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Introduction to pot odds

Basic, but essential poker concepts include knowledge and understanding of pot odds and the odds of improving one's hand

To play a winning poker hand in the long run, one must have several skills, one of which is the knowledge of the pot odds. It is with this knowledge that one can determine the profitability or otherwise of a bet to be called in a given pot. If the notion is still a little fuzzy for you, after reading the lines that follow, everything will be much clearer

But what do we mean by pot odds?

The notion of odds expresses a probability that something will happen, for example, that your color flop draw will complete on the turn or the river.

For example, you have Jh-Th on a flop 2h-3h-7s. Jack-ten in heart, on a flop that includes 2 hearts. Your opponent bets a sum X in a pot Y and knowing the odds of the pot will tell you whether or not calling your opponent's bet will pay off, knowing that you will complete your hand in a proportion Z.

Let's add some detail to our example to clarify our definition.

An example.

You're in the BB position with your Jh-Th and you've called a pre-flop raise for the player on the button.

You're heads-up on the flop.

The pot is $6.

Your opponent bets $4 on the flop.

So you have to put $4 into a $10 pot (the pot before the flop is $6 + the $4 bet at the flop) if you want to see the turn.

Do you have the odds to continue? The odds will be expressed in several ways. One of them is 4:1. In other words, with a color flop draw, on one street only (here, the upcoming turn), on 5 occurrences, 4 times we'll miss our color draw and 1 time we'll hit it, hence the expression 4:1. We'll say we have a 4:1 odds

In other words, to get the correct odds to call the flop bet, the bet must be four times smaller than the size of the pot. Since the bet is 40% of the size of the total pot, it will be said that I don't have the odds to continue. In order to evaluate the profitability of a call, I have to relate the size of the bet to call to the size of the pot. I then compare the result to my chances of improving my hand. In a simple way, I will know that I am not paying a bet that is twice the size of the pot if I only complete my draw one time out of five times

So much for the basic idea. But there's still a lot more to be said to fully grasp the concept

Let's stick with our color print example. We know that our odds are 4:1 if we rely on a street just to hit our print (here, the turn). We calculate it that way because if we call the flop bet and the turn is a brick, there's a good chance that our bad guy will bet on the turn again and we won't be able to see the river for free

As for the odds of completing our draw on the turn and the river, the odds are 2:1, i.e. out of 3 occurrences, 2 times the draw will not be completed and 1 time it will be completed (this is important to specify because it could be thought that a 2:1 odds indicates that an event will occur 1 time out of 2 when it is more like 1 time out of 3)

Knowing our odds = Helping us estimate the profitability of a call bet

If we modify our example above a little, let's say the pot at the flop is $80 and our opponent makes a $20 all-in bet at the flop. Given our odds (on 2 streets, 2:1), we'll say we have the odds to continue. Let's detail the example

twice we'll lose $20 (2*20 = $40)

1 time we'll win $100 ($80 already in the pot + $20 bet)

Win ($80) - Lose ($40) = $40 profitable call over the long run

The odds therefore show the profitability of a call over the long term by taking into consideration the current size of the pot and the size of the bet to call.

Our odds are never more than an estimate

This odds is obviously an estimate because I never know exactly how many outs I really have. Since poker is a game of incomplete information, I try as best I can to estimate the odds with the information I have

In the above example of Jh-Th, we say we have 9 outs because we count the 9 cards in the heart that are still in the deck, but it's still theoretical. I could have far fewer outs than expected if all the players at the table have already received hole cards, but since I have no way of knowing, I assume they are still in the deck. And I might also have more outs than I expected. The key word is estimate.

If, for example, my opponent has a small pair in his hand, not only will the hearts give me a flush, but all tens and jacks will give me top pair, for the best hand, so I'll have not nine, but 12 outs. But without full information, I remain cautious and only consider my outs for the flush draw

Odds vs. Odds

So far we've been talking about the odds of the pot expressed as 4:1. But this notation can also be transformed into probabilities

An odds of 4:1 is also a 20% probability. It is important to be familiar with both ratings because they will both be useful

To the mind, a flop odds of 4:1 is a little abstract. I'd rather know that I'll hit my color print on the turn 20% of the time. It's easier for the mind to understand. But when I'm facing a bet, this notation is less useful

Knowing that my odds are 4:1 will tell me I can pay a $1 in $4 flop bet to hit my color print on the turn, but not a $2 in $4 bet. It's getting easier to compare. If I have a 4:1 odds on my draw, I know I can pay a $1 bet in $4. Illustrated in a 4:1 way, I know that the pot will have to be 4 times bigger than the bet I call in order for my call to be break-even or profitable in this situation

How do you calculate your pot odds in the heat of battle?

In order to properly calculate the profitability of a call at the flop for example, you should preferably know this information:

1- How many outs do you have?

2- How much do I have to call?

3- How big is the pot after my opponent's bet?

4- What is my opponent's rank?

The information 1-2 and 3 are essential while the information 4 is complementary, but still very useful. Other information may also be useful, but for the sake of brevity, let's go with this basic information

For the calculation of outs or cards that can help you, it is important to practice well and know them by heart

Here's a little reminder you'll find useful to memorize:

The number of outs in different situations

15 outs. Rating of 2:1 (33%) on 1 street or 1:1 (50%) on 2 streets. Color draw + straight draw. Example 7h-8h on 5h-6h-2s

9 outs. Odds of 4:1 (20%) on 1 street or 2:1 (33%) on 2 streets. Color print. Example Jh-Th on 2h-3h-7s.

8 outs. Dimension of 5:1 (16%) on 1 street or 2:1 (33%) on 2 streets. Open-ended straight draw. Example, 7x-8y on 5-6-K.

5 outs. Odds of 8:1 (11%) on 1 street or 4:1 (20%) on 2 streets. A simple pair that you want to improve to a three or two pairs. Example A-5 on 2-5-J.

4 outs. Rating of 11:1 (8%) on 1 street or 5:1 (16%) on 2 streets. Gutshot. Example, 7-8 on 4-5-J (here, the 6 and only the 6 will give us the sequence)

Other elements are taken into account when calculating the profitability of a call. Here are some questions to ask yourself when studying a specific situation

1- If I call on the flop, how often will my opponent bet on the turn? Will he bet big?

2- If I hit the flop, what are the chances my opponent will pay me?

3- Is it possible my opponent has a better draw than me?

Working with the odds and probability calculator

Let's take our example from above.

Jh-Th on a flop 2h-3h-7s

To help us with our calculations, we will use the calculator for the pot odds and the probability of improvement at the top of the page

We are still heads-up and our opponent bets $2 in a $9 pot. Since our odds to improve our hand on a straight are 4:1, we have to call a maximum bet that is four times smaller than the total pot. Using the above calculator, we can see that we have a pot odds of 18.18% (about 4:1). This number is calculated by dividing the bet to be called ($2) by the amount of the pot AFTER the naughty bet (naughty bet $2 in a $9 pot, or $11). This makes $2/$11 = 18.18%

So from this number we know that if we improve our hand with a probability of more than 18.18%, we have the right odds to call. Here we learn that our flush is completed 19.15% of the time on the turn and 34.97% of the time when we count turn + river. So it is a favorable decision

With the help of the calculator we can check the profitability of a call in any situation. Simply enter the size of the pot BEFORE your opponent's bet, your opponent's bet, and choose the draw you have. You will quickly know if this call is good or not

Little trick

The Pot Odds Calculator is an excellent tool to familiarize yourself with pot odds and get accurate numbers. However, in a casino tournament it is not always possible to use such software. Here is a trick to help you estimate your pot odds. Let us take our example again and again

Jh-Th on a flop 2h-3h-7s. We said earlier that we have nine outs. We take this number and multiply it by 2 if we want to know what our chances are of improving our hand on one street (the curve), and multiply it by 4 if we want to know what our chances are of improving our hand on 2 streets (curve + river). We can do the same with any draw if we know our number of outs

So on a street we say 9 outs x 2 = 18% of the time we improve our hand. If we consult the calculator, we learn that the exact number is 19.15%, which is not too far from our estimate. So I know that I can call a flop bet that is 18% or less of the pot size profitable. This saves me the mistakes you'll see too often in your games, and the calling of $10 bets in $12 pots, for example

Feel free to check your played hands with the computer. With a little practice, the chances of winning in the pot will become second nature to you