Pot odds, odds and outs

Poker is a game requiring a keen mind and good judgment. The essence of poker is perhaps best reflected in the concepts of pot odds, odds and outs. It is these important issues that we’ll talk about today. Regardless of the poker variant you prefer, understanding odds and outs will help you make the right decisions. In layman’s terms, your actions must be entirely determined by the following factors: the probability of winning, the size of the pot and the amount of chips you need to accumulate in order to continue playing. The key here is to minimize the risk while maximizing the potential gains.

Odds & Outs

Before we begin discussing poker odds in detail, it is necessary that you know how to calculate your outs. The idea is very simple, so you just have to learn how to do it. Basically, outs are the cards that help you in finishing the poker combination you desire, which in your opinion would be stronger than your opponent’s hand. For example, if the board is composed of a few cards and you hold a 5-6-7-8 straight draw while being sure that your opponent has pocket aces, the only cards that will save your skin are 4 and 9. These cards are your outs to form the nuts.

Consider a real-life example:

You are holding a suited Q ♦ 9 ♦
The board is composed of A ♦ K ♦ 7 ♣ 4 ♣

You know that your opponent is a careful player who wouldn’t consider betting if he did not have at least a pair of kings. A more likely scenario on this board is that he has already made a pair of aces. When he makes his next bet, you realize that he holds the top pair (kings or aces) and your only chance of winning this hand is a flush. Basically, the only thing that can save you is a fifth card of the diamonds suit.

The deck holds 13 cards of each suit. 4 of the diamond-suited cards are already a part of the board and your hand. This means that there’s only nine diamond cards left in the deck and each of them will allow you to complete your winning flush (if you disregard the fact that some of the cards could be held by one of your rivals). Consequently, you have 9 outs.

From outs to odds and pot odds

Now that we’ve determined that you have 9 outs, we can make the next step. We know that a poker deck is composed of 52 cards and that 2 cards are yours, while 4 belong to the board. We also opt to ignore the cards your opponents might hold at this point, as we can account only for the cards we see.

This leaves us with 9 outs and 46 cards. Therefore, 9 cards will bring you victory and 37 will not complete your flush. Now consider this: your odds, or the probability of completing a winning combination are 37:9, or about 4:1. In other words, the probability that you lose is 4 times higher than the probability of winning the hand. If you need to visualize this situation, just grab a deck of cards, separate the board and your hand from the rest and arrange the remaining cards in front of you. This should help you to see where the 37 to 9 ratio came from.

Once you know the number of outs and your odds, you will be able to make the right decision which will be determined by the size of the pot. In our example, the chances of winning are 4:1. The opponent bets and you’re wondering what the correct course of action should be. The answer depends on how much money up for grabs and how much money do you have to invest to call your opponent’s bet. For example, if the pot is $90 and your opponent bets only $10, the pot will grow to $100. If you can win $100 by investing $10, the pot odds are 10:1. All you need to do now is to compare the numbers. With 4:1 pot odds, you’d be given a chance to win $40 by risking $10 – and in our example, you’re risking $10 for a potential gain of $100! This means that you should call your opponents bet without any hesitation, as the odds are on your side. If your opponent is really holding the top pair, he is helping you win the pot or simply doesn’t realize that you are just one step away from the nuts.

Obviously, your victory is by no means guaranteed. The probability of winning that hand equals to about 25%, so in most cases you won’t make the flush you’re counting on. That’s no reason to worry though. Even though with those odds you will only one out of five hands, taking the correct action will allow you to compensate for the four losses you would suffer. This is why it’s very important for the pot odds to equal at least 4:1 in case of a flush draw, as whenever you bet $10 for the sake of winning $40 you’ll break even in the long run… and if the pot odds are higher, you’ll start making profit.

Let’s return to our example and the 10:1 pot odds. Let’s assume that the same situation repeated itself five times straights. In all five cases, you decided to call your opponent, losing four games and winning one (4:1 odds). The four defeats cost you $40 (4 times $10), but the single victory brought you $100, resulting in a $60 profit. Not bad for a few easy calls, right?

How to count outs quickly?

One of the inherent perks of playing online poker is the high speed of the game, which leaves little time to think about your moves. Nevertheless, the 30 seconds or a minute you get should be enough to make some basic calculations if you follow a simple algorithm. First, count the outs (the number of winning cards in the deck). Next, multiply that number by four on the flop. If the game reaches the turn, multiply that number by two. Basically, if you have 9 outs on the flop, your chances of getting the desired card equal 9×4=36%. On the turn, the probability of getting the winning cards will drop to 18% (9×2). Quite obviously, this method is not completely accurate, but it should prove very helpful when playing poker over the internet. Basing your decisions on the probability of getting the nuts and the concept of odds will help you in making your moves strategically correct.