Poker Strategy - 1/8 - Odds and Outs

This is the first part of an eight-part guide to the basics of poker strategy. If you have already read this tutorial, then you can access the second part here.

Odds and Outs

If you have an incomplete hand (i.e. a hand that does not make a valid poker hand other than "high-card") in Texas Hold'em after the flop then you are often behind. Someone else in the hand is likely to have at least a pair meaning your incomplete hand would lose if you went straight to the showdown. However, after the flop you still have two more cards to be dealt - so the question is, what are the odds of you completing your hand and gaining the advantage over your opponents? This article will show you how to calculate these odds, and what you should do with them once you've worked them out.

An incomplete hand in poker is known as a "draw", whilst a card that turns a draw into a complete (and good!) poker hand is known as an "out". When you land such a card on the turn or the river, then you are said to have "hit an out".

You will never be a decent poker player unless you learn how to quickly calculate the probability of "hitting an out". Once you have worked out how likely you are to hit an out, you can then make the decision of whether it is worth staying in the hand, or tossing your cards into the center of the table and awaiting the next deal. You will also be able to work out whether you should check, bet or raise, and how much by.

An Out turns a Draw into a Made Hand

If you failed to land a made hand once the flop has been dealt (and the chances are you haven't unless you were dealt a pocket pair), you then either have garbage, or a draw. A garbage hand is any hand that one card cannot turn into a made hand. If you had AKas your hole cards, and the flop didn't contain an ace, a king, or two hearts, then you are likely to get beaten by any pair, so you should fold. If you flopped two hearts though you have a chance of the nuts - and you need to calculate the odds of this occuring.

Say your hole cards were J♠T♠ and the flop came out A♠4♠9. You would then be looking for a spade to complete your A-high flush which is probably going to be a winner. As there are thirteen spades in a pack, and four are accounted for, then you have nine outs. The more outs a draw has, the stronger it becomes. Say in our example the flop was A♠4♠Q - you can add another three outs (KKK♣) to the nine spades, as any King would give you a lethal-looking straight-to-the-Ace.


Working Out the Odds

To calculate your odds of completing your draw, you need to divide the number of outs you have by the number of cards that remain unseen. In our first example, there were nine outs, and forty-seven cards left unaccounted for - granted a number of those cards are currently in the hands of your opponents, but for the quick calculation of odds you have to assume that all forty-seven unseen cards are available. Your odds of hitting an out is nine divided by forty-seven (9/47) which is roughly 19 percent, or 4:1. Don't worry if you struggle to do calculations in your head - the more you play the more accustomed you will become to performing the math. If you hate mental arithmetic, then I am afraid that Texas Hold'em poker at the semi-serious to serious levels is not the game for you!

Calculating Odds

Odds are usually given as percentages, or in the "4:1" format. "4:1" means that if the dealer was to deal five cards for the river, one card would be an out, and four cards would not. If given as a percentage (as 19 percent in our example) this means that if you played the same hand 100 times, you would receive an out 19 times, and not 81 times. This could be written 81:19, but when simplified it comes to around 4:1. Both calculations mean you have about a one-in-five chance of hitting an out.

Pots odds - Would a Bet be Worth It?

Okay, so now you know your hand odds. What are they good for?

To decide whether a bet is worth calling when you have a draw, you need to calculate the pots odds. This is the ratio of the amount you need to put into the pot, compared to the pot's value to you if you win.

For example, say in our example above, you need to pay $5 to call. The pot stands at $20, so, if you were to call and then win, you would win $25, which is your bet and the current value of the pot. Your "pot odds" are therefore 25:5, or 5:1 when simplified. This means that you would get five times back what you paid if you were to win.

Your hand odds are 4:1, and the pot odds are 5:1, so what's the correct action?

Let's apply the math. If you win the hand, you win $25. If you lose, you lose $5. HOWEVER according to the hand odds you will lose four times out of every five hands. As each time you lose $5, your total loss will be (4x$5=) $20. However, if you win, you win $25, so your total winnings over five hands would be ($25-$20=) $5. Divide this over five hands and you get ($5/5=) $1, so overall you will be in profit. Therefore, you call.

If the math seems fiendish then don't worry - in the simplest terms, if the pot odds are SMALLER than the hand odds, then you should bet. That's all you need to remember.

So, when you have a draw either on the flop or the turn:

[1] Count your outs

[2] Divide by the number of unseen cards to get your hand odds

[3] Divide the pot + your required bet by the amount of the bet you need to make to get the pot odds

[4] If the pot odds are smaller than the hand odds, then bet

Time for an Example Hand

At a 6max table, Adam is dealt QJ whilst Billy as the big blind at $2 is dealt A♣3♣. The two players in front of Adam fold, then Adam calls the big blind. The next two players also fold, but Billy checks. The pot is $5 (small blind + big blind + Adam's bet).

The flop is dealt: A4T♣. This gives Billy top pair and an outside chance of completing a flush. He is first to act post-flop, and bets $2. The pot is now $7.

Adam must decide whether to call, or even raise. He counts his outs (9 hearts) and his odds (47:9 or approx 4:1). He needs to pay $2 to stay in. This means the pot odds are 9:2, or 4.5:1. As 4.5:1 is less than 4:1 Adam decides to stay in the hand, and calls.

Hand & Pot Odds Post-Flop

The 5 arrives on the turn. Billy now has top pair and a chance of a straight. He bets $4, raising the pot to $13.

It's time for Adam to crunch those numbers again. He still has nine outs, but there is one less unknown card, so the odds are 46:9, which is still around 4:1. The pot odds are 17:4, as he needs to pay $4 to stay in, raising the pot to $17. The pot odds are now 4.25:1, which is still smaller than 4:1, so Adam calls.

Hand & Pot Odds Turn

The river is K meaning that Adam has completed his flush. Billy notices there are now three hearts on the board, so he checks. Adam is feeling generous so he checks as well and wins the showdown, winning $17.

Notice that if, once the turn had been dealt, Billy had made a $8 bet instead of $4, this would have made the pot odds as 25:8, which is 3.1:1. As the pot odds would have been greater than the Adam's hand odds, Adam would have folded if he had been playing correctly. This shows you the strength of understanding odds and out, and tailoring the size of your bets accordingly.

This concludes the first lesson in an eight-part series on the basics of poker strategy. To view the next article, click here.

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