Calculating Outs: A Beginner's Guide

Dan Carter
Only takes a little practice to figure out outs.

One of the most basic but also the most crucial skills for a poker player is the ability to quickly calculate how many outs you have to a winning hand.

It may seem complicated at first, but in reality it only takes a little practice for it to become second nature.

When you play poker the best-case scenario would be to always put your money in with the best hand. That just isn't the reality, though. You are going to put your money in bad from time to time.

In those cases where you are putting your money in bad, the idea is that you are able to make a hand on a later street that is better than your opponent's. The cards that give you that winning hand are known as "outs."

An example: You have A K. Your opponent accidentally shows you J 9 on a T J 3 board. How many outs do you have?

Well, you have two overcards to his jack, meaning that three aces and three kings are outs to a higher pair. You also have four queens that would give you the nut straight, and you have nine clubs that can give you the nut flush.

Of course, you double-counted one of your outs. You can't count the queen of clubs twice. So when you recount, you have a total of 18 outs. That's a lot of cards that can come on the turn to help you.

An 18-out draw is very big, and actually makes you a favorite against top pair on the flop.

Dario Minieri
Your calculations will ultimately only be as accurate as the hand range you put your opponent on.

Putting Your Opponent on a Hand Range

In reality it's never going to be obvious as in the above example - your villain is not going to actually show you his cards. So you must be able to put him on a range of likely hands. Once you have his approximate range, it becomes easier to calculate your outs.

You're never going to be able to put your opponent on an exact hand, so calculating outs will never be exact. Your calculations will ultimately only be as accurate as the hand range you put your opponent on.

If in the example above you give your opponent J J, you have significantly fewer outs. No longer do your three remaining aces and kings give you the winning hand.

Furthermore, you can hit your hand on the turn and still lose should the river pair the board.

When calculating outs, keep in mind that it's not an exact science and that sometimes a card you may think is an out may not actually give you the best hand.

Half Outs

Sometimes your perceived outs only count as half outs. Let's take a look at an example:

Andy Black
Beware of half outs.

You have 8 9. The board is T J 3. You have four sevens and four queens that will give you a straight. Meaning you have eight outs. Correct?

Yes and no. Sometimes you are going to hit your straight, but that card will also make your opponent a flush, improving you to a second-best hand.

In this example the Q and the 7 are not worth a full out to you. Thus you should only count them as half outs each. Meaning in reality you only have seven outs.

Counting the Q and the 7 as half outs accounts for those times where you will make your straight yet still lose to your opponent's flush.

Hidden Outs

Occasionally you are going to come across a hand where you may even have hidden outs. They are called hidden outs because they may not immediately help your hand but they may actually hurt your opponent's hand.

A quick example:

You hold A A on a 5 6 9 K board. Your opponent holds 6 5 for two pair. On the river you can be saved by the A or the A, which will give you a set, but you can also be saved by the board pairing either the nine or the king.

Niclas Svensson
Get your money in good, or with good odds, and the rest is easy.

This would counterfeit your opponent's two pair and give you a higher, winning two pair. While neither a nine nor a king actually hits your hole cards, it still improves your hand to a winning two pair. This is what is known as a "hidden out."

Poker, simplified, is two things

As with honing any skill, practice makes perfect. Once you are able to accurately calculate your outs you will be able to correctly determine the pot odds you require to continue with a hand.

And once you have that down, you've pretty much mastered poker.

Poker, simplified, is two things. Putting your money in good, and/or putting your money in with good odds. When you have those two skills in the bag, the rest is easy.

More beginner strategy articles:

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A Beginners Guide? 2012-08-29 10:53:10

Whilst this information may be accurate, valuable and bang on the money (I dunno if it is or not?) the poker jargon is far too heavy for this to be a "Beginners Guide" How do I know this? I am a beginner and didnt understand any of it lol. I know it's complicated but thats not my issue. Every couple of sentences I have to look up jargon to understand the sentence. Doing that so much means you dont really get to absorb the info. Sorry it didn't help me :(

Sean Lind 2008-09-05 16:37:00

Hey Bill, Dan's off for the weekend otherwise he'd write this same reply.

Here's why odds are calculated as Dan explained in this article:

When 9 players are in a hand, and the flop is dealt, 22 cards are in play, including the burn. Unfortunately, you only have knowledge of 5 of these cards. For this reason, even though 7 of your 9 flush outs may be in other players hands, you have no way of knowing this.

To calculate the odds, you have to assume that all of your outs are still in the stub. This is the basis of all odds calculations in poker.

When you become more advanced as a player, able to get strong reads, you can use your reads to influence your odds. If you can put another player on the same flush draw as you, you have two less cards as outs, affecting your odds. But, at the same time, you gain significant implied odds for if you hit your draw :)

The true odds (actual calculations based on the face value of cards remaining in the deck) will rarely be the same as the assumed odds (odds without knowledge of the remaining cards in the stub). Since we can't flip though the stud, assumed odds are the best we can do as we play.

I hope this helps clear this concept up for you?

bill 2008-09-05 05:00:00

First off, good articles on a great variety by you, Lind, and the staff. The whole site is awesome.
However, there are some flaws with the out/odds calculations, not only here, but on many sites as well. All the calculations are based on single hand withdrawals form a full deck, which is never the case. In a full talbe of 9 players, one third of the deck is gone before the flop! This reduces your outs and lengthens your odds. In a live game the burn cards also add to this effect. I realize the column is for beginners, but if they are going to play with real money they should have the best information.

Thanks

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