Math’s for winners!

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(This is the fourth in our series on mistakes poker players make. Last issue we discussed Neglecting the Poker odds. Today we will further examine that costly mistake.)

Reminder: The Poker Odds consist of (1) the card odds – the odds against catching a card that makes your hand (hopefully, a winner); and (2) the pot odds – the ratio of the amount of money in the pot to the amount you must “invest” to stay in. When the pot odds exceed your card odds, you will make money in the long run; you have a Positive Expectation. Call the bet.

It is costly to consistently neglect the Poker Odds. But you need not take the time and trouble of determining these every hand you play. In the heat of battle, it is difficult to stop the action while you do a quick(?) mental calculation. That’s bound to annoy your opponents and the dealer.

Starting with a pre-flop made hand (could win without further improvement), there is no need to figure the Poker Odds on the flop unless you feel threatened by the board and betting by your opponents. If the flop brings three-to-a-straight or a flush draw but doesn’t help you, and then there is a bet and a raise before you, your pocket kings now may be “chopped liver.” Unless the bettor and raiser are both tricky players, fold without further ado.

With a drawing hand pre-flop, use the Hold’em Algorithm (see ad elsewhere in SlotsToday) or any other reasonable system for deciding whether to stay to see the flop. On the flop, still holding a drawing hand (must improve to take the pot), estimate the Poker Odds even if the flop helps your hand (more outs – cards that will make your hand) but it’s not yet a made hand.

Our previous column presented a typical example: Four-to-the-nut flush (nine outs) gave you card odds of approximately 4-to-1 against making the nut flush on the next card. The pot odds were about 10-to-1, so you had a Positive Expectation. Calling in that case was a wise decision.

You need not calculate the Poker Odds when the pot is very small. (Perhaps only two opponents stayed to see the flop in a low-limit game, and everyone checked on the flop and on the turn.) With so small a pot – especially after the dealer removes the casino’s rake – fold to a bet unless you believe the bettor is trying to steal the pot or semi-bluffing. If it’s better than 50-50 that your hand has his beaten, consider raising and see what happens. There is no need to estimate the Poker Odds in this case.

Likewise, if the pot is HUGE relative to the size of the bets, as few as four outs may warrant a call. Again, there is no need to estimate the Poker Odds. The pot odds are so high that even a 10-to-1 card odds longshot is worth a call, maybe even a raise.

Making it Easier

You can make it easier on yourself in determining the card odds: First count your outs. Examples: With four-to-a-flush, you have nine outs. Drawing to an inside straight gives just four outs. Then refer to an available chart that lists the card odds based on the number of outs.

Invitation

Send us your most significant (costly) mistake in limit hold’em, explaining how you would avoid making this mistake. The best responses will receive a copy of my Hold’em or Fold’em? booklet. E-mail your response to [email protected]

Meanwhile, try to avoid making mistakes.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

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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