Calculating Poker Odds

The worst mistakes you can make in poker isn’t to for example bet when you should’ve gone for a check-raise. Any mistakes which deviate from what would’ve been the ideal action when what to do isn’t clear cut isn’t a big mistake. But sometimes what to do is clear cut.

This is often the case with pot odds where you haven’t got a made hand yet and might improve but is faced with a bet which must be called if you want to see the next card. In such circumstances, you are often forced to fold. Sure you might improve sometimes and win the hand but in the long run, playing against the pot odds is a losing proposition, and that’s what you have to think of when you are playing poker to win money; the long run.

Since you can’t win a showdown with the second best hand normally when you believe an opponent who is betting into you has a better hand than you (and you doubt you can bluff him out) the correct action is to fold. The exception is if the size of the pot in relation to the odds of your hand improving into the best weighted against the cost to call is good enough or not.

For example, if you are faced with a $10 bet by your opponent and the total amount of the pot including that bet is $60 then you are faced with 6:1 (6 to 1) pot odds on that call. If your chance of improving is worse than 1:6 then you forced to fold, otherwise, you should call.

So how do you go about calculating the odds of improving? To take a specific example: You have the Jack of hearts and Ten of hearts in your hand and the flop comes containing two hearts including the Ace of hearts. An opponent bets into you and you are now faced with a call or fold (or raise but that’s another lesson).

What you are hoping for is of course to catch a flush and to do so you need another heart. There are already four hearts out (two in your hand and two on the board), that means that there are nine hearts left out of the 47 (52 minus 5) unknown cards in the deck. So your chance of improving on the turn is 9:47 or 1:5.

If the pot odds are the way we previously mentioned, ie 6:1 that means that you should make the call.

This is of course just a very basic explanation of pot odds which is a broad subject with many exceptions requiring a lot of study and thought. An excellent book for players of all experience levels for this is Weighing the Odds in Hold’em Poker by King Yao.