Calculating & Using Pot Odds In Poker

Calculating pot odds during a hand is tricky. Taking too long to assess your situation can negatively affect your game by either frustrating your opponents or by revealing a tell that can be used against you. Therefore, it is important to practice the art of calculating odds before you take it with you to the table. Furthermore, while the underlying concept of pot odds is fairly simple, it is difficult to mentally master this skill for the average player.

Mathematical geniuses that can instinctively see and implement pot odds are probably already professional poker players and won’t be reading this guide. So, we’ll try to go over it slowly here. It should be noted that it is possible to study and practice this technique so much that you too can ultimately memorize pot odds and incorporate them unconsciously into your play.

What Are Pot Odds?
As an example, and in order to define pot odds, picture the following situation: You have $100 in the pot and a $10 call is needed in order for you to see the next card. Your pot odds are 10:1. You’re risking a $10 call for the opportunity to win the $100 already in the pot. If it were to cost you $20 to see the next card, then your pot odds would be 10:2 or 5:1 pot odds in simplified terms.

Calculating Pot Odds
Once you have grasped the concept of pot odds, you can begin practicing calculating them. First, count the number of outs you have, or the number of cards that will improve your hand. Then, compare the number of outs to the number of unseen cards in the game. For example, on the turn in a hand of Texas Hold ‘em, you can see six cards (the four cards on the board and your two hole cards), which leaves 46 unknown cards. Let’s say that you ascertain that out of the 46 unseen cards, there are nine other suited cards that could produce a flush for you (nine outs), while the other 37 cards will not improve your hand. Therefore, your chances of hitting a flush are 37:9 or 4:1 in simplified terms.

Continuing with the same example, the next move in this situation is to compare the pot odds to the actual odds you have of hitting the needed hand to win. If the pot odds are greater, then you can confidently call, knowing that you can turn a profit off the hand in the long run. For example, if there is $10 in the pot; to call will cost you $1 for the flush draw. You know that your odds are 4:1 against that hand hitting, so you’ll lose four times the cost of the call, costing you $4. If you win, you’ll earn $10 (a $6 profit).

If you are a true poker player and not just a gambler, you will learn to consider pot odds every time you have to make a decision to call on a draw. If you can consistently make the right call based on gainful pot odds, you will ultimately show more profit in your overall game, no matter whom you are playing against. On the other hand, if you make recurring bad decisions in terms of pot odds, then your long-term losses will do you in, regardless of how many hands you win.

Using Pot Odds
Using pot odds to your advantage on a regular and productive basis is key to any serious poker player’s game. While pulling out your calculator, or counting on your fingers for that matter, is not a viable solution to the pot odds conundrum, there are some practical ways to maintain an accurate pot odds strategy in your everyday poker game.

First of all, you should commit to memory the basic odds for nine outs, eight outs, seven outs, etc. down to one out, rounded off to the nearest whole number. The pot will generally have an amount that will allow you to make the appropriate decision of whether to call or fold. If your calculations suggest borderline odds, then just fold and wait for better pot odds to come up. Borderline odds yield borderline profits, anyway.

Until you have memorized the basic pot odds, there is a simple shortcut formula you can use: (Total Outs X 2) + 2. This value will provide you with a ballpark percentage of the chance that your hand will hit. As an example, take an inside straight draw with four outs: (4 X 2) + 2 = 10. Therefore, you have a 10% chance of hitting the hand you need (i.e. 10:1). If you were to do this calculation exactly, you would come up with 10.5:1, which means the quick formula method is close enough to be effective, but should not replace the need to memorize the basic odds.

You can also use a pot odds cheat sheet, which works well in online play. If you refer to it regularly, you’ll eventually memorize it over time. An automatic pot odds calculator is also a possibility, but it would only be beneficial in online play, takes time, and does little to train your brain in grasping pot odds.

The Bottom Line
The general rule of thumb on whether or not to bet on a draw is that if the percentage of the bet in relation to the pot is higher than the chance of your hand hitting, then you should not bet. If, however, your chances of hitting the hand are better, then you should bet. This concept is not the easiest to master, but if it doesn’t come naturally to you, then just continue to practice using pot odd calculations in your game. Remember though, masters of the game will pick up on the fact if you are taking too long to ponder over your pot odds, which can quickly become a tell that you have a weak hand.