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Poker Pot Odds – A Beginner’s Guide

Poker pot odds can sound both dreary and complicated to amateur players, but as our poker pro explains below, without a broad understanding of them you are not going to be profitable long-term. The good news is that they are actually simple to grasp, but first start with knowing your own card odds:

Card Odds

Working out the odds of making a draw is crucial to being a winning poker player.

If we raise with AK of hearts, and find a flop with two hearts on it, we know a third heart falling on the turn or river will almost always give us the nuts – the best possible hand – but we need to work out how likely that is to happen.

Flush-Draw-Pot-Odds

To do this, we must count our ‘outs’, the cards we need to improve our hand.

Having flopped a flush draw, we know five of the cards (two in our hand and three on the flop), of which four are hearts.

This leaves 47 unknown cards – don’t worry about whether they’re in our opponents hands, the muck or left in the deck, they’re unknown – of which nine (13 minus 4) are hearts. Therefore, the ratio of cards that hit us compared to those that miss is 38:9, roughly 4:1 (if we are on the flop, this is the chance of the turn completing our draw, if we’ve seen the turn, then it’s the chance of making the draw on the river).

As a quick reference, the following table lists the number of outs depending on basic types of draw and the respective card odds (and percentage) of hitting:

TYPE OF DRAWOUTSFLOP TO TURN
TURN TO RIVER
FLOP TO RIVER
Pocket Pair to Set222.5/1 (4.3%)22.1/1 (4.3%)10.9/1 (8.4%)
Inside Straight Draw (Gutshot)410.75/1 (8.5%)10.5/1 (8.7%)5.06/1 (16.5%)
Two Pair to Full House410.75/1 (8.5%)10.5/1 (8.7%)5.06/1 (16.5%)
One Pair to Two Pair or Set58.4/1 (8.6%)8.2/1 (10.9%)3.93/1 (20.3%)
Straight Draw84.88/1 (17%)4.75/1 (17.4%)2.17/1 (31.5%)
Flush Draw94.22/1 (19.1%)4.11/1 (19.6%)1.86/1 (35%)
Flush and Straight Draw152.13/1 (31.9%)2.07/1 (32.6%)0.85/1 (54.1%)

Pot Odds

Once we know our approximate card odds, we need to compare them to the pot odds, using the same ratio for the size of the pot against the size of the bet.

Pot odds are the mathematical representation of risk (how much we need to call) and reward (what’s in the pot) – or to put it simply, whether chasing after a draw, like a flush or straight, is going to be profitable in the long-term.

In the above example, if our opponent bets £10 into a £90 pot, we’re being asked to call £10 (risk) to win £100 (reward) and so getting 10/1 odds.

As we know from our card odds calculation, we are actually 4/1 to hit, so putting the £10 in is a long-term profitable play.

If our opponent bet £90 into the £90 pot, we would only be getting 2/1 on our £90 call (to win a pot of £180), so taking 2/1 on a 4/1 shot is not profitable long-term.

As a rule of thumb, you should only call with a draw:

IF THE POT ODDS ARE GREATER THAN THE CARD ODDS (of completing your draw)

Here are a few other examples of pot odds:

Opponent bets £2 into a £6 pot creating an £8 pot = 8/2 = 4/1 pot odds

Opponent bets £20 into a £100 pot creating a £120 pot = 120/20 = 6/1 pot odds

Opponent bets £40 into an £60 pot creating a £100 pot = 100/40 = 2.5/1 pot odds

Opponent bets £200 into a £500 pot creating a £700 pot = 700/200 = 3.5/1 pot odds

This odds calculation step is simple and the only slightly tricky part is converting the bigger ratios down to more manageable ones.

Protection

In addition using pot odds to decide whether or not to call, they should also be used to ‘protect’ your hand from draws.

If you think that you have the best hand and your opponent is drawing to a flush or a straight then you should bet a large enough amount into the pot to give them the wrong odds to call.

Let’s just say that we have pocket aces but no hearts on the above flop and are wary about an opponent calling with a heart flush draw. Here you should ensure that you give them odds of less than 4/1 to call you – any bet of £30 or less into a £90 pot gives them the correct pot odds to call with a flush draw.

For example, a half pot bet of £45 would raise our pot to £135 and give them odds of just 3/1 to call (135/45).

If they call and there is no heart on the turn, any bet of £45 or less (on an increased pot of £180) gives them the correct odds to call with a flush draw (as £45 x 4 = £180), while a half-pot bet of £90 would raise the total pot to £270 and again give them odds of 3/1 to call your £90 (270/90).

Card Equity & The 2/4 Rule

All these odds are expressed as ratios but converting them to percentages can make them easier to use for beginners.

This way you simply compare the percentage chance of hitting your draw (your ‘card equity’) to the pot odds as a percentage – and should only call with a draw:

IF THE PERCENTAGE CHANCE OF MAKING YOUR HAND IS GREATER THAN THE POT ODDS PERCENTAGE TO CALL

Thankfully, there are shortcuts to working out what percentage you are to make your draw rather than doing the maths long hand.

To make our draw on the next card, we can just multiply the number of outs by 2.

In the above hand we’d have 9 x 2 = 18% using this shortcut, which is roughly the same as 38/9, or 4.2/1 (19.1% equity).

With two cards to come, we multiply our outs by 4, so we’d have 9 x 4 = 36% in the above hand. The actual result working it out the long way is 35% equity, so we can see the approximation (known as the 2/4 Rule) is pretty useful.

To calculate the pot odds percentage to compare this with, you need to divide the amount required to call by the size of the pot – including your call (when expressing pot odds in percentages you must add your call to the total size of the pot). For example, if your opponent bets £10 into a pot of £20, your £10 call will make a total pot of £40 and hence the pot odds percentage is 25% (10/40).

Alternatively, as you know the pot odds ratio is 3/1 (£10 to call into a pot of £30), you can simply convert these odds to a percentage thus:

3-to-1 odds: 3 + 1 = 4. Then 100 / 4 = 25%

To return to our flush draw, we know that our card equity (% chance of hitting a flush on the turn) is approximately 18% and if we are being asked to pay more than this to play on we should fold:

Opponent bets £10 into a £90 pot > Pot Odds % = 9% (£10 / £110 total pot) > CALL

Opponent bets £90 into a £90 pot > Pot Odds % = 33% (£90 / £270 total pot) > FOLD

POT ODDS TABLE (odds ratio & percentage)

This table summarises the pot odds in ratios and percentages when facing some very common bet sizes in relation to the pot

BET SIZEODDS RATIOODDS %
1/4 Pot5/117%
1/3 Pot4/120%
1/2 Pot3/125%
2/3 Pot2.5/129%
3/4 Pot2.3/130%
1 Pot2/133%
1.5 Pot1.7/138%

With a flush draw, a bet of a quarter of the pot or less gives us the correct price to call when heads-up, while anything bigger means that we’re not getting the correct price and therefore this is a long-term losing play.

But this can alter if there are other callers before you act. For example:

Opponent bets £25 (half-pot) into £50 pot to create a £75 pot: Pot odds 3/1 (25%) > FOLD

Opponent bets £25 (half-pot) into £50 pot and gets 3 callers before you act to create a £150 pot: Pot odds 6/1 (14%) > CALL

Common Mistake

When you have a flush or straight draw on the flop it is important that you do not make the mistake of comparing your card odds (or card equity) to the post-flop pot odds based on the two remaining cards to come.

This is a common error, which means that you are comparing your chances of making your draw with the pot odds for the current size of the pot (and bet) on the flop – not factoring in any extra money that you will have to pay on the turn.

Because you cannot anticipate how much more money you might have to pay on the turn, it is much easier and more reliable to take it one card at a time to avoid paying more for your drawing hands on the flop.

Of course, you should use the odds over the next two cards combined when your opponent is all-in on the flop and know you won’t face another bet on the turn.

Other factors

As we become more experienced poker players, we will realise that not only is the maths important at this stage, but that the kind of player we’re playing can affect our mathematical decisions too.

If we’re up against a guy who never folds, then it will be worth taking a worse price than our calculated outs, because if we hit our card we’re very likely to get the rest of our opponent’s stack. We therefore always need to be aware how much everyone at the table is sat with – how ‘deep’ they are.

The is what is called ‘Implied Odds’, a more complex subject that we will deal with in further articles.

If our opponent is the kind who runs for the hills as soon as a scare card comes, then we know that even if we hit our flush we’re not going to get another dime out of him and it’s probably best not to chase draws against this style of player.

Of course, we can use that information in other ways away from our mathematical workings, using any card that changes the board as a reason to bet and get this kind of guy to fold.

If we have a flush draw and we don’t hit, but the turn brings a straight, or even just an over-card to the flop, maybe we can represent this hand anyway and get this opponent to fold.

Alternatively we may be playing against a guy who slows down on turn cards a lot if he doesn’t win the pot on the flop, so we might get to see the river for free, especially if we’re in position, if we call the flop bet.

Or we might be up against a guy who continuation bets flops every time, so a raise on the flop might win us the hand more often than not without us needing to hit.

If we feel like we’re up against a guy who needs a very strong hand to continue, maybe hitting an ace of king in the example we used earlier will not be good enough, whereas against a lot of other players, aces and kings will be good too, taking our outs from nine to 15.

Building up a profile of each opponent at the table, by observing the way they play in every hand, whether you’re involved or not, is one of the most important aspects of poker, even impacting maths-based decisions.

You will hear some players say they are ‘maths-based’, while others will say they’re more ‘feel-based’.

As we can see here, there is a certain amount of maths that we need to learn in order to be successful poker players, but combining that knowledge with reads, experience, tournament strategy and lots of other factors that go into the makeup of the best poker players will aid us on our quest to be the best player we can be.

Summary

Remember:

1) Pot odds are a simple yet fundamental concept for poker players to grasp to enable them to make long-term profitable calls.

2) The odds are a mathematical representation of risk (how much we need to call) and reward (what’s in the pot).

3) We should only call with a draw if the odds we are getting from the pot are bigger than the odds of us hitting our draw.

4) Consider pot odds both to decide when to call with a draw and also when sizing bets to give opponents the wrong odds to call with a draw.

5) Instead of comparing card odds to pot odds we can convert our card odds to a percentage and compare this to the pot odds percentage.

6) We can easily calculate the card odds percentage (our card equity) by multiplying outs by 2 on the flop, or by 4 on the river.

7) When comparing our card odds or equity to the pot odds, we should only do so based upon the next card (unless our opponent is all-in on the flop).

8) Although pot odds should always be considered, we should also factor in the profile of each opponent and their stack, and adjust our strategy accordingly.