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Pot Odds 101: The Basics

Pot Odds BasicSo you know the basics of poker strategy, but you keep hearing the term "pot odds" getting thrown around in articles, videos, on television, and by that annoying guy with sunglasses in seat 8.

What exactly does it mean, and how can you calculate pot odds without needing a calculator?

Pot odds are basically the relative size of a pot compared to the cost of calling a bet.

For example, let's say that on the flop an opponent goes all-in. If the pot had $10 in it before the all-in, what do you need to consider before calling? Basically, two things. 1- the size of the all-in, and 2- the likelihood that your hand can win the pot.

In general, if the % of the time your hand will likely win at showdown is greater than the % of the pot you must call, calling is profitable.


An Obvious Example

Before getting into any heavy maths, here is an intuitive example where you have probably already used the concept of pot odds at the table without even knowing it.

Let's assume you have a flush draw on the flop and the pot has $100 in it. Your opponent goes all-in for an additional $1. Basically if your odds of winning are more than 1 in 100 (or 1%), then you should call.  With a flush draw (assuming you have no other outs) your odds to hit are roughly 1 in 3 or 33%.  Clearly, it's profitable to call because you'll hit your flush often enough. That said, if he goes all-in for $10,000, you should obviously fold because it simply costs too much to draw.

Hopefully, both of those answers were obvious to you. That said, if $1 was an easy call and $10,000 was an easy fold, there must exist some cutoff point to determine the difference between when you should call and when you should fold. 

 

A More Detailed Example

For the sake of simplicity, let's say we have 2♣-3♣ on a flop that is J♣-Q♣-A♠. If we assume our opponent goes all-in with a pair or better and does not have a flush draw himself, that means we have 9 "outs". Our "outs" are all of the cards that would allow us to win the hand- in this case all 9 remaining clubs in the deck. The odds of hitting a 9-outter on the flop are precisely 34.97%, which allows us to know how much we can call. In the case of the $100 pot, our opponent's all-in can be profitably called if it is for $34.97 (34.97% of $100) or less. If our opponent went all-in for more than that, our call would not be profitable.



How Can We Know the Odds? The Rule of 4 and 2

Rule of 4 and 2 - Poker Pot OddsWhile it was easy to use a calculator and determine that 34.97% was the precise odds of hitting a 9-outter in the previous example, while playing poker we'll rarely have the luxury of a calculator or  the time to use one. We can estimate the odds of hitting a hand using the rule of 4 and 2.


On the flop, the percentage of the time that you'll make your hand by the river is roughly the number of outs x 4. So in the previous example, we calculated 9 outs. 9 x 4 = 36. Therefore, 36% is our rough guess, and you'll note that it is actually quite close to the actual odds, 34.97%.  Pretty dang close!

If a hand has already reached a turn and you're considering a call, multiply by 2 instead of 4. If we have 9 outs and just 1 card remaining, you can guess your odds are about 9 x 2, so 18%. In this case, the actual number is 19.57%, again fairly close to our estimate.  

Counting the number of outs you have in a given hand and using the Rule of 4 and 2 can greatly help you in deciding whether or not you're "priced in" to calling a hand, and pretty much every time it’s within +/- 2.5%.  

In more detailed examples you’ll need to factor in if your over cards are outs, plus put a weighted average on what hands your opponents could have, as well as a few other factors.  But, don’t worry, for today, class is dismissed.  

 

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