Odd Talk: Understanding "Pot-Committed"

David Sklansky
David Sklansky wrote the book on poker odds... literally.

Judging by how often I hear people misuse the terms "pot odds" and "pot-committed," many of us could probably benefit from an overview of this topic.

Pot Odds

Pot odds are simple: If you have a hand that hits 30% of the time (and we're assuming when it hits, it's going to take down the pot), then naturally it's going to lose 70% of the time you play it. Therefore, every time you play this hand you need to be getting the proper odds.

For every $1 you put into the pot of your own money, there has to be $3 already in that pot. So when you lose the hand twice, and win it once, you make money. It is never right to draw without the odds.

This means that if you go to the flop heads-up, it's almost impossible to get the pot odds to chase your draw.

Implied Odds

The second type of odds is implied odds. In basic terms, implied odds refers to the money that will be put into the pot after you act on the current street. These are much more advanced in a No-Limit game than in a Limit game.

In a Limit game, you can be sure how many bets you will be able to get out of your opponents. This is one reason why learning to play poker in a Limit context is such a good idea; it will let you fully grasp the idea of implied odds.

In a No-Limit game, implied odds are much harder to calculate. An easy example of implied odds is a calling train.

The Calling Train

If you know that the players left to act behind you are loose-aggressive players who like big pots and can't turn down good odds, then you have the ability to calculate implied odds pre-flop.

The guy to your right makes a small raise; you're next to act with seven live players behind you. When you call, it starts the calling train.

The guy behind you knows about this "phenomenon" as well, so he will make the same play you did - make a call with a marginal hand into a raised pot. Once you call, and the guy to your left calls behind you, the next player is getting 3-1 on a call (not including dead money).

Every player behind him has his odds increased by one. So each subsequent call becomes easier, and thus can be expected, regardless of cards held by certain types of players.

So, even though you don't have the pot odds to make the call, you have the implied odds.

Mike Caro
Mike Caro, one of poker's great mathematicians.


Pot-committed is a term that is used as an excuse to make poor calls. People will make a bad call and justify it to themselves, and the others at the table, with "I was pot-committed." This is one of the most important lessons I will teach you. It's also one of the topics I've had the biggest discussions/arguments about with other poker professionals.

To explain it best, I'll use a true, but very obvious example.

A woman sitting to my left is in a five-way hand. She is holding T-J, and has an open-ended straight draw on the flop. It goes all the way to the river; she's third to act. The pot, with five players all staying in, is larger than average for the table.

There is around $350 in the pot when the river comes down. The first player goes all-in; the second player does the same.

Now, the board is 9-Q-A-6-7 with three hearts, the last to come on the river. The woman has $10 left, so the pot she is still live in is now $420.

She is getting 42-1 on her money. She looks at the size of the pot, shows me her hand, says "Well, I'm pot-committed" and throws in her $10. Even though she only has to win this once out of the 42 times to make significant money on her $10, it's still a ridiculous play.

With the betting story, it's impossible for her to win. Even if the first all-in was a three-high bluff, it is not possible that the second all-in was also a bluff below a jack-high. The odds mean nothing when you're drawing dead.

My main point in this argument is that putting money in the pot when you're drawing dead is always -EV no matter what the odds are. It's a fine line to walk between when you should be playing the odds, and when you should release the hand, ignoring the odds.

I feel that this is one of the opportunities where you can help bring up your win rate. Daniel Negreanu talks about having this argument with a Texan poker player who would fold for $10 into a $1,000 pot if he knew he was beat.

Negreanu argues that in such a scenario, you would be wrong to fold; you'd actually be good enough of the time to make money (you only have to be wrong once out of the hundred times you play it).

In reality, the odds are rarely this large. The last word on when to submit to being pot-committed is really up to you, and how confident you are in your reads.

Jamming the Pot

The last thing I'll talk about is a mistake I'm seeing a lot of poker players make. I'm going to call it jamming the pot, and it's a way of distorting the odds.

You're six-handed to the flop, and you've flopped a flush draw.There's $50 in the pot. The first four players check; the guy to your right bets $30, leaving $100 behind. You raise to $80 and everyone else folds (pot now at $160).

The original bettor goes all in for $130 total (pot=$260). So now you have to call $50 into a $260 pot. That's just over 5-1 on your money. So you have the pot odds to call.

The error I see here is that your original raise to $80 was a poor play. You can be pretty sure no one would call your raise ahead of the original bettor. They all checked. If they have a monster, they'll raise or they'll fold.

So now you've just put in a raise that forces the other player to fold or move all-in. He moves all-in, forcing you to have to call. If you had not made the original raise, then you would have never had odds to get $130 into the pot on a draw.

If you look at it on a results basis (it's almost never right to look at poker from results) you put 50% of the money into this pot.

Even though when you called the all-in, it was the correct play at the time, you should never have gotten yourself into that situation. You did not have the odds to chase your flush. Instead you jammed the pot, distorting the odds and forcing your own hand.

People who like to gamble do not want to fold flush draws. A poker player who knows they're supposed to fold will make this play to justify their gambling at the table.

It is not correct - it will lose you money. Above everything else, if you're playing the odds correctly, you're going to make money at poker, regardless of the cards or the other players.

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