The Basics of Pot Odds

pot odds

There is a lot of math involved in poker. The best poker players have brains like calculators and can figure out complex problems on the fly. Working out pot odds is one of the first steps to delving into poker math.

Pot odds are one of the first things poker players learn about the game. A good starting hand strategy is the first but pot odds are a close second. Pot odds are used every single time you play a hand. They represent the risk/reward of any given decision in a hand of poker. They dictate whether you should call and fold. These odds can be the difference between winning and losing.

How To Calculate Pot Odds

Don’t worry if you’re one of those people who hides under the table at the very mention of math. Calculating pot odds is math, but it is easy to do. They’re even easier if you play online poker because you can have a calculator open at the side of you. You won’t need a calculator the majority of the time, however.

Let’s talk you through a simple example. Imagine there is $80 in the pot and your opponent bets $20. What are your pot odds for at least calling? You take the size of the pot ($80) and add the bet ($20) for a total of $100. It costs you $20 to call, so divide the $100 total pot by $20 to get 5-to-1. Those are your pot odds.

You don’t only receive pot odds but also offer them to your opponents. Using the same example as above, let’s imagine there is $80 in the pot, your opponent bets $20 and you decide to raise. You raise $80, what are your opponent’s pot odds?

The formula is exactly the same as last time, although with an additional step because of your bet. Take the $80 pot, add your opponent’s $20 bet, then your $80 raise. That gives you a total pot worth $180. Your opponent needs to call $60 to potentially win $180 so divide $180 by $60 to come to 3-to-1.

They Play A Major Role in Playing a Drawing Hand

Pot odds have a major role when it comes to playing draws. Some players chase down draws regardless of the odds offered to them. Don’t be one of those players.

This example shows these odds in action when you have a draw. We are at the turn of an As-8d-6s-2c board and we hold Js-Ts. The pot has $120 in it and our opponent bet $60, should we call?

Working out your pot odds is the first step. They are $180 divided by $60 which is exactly 3-to-1. The next step is where your reads on your opponent come into play. We conclude we must hit a spade on the river (and improve to a flush) in order to win the hand. This means we have nine possible cards to hit from the 46 unknown cards (52 cards minus the four community cards and our two hole cards). Hitting a spade is a 4-to-1 shot.

The odds of us hitting our hand and winning the pot are greater than the pot odds offered. A call here is unprofitable. Had our opponent bet $30 into the $120 pot, we are getting 5-to-1 odds so a call is profitable. Why? Because the pot is offering better odds than the chances of us winning the hand.

Does This Mean We Should Always Fold Draws With Unfavorable Odds?

You’re probably sat there wondering if you will ever be able to play a draw again. A skilled opponent could make the perfect bet to make it unprofitable to see the next card. This is true, but that’s where implied pot odds become a factor.

Calculating implied odds is based around what you believe you can win from a hand if you improve. Let’s stick with the example above. We hold Js-Ts on an As-8d-6s-2c board, the pot is $120 and our opponent bets $60 like before. We already know this gives us 3-to-1 pot odds and we should probably fold.

But what if we know our opponent will pay us off on the river if we complete our flush? Should we factor in that extra money when coming to our decision? Yes, the answer is you should.

Weaker players are never getting away from an ace when we make our flush. Also, consider our opponent has Ac-Kc and the river is the king of spades. We make our flush at the same time he makes two pair. It’s going to take a lot to fold ace-king here.

We imagine our opponent will make a $100 bet on the river even if we make our flush. This suddenly makes a call profitable. The $120 pot, our opponents $60 bet and another $100 gives us pot odds of 4.66-to-1, more than enough to call with a flush draw with one card to come.

Working out implied odds isn’t an exact science and is a bit of a gamble. You need to know your opponent inside out. A rule of thumb is your implied odds are greater against a weaker player than a strong one. Bear that in mind.

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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