Poker is a game of odds. Odds relate to the likelihood (chance or probability) that a certain event will occur – the ratio of the probability that an event will happen to the probability that it will not happen.
Illustration: A single die (from a set of dice) has six sides, each displaying 1 to 6 spots. The chance or probability of rolling a three-spot faceup is 1 out of 6. There is only one way to hit the three-spot, and five ways to miss it. So the odds are 5-to-1 against it.
There are several types of odds in the game of poker. The “poker odds” consist of the “pot odds” and the “card odds.” Pot odds (sometimes called the “investment odds”): How much is in the pot divided by the size of the bet you must call to stay in the hand. (Note: The “implied pot odds” is how much is likely to be in the pot at the showdown divided by that same bet to stay in the pot at that time.)
The card odds, very simply, is the odds against making your hand at this point while you still have a drawing hand. It also can be used with a made hand: What are the odds against further improving your hand?
The “money odds” are similar but somewhat different than the pot odds. (In this regard, I differ with the definition offered in Michael Wiesenberg’s The Official Dictionary of Poker.) Both money odds and pot odds are used in relationship to the card odds. The pot odds are based on the actual chips already in the pot.
When the pot odds are higher than the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation. In the long run, you will win more than you lose, so that’s a favorable bet to call. To explain the money odds, consider a typical situation: You are on the button with A-spades and 10-spades in the hole. The flop brings you two more spades.
You need only one more spade for the nut flush. There are no pairs on the board; so no one is likely to make a full-house or quads that would beat a nut flush – if/when you are fortunate to catch it. With two cards to come (the turn and the river), your card odds are less than 2-to-1 against making the big flush.
There are four opponents in the pot. The Big Blind bets; the three others call. Of course, you are going to stay in that hand. If you only call, you are getting 4-to-1 pot odds on that bet – twice as much as the card odds. That’s good – a Positive Expectation. But you can do better if you raise!
Invariably the other four players who have already invested a single bet, will call your raise. Those extra chips are your money odds. For every chip you added to the pot, you are favored to win two. It’s analogous to flipping a coin where you win two units every time you flip heads, while losing only one unit with tails-up. Could you ask for anything more?
Using the money odds gains you even more. The alternative is to play it close to the vest: Wait until you catch your nut flush to bet/raise. The problem here is that there will now be three of your suit on the board. Opponents will be more inclined to fold, suspecting someone has the flush.
It isn’t worth chasing with his lonely pair in the hole, he reasons. On the other hand, if you had played the money odds, your opponents are much less likely to put you on the flush. After all, you had raised before a flush was possible. More likely, they speculate that the turn or river card gave you a pair or two-pair, perhaps a set.
What’s more, the size of the pot is substantially greater because of your raise that makes calling quite a bit more enticing for your opponents. Even more chips for you.
George “The Engineer” 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 at Sr. Citizen Centers in Los Angeles, at West Los Angeles College, and at a new CalVet facility in West L.A. Recently, he received the Senior Citizen Volunteer-of-the-Year Award from the Westside Optimists, in large part for his poker activities. More recently, George was elected to the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].