Most poker players understand that “pot odds” are simply the ratio of the number of chips in the pot to the chips needed to call the last bet (or raise).
If there are 80 chips in the pot after an opponent bets 10 chips, you are getting 80/10 or 8-to-1 pot odds. We often refer to this as the “immediate pot odds” to differentiate from the “implied pot odds” – how many chips you could win at the showdown, including additional bets made by opponents in subsequent rounds, relative to the size of the immediate bet to be called.
The pot odds often serve a valuable function for winning players when holding a drawing hand. After estimating your card odds, compare these to the pot odds. With a drawing hand, the card odds invariably are not in your favor; but if the pot odds are higher it will be a wise investment to make the call – a Positive Expectation (PE).
Here’s a typical example: You have A-9 hearts suited in the hole and stay to see the flop, which is 10 hearts, 4 spades, 2 hearts. Having caught four-to-the-nut flush on the flop, you now have nine outs (the remaining unseen hearts), which translate to card odds of approximately 2-to-1 against making the flush on either the turn or the river.
The 4-2 Rule is an easy way to estimate the card odds. Since the pot odds (8-to-1 in this case) are higher than the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation. In the long run, calling your opponent’s bet will earn you a return on that investment – a PE.
The example above was almost certain to show that further investment was warranted after the flop. But what if the flop is 10 clubs, 8 and 6 diamonds? Now you’re drawing to an inside straight.
You need a 7; that’s just four outs. Yes, there is a chance an ace on the board also might give you the best hand. Let’s estimate that probability at about 33%. That would yield about one more out (33% of three outs), for a total of five outs.
According to the 4-2 Rule, investing to see only the turn, multiply the 5 outs by 2, giving you about 10% probability of making your inside straight or a pair of aces on the turn. That translates to 90% divided by 10% = 9-to-1 against as your card odds. As in the previous case, let’s say the pot odds are 8-to-1 – slightly less than the 9-to-1 card odds.
Here is where the implied pot odds take on real significance. In a limit game, if three or more loose opponents stay to see the turn, the implied pot odds could easily make it a Positive-Expectation bet to call. Can you reasonably expect further bets to be made and called on later rounds? The more opponents in the pot, the more chips likely will go into the pot.
In a no-limit game, even with just one opponent, your implied pot odds could easily be higher than the card odds, depending on the type of player your opponent is and whether he has enough chips in front of him.
What if a player raises just before you are to act? Now it’s a double bet to you. Your pot odds are cut almost in half. Furthermore, you must consider what the bettor and raiser might be holding. If one is a tight player, then consider folding. (A dollar saved is worth more than a dollar earned!) Examine the board; are there many hands that would beat yours?
Bottom line: Pot odds – both the immediate and implied – are important. If the pot odds are greater than the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation when you call. If the immediate pot odds are a bit lower than the card odds, use the implied pot odds in deciding whether to call the last bet.
Always consider the type of players you are up against, and what hands they might be holding against yours.
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