In poker the concept of outs isn’t so easy to explain

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Juanita is a beautiful lady in our newly-formed poker group at a five-star rehab facility in Santa Monica. She asked a rather simple question: In a previous column in GamingToday, I had used the term “outs.” Could I explain it? Actually, the concept of outs is much more complicated than you might think.

Outs defined

When you hold a drawing hand – one that must improve to become the winner – every card in the deck that will serve that purpose is an “out” for you. The more such cards – the more outs – the better. With only a few outs, the odds against you are huge. That suggests a folding hand. For example, on the flop, from the Big Blind, you hold 10-9 offsuit with a board of 8-5-2. No real outs!

On the other hand, if the flop had been more favorable – say, 8-7-2 – you would have caught four-to-a-straight, open at both ends. Now, to make your straight, there are eight cards (presumably) still available in the deck. We assume any straight – even the small end – will win the pot. But beware if the board pairs up – could lead to a full-house, or if it becomes three-suited – could lead to a flush. The turn and river cards could seal your fate.

Your outs are best calculated on and after the flop. It is not helpful to do so before the flop; at that point, you just don’t have sufficient meaningful information. Note: Regard A-A, K-K, and Q-Q as made hands preflop; there is no reason to consider your outs unless the board becomes threatening. Likewise, for premium drawing hands – A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q. Whether or not you raise with these, it is best to see the flop before counting your outs.

Non-Outs

Naturally, cards that do not help to improve your hand are “non-outs.” A majority of the cards in the deck are in that category. Actually, we need not be concerned with these, except as to how they might help your opponents. You can estimate the non-outs simply by subtracting your outs from the number of cards remaining unseen – those still in the deck, in your opponents’ hands, and in the burn cards.

Bad Outs

Worst of all are so-called “bad outs.” That’s a card that is apparently an out for you; it will make or improve your hand. But, there is one big problem: It is also an out for an opponent – and will give him a hand that beats yours. That can be very costly as you call your opponent’s raise.

We all like to be optimistic at the poker table. Perhaps you should have suspected based on his playing traits and how he has played his hand up to this point. It would help if you were very adept at reading your opponents. Otherwise, be cautious.

Outs with made hands

The concept of outs needs not be limited to drawing hands. Made hands (could win the pot without further improvement) can gain in value with other outs.

For example, say your starting hand is Q-J offsuit. From a middle position, you call the Big Blind to see the flop. It’s a multi-way pot with no raises. Great so far; that satisfies our Hold’em Caveat. The flop comes: Q-J-2. You have flopped top two-pair! That, in itself, is a made hand. But, your hand could further improve – perhaps even become a full-house when a third Queen or Jack falls on the turn. You now have the virtual nuts – practically unbeatable!

“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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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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