How Not to Suck at Poker: Learn Basic Odds


Part 4 in a 10-part series for the beginner poker player, this article will look at some simple tricks and tips for understanding basic poker odds.

Like it or not, Texas Hold'em is an odds game. Every action you make, hand you play or bet you face has odds, probability and statistics attached to it.

For the math-phobes out there though, don't worry. You don't need to become a math expert to be a strong poker player.

In fact, there are tons of serious players who have no idea what a common denominator is. As complex as Hold'em strategy is, the game at its core is still very simple.

And this simplicity makes for simple equations and easy mathematics.

Many of the following things you don't need to fully understand - you just need to know enough to have a good feel for the game.

Figuring Out Your Pot Odds

Pot odds are the odds you're "being offered by the pot" to make your call. This is the amount of money in the pot compared to the amount of money you must pay to stay in the hand.

An example:

Say we go to the flop heads-up. There's $10 in the pot and your opponent bets $5. Since your opponent's bet is now part of the pot, you're being offered $15 for a cost of $5. In ratio form, that's 15:5

To simplify, you always make the right side of your ratio equal to 1 (you'll see why this is easier in a second). So to make the right side equal to 1, divide 5 by itself. 5/5 = 1.

Basic math rules say that whatever you do to one side of a ratio, you must do to the other. So since we divided the right side by 5, we divide the left side by 5. 15/5 = 3.

Your new ratio is 3-1 (If you want to skip a step, you can also just divide the left side by the right side (15/5) to find the left-hand side of the new ratio).

So in this situation, the pot odds are 3-1.

Figuring Out Your Equity

The next step after figuring out your pot odds is figuring out your equity (your chances of winning the pot compared to your opponent's).

Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey in the process of figuring out his equity is always 110%

To calculate your equity, take your total number of outs and multiply that number by 4 on the flop (or 2 on the turn).

This will give you your chance at winning the pot as a percentage.

So for example if you have a flush draw, you have 9 outs on the flop. 9x4 = 36% chance at making the best hand.

Since we have the pot odds as a ratio, we then need to make that percentage a ratio to compare the two. With 100 possible percentage points, your equity ratio is then 64-36 (64 times you don't make your hand; 36 times you do).

If we use the same ratio shortcut from the pot odds section to get the right side equal to 1, the equity ratio is (64/36)-1 or 1.7-1.  Meaning for every one time you make your hand there will be 1.7 times that you don't.

If you don't want to be that precise in your pot-odds calculation (and poker math doesn't need to be exact at the table), the simple shortcut is to estimate that 36 will go into 64 a little less than twice.

It really doesn't matter if you think that means it's 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 or 1.9-1; even if you just round it to 2-1 that's probably close enough to decide on making the call or not.

Comparing Your Pot Odds to Your Equity

So how do you know if you should make the call? Simply compare the two numbers on the left-hand side of the ratios.

If your pot odds number is higher than your equity number, then it's a good call. If it's lower, then you're making a bad call.

In its most basic form, odds are no more complicated than this.

Some Random Odds and Ends to Keep handy

Probability of... Odds Example
Being dealt a pair 17-1 (5.9% ) 7 7
Being dealt Aces 221-1 (0.45%) A A
Being dealt Ace-King Suited 331.5-1 (0.3%) A K
Flopping a set with a pocket-pair 8.51-1 (11.76%) 8 8 | 2 8 A
Flopping two pair (without a pocket-pair pre-flop) 48-1 (2.02%) 7 10 | 7 10 3
Making a Flush by the river (flopped 4 to a suit) 1.9-1 (35%) A Q | 9 4 A 10
Making an open-ended straight by the river 2.2-1 (32%) 6 7 | 8 9 2 3 10
A full house or better by the river (flopped three of a kind) 2-1 (33%) 4 4 | 4 K Q K

More on how not to suck at poker:

  1. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands
  2. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play in Position
  3. How Not to Suck at Poker: Count Your Outs
  4. How Not to Suck at Poker: Learn Basic Odds
  5. How Not to Suck at Poker: Pay Attention
  6. How Not to Suck at Poker: Have a Bankroll
  7. How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Bluffing
  8. How Not to Suck at Poker: Keep Your Mouth Shut
  9. How Not to Suck at Poker: Keep Records
  10. How Not to Suck at Poker: Discuss the Game

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