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In poker just keep it simple

Sep 15, 2015 3:00 AM

Card Player magazine offers much valuable information that can help us improve our game. Recently, it initiated a unique feature, “Explain Poker Like I’m Five” – designed to simplify poker concepts that might be somewhat confusing. Great idea!

Along that line, I have always advocated the KISS principle – “Keep It Simple, Stupid” – as it applies to life, investing, engineering, and the game of poker. I teach my seniors poker classes, and write my books and columns with KISS in mind. Poker is complicated enough as is.

In its August 5, 2015 issue, as part of this series, Card Player published a feature entitled, “Implied Odds.” It started off OK, but, as it came to “explain it like I’m five,” that’s when it confused me – and I suspect other readers.

Interestingly, I have often discussed the concept of pot odds – both the immediate and implied – along with the card odds at our seniors poker classes. Here’s how, using KISS.

What are implied odds? I favor the definition in Wiesenberg’s “The Official Dictionary of Poker” (available on Amazon as a Kindle book):

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“The ratio of what you should win (including money to be bet in subsequent rounds) on a particular hand to what the current bet costs.” I would prefer to label this the “implied pot odds.”

Using KISS: A typical “Keep it Simple, Stupid” example is the best way to explain the “implied pot odds,” and how best to use them: In a no-limit hold’em game, you have been dealt Jd-10d, and the flop is Kd-Qc-2s. You have 8 outs (four Aces and four 9s) to make a straight – probably the winning hand.

First, use the 4-2 Rule to estimate your card odds: With two cards to come (the turn and the river), multiply your outs by 4. (Note: When there is only one card to come, multiply your outs by 2.) That gives you about 32% (4 x 8) as the probability of completing your straight. Thus, you will miss the straight about 68% (100 - 32) of the time. So your card odds are approximately 68 divided by 32, or 2.13-to-1 against. Call it 2-to-1 against.

Next, estimate the immediate (current) pot odds. There is $20 in the pot and an opponent bets $80. If you decide to call this bet, you are getting (20 + 80) = 100 divided by 80 = 1.25 pot odds. As a rule, to call this bet, the pot odds must be higher than the card odds for a Positive Expectation.

On that basis – pot odds of 1.25 are lower than your card odds of 2-to-1 – you might be inclined to muck your hand. But, stop and think! Will there likely be further bets after you call this $80 bet – by the raiser and/or others still in the pot? If so, estimate the additional money that will probably go into the pot – not counting your own bets after calling this $80 bet.

Add that sum to the money ($100) already in the pot. Let’s say you would guess that about $150 of your opponents’ money would be added to the $180 already in the pot, for a total of $330. So the implied pot odds would be about 330 divided by 80 – well over 4-to-1, substantially higher than your card odds (2-to-1). You are getting a Positive Expectation. By all means, call that $80 bet on the flop. In the long run, you will come out a winner.

Those are relatively simple calculations you can quickly make (estimate is good enough) on the spot. It will help you make the best decision as to whether you should call that bet on the flop. KISS.

Note: If you make your hand, it will not be the nuts. There is always the chance an opponent will catch a better hand including a full-house or even quads. Those would be long-shots and there is not much you can do about it. Our estimation does not take these into account. A significant Positive Expectation should make up for this limitation.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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