Hitting a big draw and stacking someone is one of the most satisfying parts of poker.
The problem most people have playing draws correctly, though, is overvaluing their implied odds.
In No-Limit Hold'em you're constantly playing draws and you have to be understand both types of odds - immediate odds and implied odds - if you want to play a draw effectively.
What Are Implied Odds in Poker?
Your immediate odds in a poker hand are easy to calculate. If you're getting better than 3.5-1 for your immediate odds (meaning it'll cost you $1 to call into a pot of $3.50, for example) it's probably safe to call any bet with almost anything.
When you're not getting those required odds, things get trickier. You have to work with implied odds, and unfortunately implied odds are not quite so easy to calculate.
Implied odds are:
- The odds you're getting right now along with the implied betting of later rounds
So if you call a $10 bet on the turn in a $30 pot, your total odds are your immediate odds of 3-1 plus the implied odds of the river betting round.
The tricky part about implied odds is you can never know exactly how the betting will go on the river.
You could make your draw and then go for a sneaky check-raise and have it go check-check. Or you can make your draw and then make a large bet hoping to get paid off and have your villain fold.
How to Estimate Implied Odds in Poker
To more accurately estimate your implied odds there are many things you should take into consideration:
- Who is my opponent?
- Is (s)he a multi-tabling TAG (tight-aggressive player)?
- Is (s)he a solid-thinking opponent?
- Is (s)he a massive calling station?
You must also take into consideration hands you have seen him play on the river before. You may find even solid-ish players can call large bets on scary rivers because they're afraid of being bluffed out of the pot.
You may also find players that become as tight as a clam on the river when a scare card comes.
Either way, to effectively draw you must know how your opponent will react when you hit your draw as well as when you miss your draw.
If you know how your opponent reacts on the river you will be able to profit from your draws much more. If you know your opponent is willing to call large river bets than you are probably safe calling that turn bet despite only being offered 1.5-1 or 2-1 immediate odds.
If your opponent is the type to tighten up once that scare card comes, than you are probably better off mucking the draw and perhaps trying to bluff him in a later hand where you have just been calling and an obvious draw is completed on the river.
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More Hidden = Easier to Get Paid
A good general rule of thumb for estimating your implied odds is:
- The more hidden the draw, the easier it is to get paid off
If you check-call two streets, the flush card comes and you donk-bet large or check-raise, it's usually fairly obvious to your opponent what you have.
If, however, you have straight and flush draws and your flush misses but your straight draw hits, your hand is almost completely disguised.
A lot of the time your opponent will think you're bluffing a missed flush draw.
A lot of opponents don't really put in the time to think about their implied odds. They are, of course, aware of the concept of implied odds, but they just don't put in the required thought when they're in the heat of the battle.
They think to themselves, "Oh if I hit my gutshot I will have the nuts and I will rake in a monster." In reality, it's a limped pot and the only action is a bet from late position.
This is important:
- To play a gutshot you must have a strong chance at winning a stack to make a call profitable
A simple bet from late position does not mean a player has a hand that can call big bets. A player from late position could be betting any number of hands - most of which would not be calling any sort of bigger bets on later streets.
Put Your Opponent on a Range
To play hands like this effectively you must put your opponent on a range. If his range consists of mostly large hands, then you know he'll be more likely to call large bets on later streets.
If, however, his range consists of a number of one-pair hands you must know a simple gutshot or a crappy open-ender or low-flush draw is probably not worth chasing.
Playing draws well is one of the most important aspects of poker. As they say, the money you save in poker is money you win. The more money you save not chasing draws that have little chance of being paid off, the more money you will make in the long run.
Just like everything else in poker, you must take everything into consideration before making a decision to continue in a hand.
How to Calculate Reverse Implied Odds
When you're facing a bet on the flop, calling obviously doesn't mean the end of the hand. There are still two more critical streets to play.
If you have a marginal hand that wants to see a showdown (aka has "Showdown Value"), the "reverse implied odds" of these future streets can end up costing you a lot of money.
After you call the flop bet, the turn and river are yet to be played and your opponent may choose to bet one or both of those streets. Those future streets can be estimated using implied odds and reverse implied odds.
When you have a drawing hand you benefit from the later streets of betting. You may not be getting the immediate pot odds to make your call worthwhile, but because of the implied odds of the two remaining streets, you can make that unprofitable call profitable.
Reverse implied odds work in the opposite way. Say you have a good but not great hand, with little hope of improving, and you're up against an opponent who has a hand that's either already better than yours or likely to be better than yours by the river.
Those implied rounds of betting could end up costing you a good deal of money.
Reverse Implied Odds Hurt You with Dominated Hands
When you hit the flop with your dominated hand, it may look good to you. There is a chance you have the best hand now, but it might end up costing you more than you'd hoped to find out.
Let's take a look at an example.
$1/$2 game poker online, six-max; $200 effective stacks. An aggressive TAG raises from the button to $8 and you make the call in the BB with K♥ J♠.
The flop comes 3♠ K♣ 4♦. You check and he bets $13. You call.
Now, you have top pair with a good kicker. Your hand very well could be best now and if your opponent was all-in for the $13, it would be the easiest call you ever make. But the hand isn't over ...
The turn comes 5♠. Your opponent bets $30 and you decide to call. You figure if your hand was best on the flop, nothing has changed, so you call again.
The river comes 5♦. Your opponent bets $55 and you decide to call.
You figure you're too pot-committed and maybe your opponent is bluffing, so you talk yourself into calling again. He tables A♦ K♠ and is shipped the $197 pot.
As you can see, your dominated hand ran into reverse implied odds. Unfortunately for you there were more streets than just the flop and your savvy opponent exercised his right to bet every single one of them.
Because your opponent is in position he may choose to shut down on the later streets when he feels he is beat. So when you're right you end up winning a small pot, and when you're wrong you lose a substantially bigger one.
Good But Not Great Hands on Dangerous Boards
Another problem you run into is when you have a hand that has little chance of improving and your opponent either already has you crushed or has a high likelihood of making a better hand than you by the river.
An example is a weakish top pair on an extremely draw-y board.
Like so: $1/$2 game online, six-max. $400 effective stacks. You have A♣ J♦ in the big blind.
A player from late position raises to $6 and you reraise to $20. He makes the call and the flop comes J♥ T♥ 9♣.
You bet $30 and he raises to $65.
Now what do you do? Your hand may be best now but the board is very draw-y and if he is doing this as a semi-bluff, you may have to call off your entire stack to find out.
Again, if he happened to be all-in you could call with impunity because it would mean you could see a showdown without having to invest any more money.
But it doesn't work like that. You're 200BB deep - if you call this bet, there may be another big bet following it up on the turn or river.
So what can you do? Half of the deck is a scare card for you and there's almost no safe way of continuing if you smooth-call.
That leaves pushing all-in or folding. If you shove you're never going to be called by worse, so you are better off just folding to the flop raise!
Reverse Implied Odds and You
Looking at the two examples it should be obvious to you why getting into RIO situations is detrimental to your poker health. But they can't be avoided so it's best to figure out how to identify them and avoid getting wrapped up in large pots when they occur.
Though it seems like any play you can make in a reverse implied odds situation sucks, usually the safest play is the one that sucks the least. Choosing the safer line and folding in bad reverse implied odds spots will save you far more money than you make when you call and are right.
Start looking for spots where your decent hand has a small chance of improving versus an opponent who either has a better hand or will have better by the river, and just avoid them.
More on Poker Odds
- How Not to Suck at Poker: Learn Basic Odds
- How to Calculate Pot Odds & Equity in Poker
- What are the Odds? A List of Long-Shot Odds in Texas Hold'em