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Why'd He Call That? What the Heck are Pot Odds?

This has happened to every player who has ever played competitive poker for any amount of time. You have a great hand, not just because of the board, but also because of your pocket cards. There is no obvious card that can do you a lot of damage, but not wanting to scare everyone off, you put in a low to medium bet. It is enough to scare off pure bluffers, but maybe enough to keep a small pair in. You guess right and someone calls. A seeming blank shows up, but when you bet, the other person raises hard, and somehow you know that person who was holding 7-9 off suit made their straight . . . but why would that person keep calling you with 7-9 off suit when you had trips on the flop? If makes know sense, the other player gets lucky, and you are pissed off because it is obvious you made the right play and got burned . . . but is that what really happened, or did you let that player win?

Anyone who watches the World Series of Poker on ESPN, or who reads any poker book written by any pro will eventually come across the term "pot odds.?" The problem is that usually this concept is not explained all that clearly. Many times all you hear is: "Consider the pot odds and if they're good, call.?" But what does that really mean? Pot odds are one of the great secrets of pros and amateurs alike, and virtually every tournament I have won online had at least one big hand where I came from behind in the hand to win because the pot odds were right for me to stay and chase. Pot odds are among one of the most important concepts in poker. It may not come into play often, but when it does it can change the entire dynamic of a game.

Pot odds is not the easiest concept to explain, but here is an example of when they come into play.

Your Hand: 7 spades, 10 spades

Opponents': ??

Let's say that you are the big blind at $100. Two people call early, then one person who is a very loose and very bad player, raises. Well since it's only $100 to call, you have a ten, you have two spades, and the raiser probably has nothing, you call. So does everyone else. Now you have $850 in the pot (we will say the small blind folded, leaving the money in the middle). Now the flop comes out:

6 diamonds, 8 of spades, A of spades

The first player raises, the next two call. This puts the pot up to $1,150. Right now, if anyone has anything, then you are behind. You would lose to a pair of sixes, a pair of eights, a pair of aces, any trips, or any high card above a ten. There is a good chance that you are behind in the hand, but this is where figuring the odds come in. Any spade gives you a pretty good flush, especially if the next card is a face card. Any nine also gives you a straight. This means that theoretically, there are 12 cards in the deck that can give you the win (IMPORTANT: the nine of spades gives you a flush, so do not count it again as a straight card). So about a 1-4 chance that the next card is a winner for you. Those are pretty good odds, but those aren't the pot odds.

To figure out the pot odds you have to figure that you are behind. The best hand someone could possibly have is trips. Since a straight and a flush both beat trips, you still have 12 cards that could help you win. In a worst case scenario, you are a 3 to 1 underdog. Now, look at the pot. To stay in and see the next card, you only have to pay $100. That $100 gives you a chance to win $1,150! That is 11.5 to 1. These are your pot odds. You take the amount you have to bet to stay in the hand and divide that with the amount in the pot. Do you have more than a 10% chance of winning? Yes. Since you have a much better than 10% chance of winning, you should absolutely call.

Now, had the person in front of you raised $500, so it would have took $500 to match a pot that was at $1,450, then that matches about 3 to 1 on your money, and about a 3 to 1 odds of making your hand. This is the gray area of toss up. If they match, it's your decision based on your game, though matching even is the minimum odds you have to have to chase a hand and make money in the long run.

In this case let's say another card comes up and it's a blank, the King of hearts. The first person bets $200, the next player folds, and the guy behind you calls. Now you have $1,550 in the pot, and you know that right now you are beat. You still have 12 cards that will help you win. You have two cards, plus there are four on the board, so figure out the deck as 52-6, or 46. You have a 12/46 chance, or a little better than 1 in 4 of making your hand. $200 to call for $1,550. That's still over 7 to 1 on your money in the pot, so this is a good hand to call. If you don't get your card, you can fold out the last hand, but what's this? A 9 of clubs appears to give you an unbeatable straight. The first guy bets, the second raises. Guess how much money you just made? That is how pot odds work.

Now, say you had the same starting hand, 7-10 of spades, and a similar flop: 6 diamonds, 8 spades, A of hearts. In this case the flush is such a distant possibility you don't even count it. This time there is $450 in the pot, from your big blinds, the small blinds, and three calls. Now the first player bets $100, and the second player raises it to $200. Say the next guy folds and now it's your turn. You don't have the flush option, any pair is ahead, a seven really doesn't help you, and any ace or high card is ahead. You have to pay $200 for a $750 pot, or a little worse than 4 to 1 odds. The problem is, the only cards that help you are nines for an inside straight draw, giving you 4 cards out of 47 to help, or making you over a 10 to 1 underdog. With less than 10% chance to win the hand, the only way you can justify staying in is if your bet to stay in, was less than 1/10 of the entire pot. It's not, so fold.

Over the long term, chasing only when it is financially beneficial, and learning to fold on what might, at first glance, seem like a good chase, are two of the hallmarks of very good poker players. Figuring out the money percentages is critical, because if you are a 4 to 1 underdog, you will lose that hand three times. You need to make sure each time that the money percentages are correct, so that one time you do make the hand, it makes up for and/or surpasses all your losses. It's a hard concept, because you have to figure out money odds, with percentage of winning odds, and match those up against probable opponents' hands, but as you play more and practice, it will become more and more clear exactly what pot odds are and how they work.

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