Hold’em mostly come along when big hands collide. The best poker tip anyone can give you is you don’t want to be the one holding the baby flush or the low end of a straight in such scenarios.
Without going into too much detail on reverse implied odds, I recommend you always keep the concept in the back of your head. Keep in mind that making a hand with bad starting cards can cost you a lot of money in the game of poker!