Learning how to use pot odds puts an incredibly useful weapon in your poker arsenal. Knowledge of this basic concept is fundamental in determining whether or not you will become a winning or losing poker player.
This guide aims to explain how pot odds work and how to effectively incorporate them into your game. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to read this guide from start to finish, which is pretty good considering it could be saving (and winning) you more money for the rest of your poker career.
What are pot odds?
Pot odds simply involves using the odds or likelihood of winning when on a drawing hand to decide whether or not to call a bet or a raise.
Therefore when you are on a flush or straight draw, you will be able to work out whether or not to call or fold depending on the size of the bet you are facing by making use of pot odds. Pretty handy really.
A familiar situation you will find yourself in Texas Hold’em is holding 2 cards of the same suit with another 2 cards of that suit on the flop. In poker this is called a flush draw or sometimes referred to as a "four flush". We will use this as an example in learning the use of pot odds.
Working out pot odds.
There are two ways that you can work out pot odds in Texas Hold’em.
- Ratio method
- Percentage method
Both of these methods provide the same results, so the one you decide to use is simply a matter of preference.
The ratio method is the most commonly used method for working out pot odds, but I personally found the percentage method the easiest to get to grips with when I was calculating pot odds for the first time.
1) Ratio Method.
The majority of books and forums will put pot odds in the ratio format, so it’s definitely worth while getting used to this method of calculating and working with pot odds.
Now say there are two people left in the pot, you and your opponent. There is $80 in the pot and your opponent bets $20. What should you do?
1] Calculating the "card odds".
First of all we need to find out how likely we are to catch another heart on the turn. This can be done in many ways, but the most popular way is to find the ratio of cards in the deck that we don’t want against cards that we do want.
- There are 5 cards in this hand that we know, our 2 holecards and the 3 cards on the flop.
- This leaves us with 47 cards in the deck that we do not know.
- Out of those 47, there are 9 cards that will make our flush and 38 that will not.
- If we put this into a ratio it gives us 38:9, or roughly 4:1.
2] Compare with pot odds.
Now we know that the odds of hitting a heart on the next card are 4:1 (our card odds). This means for every 4 times we don’t catch a heart, 1 time we will.
Next we calculate the same ratio of odds using the size of the pot and the size of the bet.
- Our opponent has bet $20 into an $80 pot making it $100.
- This means we have to call $20 to stand a chance of winning $100.
- This makes our odds $100:$20 which works out to equal 5:1 pot odds.
Card Odds: 4:1
Pot Odds: 5:1
This means that we should call as the odds we are getting from the pot are bigger than the odds that we will hit our flush on the next card. In the long run we will be winning more money than we are losing.
Remember! You should only call if the pot odds are greater than the "card odds" (odds of completing your draw).
If finding the card equity by working them out in your head is too time consuming (which most beginners will) . You can find them more quickly by using odds charts. These are handy if you print them out and stick them next to your computer and refer to them the next time you end up with a draw.
Try SPOC if you’re just starting out. It’s a very handy tool for helping you work out pot odds during play.
2) Percentage Method.
The percentage method was easier for me to get to grips with when I first starting learning pot odds. Unfortunately, it is not as widely used as the ratio method.
For the percentage method I will use an example with a straight draw.
This time your opponent bets $30, making the pot $90 in total (so the pot was originally $60, but that doesn’t matter). We want find out whether or not to call by finding out the pot odds using percentages.
1] Finding the "card equity" (same as "card odds", but just using %s).
To find the chance of making the straight on the next card we again need to find the number of outs (‘outs’ are cards that will complete the hand we are trying to make, in this example we are trying to make a straight.). There are 4 fives and 4 tens that will complete our straight giving, us a total of 8 outs.
To find the percentage chance of making the straight on the next card we simply need to double the outs and add one.
- Finding the percentage "card equity".
- Double the outs: 8 * 2 = 16
- Add one: 16 + 1 = 17%
- = 17% chance of making the straight
2] Compare with pot odds.
Our opponent has bet $30 making the pot $90. This means we have to call $30 to stand a chance of winning $120.
As you can see we have to add our own bet that we will call onto the size of the pot to find the total pot size. This part is very important, as finding the percentage of $30 in a $90 pot will give a very different result that the percentage of $30 in a $120 pot. Using basic mathematics we know that $30 is 25% of the $120.
Card Equity: 17%
Pot Odds: 25%
As we have already found out we have 17% chance of making the straight on the next card, which means that we should only call 17% of what is in the pot. Because we are being forced to pay 25% to play on, we should fold. We would be losing money in the long run if we called.
Remember! You should only call if the percentage chance of making your hand is greater than the percentage of the pot you have to call.
The percentage card equity can also be found in odds charts if you find it easier to use them instead of work them out. These are useful as a guide as you start incorporating pot odds into your game, or if you have trouble working out the odds in the short space of time you are given to make decisions whilst playing online.
Try playing flush and straight draws for an alternative explanation of using pot odds in poker.
Question: Why are we working out the odds for the next card only if there are two cards to come?
Good question. If we are on the flop with a flush draw, our odds of making the best hand on the turn are roughly 4 to 1 or 20%. However, seeing as we are on the flop there are indeed 2 more cards to come (and not just the 1), shouldn’t the "card equity" be more like 2 to 1 or 40%?
Generally, no. This is one of the biggest mistakes players make when using pot odds.
When you work out your pot odds, you are comparing the pot odds for the current size of the pot (and bet) to the chances of making your draw on the next card. If you work using the odds of making your draw over the next two cards, you need to factor in any extra money that you will have to pay on the turn also.
Seeing as it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to accurately guess how much more money we might have to pay on the turn, it’s far easier and infinitely more reliable to take it one card at a time. This way, you won’t end up paying more money than you should for your drawing hands when on the flop.
The only time that you should ever use the odds for making the best hand over the next two cards combined (e.g. using 2 to 1 odds instead of 4 to 1 odds for a flush draw) is when your only opponent in all-in on the flop. In this instance, you can guarantee that you won’t face another bet on the turn, as your opponent has no more money to bet.
Pot odds evaluation.
Although upon first glance pot odds may appear difficult, it is one of the most basic applications of mathematics in the game of poker. If you base your drawing decisions on pot odds, then you will mathematically be a winner in the long run, regardless of whether or not you win the hand or not.
In addition to deciding whether or not to call, pot odds can be used to influence how much you should bet to "protect" your hand. If you believe your opponent is drawing to a flush then you should bet a large enough sum into the pot to give your opponents the wrong odds to call if you think you have the best hand. Once again, regardless of whether or not your opponent wins the particular hand, they will be losing and you will be winning in the long run.
For another take on explaining pot odds, try this pot odds guide from FirstTimePokerPlayer.com. There are some very handy tables and examples in this Texas Hold’em strategy section that should help to broaden your understanding of the basics of pot odds in poker.
Note: The pot odds examples used in this guide have been in the situation where you have seen the flop and are waiting to see the turn. The same mathematics can be applied for when you are on the turn waiting to see the river, as both odds are almost exactly the same. However, you should remember that there will be one less unknown card left in the deck when working out the odds because you now know what the turn card is.