Poker is a mathematical game. Many players recognize math’s importance, but few care enough to actually learn it. The good news is that most poker math is fairly simple. If you take the time to learn a few simple concepts, you gain a significant advantage over every other player who fails to learn these basic concepts.
Pot odds are just the ratio of what you stand to win compared to what you risk in a given situation. For example, if you stand to win $40 in a hand and have to call a $20 bet, your pot odds are 40:20, or 2:1.
It’s really that simple. Let’s learn more.
Calculating Pot Odds
As we’ve seen, pot odds are the ratio of potential winnings to risk. In online poker, you need to consider two variables to calculate pot odds: the pot size and the amount needed to call. Let’s look at an example:
Imagine you’re seated at a $1/2 NL Holdem game. You’re in late position on the turn against a single opponent, who is in early position. Your opponent bets $6 into a $10 pot. What are your pot odds?
First, determine the size of the pot you stand to win. Here the pot began at $10, and your opponent’s bet added $6. So 10+6=16. The pot size is $16.
The next step is even simpler. What are you risking for a shot at the pot? Here you need to call $6. That’s your risk.
Now construct your ratio:
Pot Size = $16
Risk = $6
Pot Odds = 16:6
Your pot odds are 16:6. Reduce this to standard form by dividing the pot size by the risk amount:
16 divided by 6 = 2.66
And then express this number in ratio form:
If you want to take it a step further, you can convert your pot odds to percent form for convenience:
1 / (1+2.66) = 27.3%
Your pot odds translate to 27.3%, which represents the percentage of the time you need to win in order to make this call profitable.
Personally, I try to stay away from percentages in poker. I like to keep things simple with ratios. But many people use percentages, so I’ve included those. I’ll explain why I prefer to stick with ratios in the next section.
Pot Odds in Practice
You should get used to using pot odds as a tool for determining whether or not a call is profitable. Do this by comparing your pot odds to the odds of you hitting your hand.
Imagine you’re playing $1/2 NL Holdem and you hold 6h7h in late position. On the turn, the board is 5d-10s-4d-Ac, which means you’re drawing for either a 3 or an 8 to make a straight. Your opponent bets $6 into a $10 pot (just like in the previous example). Is a call profitable here? Should you draw?
There are two ways to figure out whether or not you should draw.
The difficult method:
You’ve got 8 outs, and there are (52-6)=46 unseen cards left in the deck. That means 8 of the remaining 46 cards help you, and 38 don’t. Therefore the odds against your hitting a straight are 38:8, or 4.75:1. Translate this to percent form to figure your approximate equity in the hand:
Wins / Total Trials = Equity
1 / (4.75 + 1) = 17.39%
That’s a 17.39% chance of making your straight on the river. We already calculated the pot odds in this situation in the previous example, determining that your hand would need to win 27.3% of the time to make this call profitable. Thus since your chance of making the hand is less than the odds you’re given by the pot, you should fold.
This method requires a little more effort to get down pat, but it comes in handy because you can use it in any situation. If you know how many cards help your hand, you can figure out the odds of actually catching one of those cards.
The easy method:
The easy method is the reason why I like to stick with ratios. Instead of calculating your odds based on the number of outs, you can simply memorize the odds of a few of the most common draws. This method is somewhat limited, though, because it is not as flexible. If you have an unusual drawing situation come up, you’ll have to revert to the difficult method.
Let’s continue the example from above. Let’s say you’re sitting on the turn with that same straight draw. The difference is that now you have memorized a couple of the most common draws. You know that the odds of completing a straight draw on the next card are roughly 5:1.
Now, all you have to do is compare that ratio to your pot odds. If you remember, our pot odds were 2.66:1. In this case, your pot odds are less than your drawing odds. A fold is still the best play.
Odds of common draws completing on the next card:
- Flush Draw: About 5:1
- Open Ended Straight Draw: About 4:1
- Gutshot Straight Draw: About 11:1
- Two Pair to Full House: About 11:1
- Open Ended Straight-Flush Draw: About 2:1
Why This All Works
I was always one of those annoying students in school who had to know why things are the way they are. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering how it is that pot odds can tell you whether or not it is profitable to chase a draw. Let’s use an example to explain this.
Once again, you have a straight draw on the turn in a $10 pot. Your opponent bets $6. The following example will use a sample trial run of 100 instances to show why it is unprofitable to chase this draw over the long run. Here’s what you could expect to see if you got in this situation 100 times over the course of your career:
You will miss your draw about 75 times for a total loss of $450 ($6 x 75).
You will hit your draw about 25 times for a total win of $400 ($16 x 25).
Net income: –$50
And that is why it is good to be familiar with pot odds in poker.