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This is the third in our series on mistakes poker players often make. Previous columns discussed the mistakes rated Nos. 1 and 2 by our Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center in Los Angeles: (1) Playing Too Many Hands; and (2) Playing Ace-Rag Offsuit. Neglecting the poker odds was a close third.

The poker odds consist of (1) the card odds – the odds against catching the card(s) that make 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 to see the next card.

When the pot odds exceed your card odds, you will make money in the long run; you have a Positive Expectation. Call the bet.

On the other hand, it is best to fold if the pot odds are less than the card odds. (When it’s close, consider the implied pot odds – the ratio of the amount that is likely to be in the pot at showdown relative to the current bet.)

It seems that most poker players fail to use the poker odds – a costly mistake. There are two possible reasons: (1) They don’t understand or are unaware of the concept. Perhaps no one ever taught them. (2) It’s too much like work so they won’t make the effort.

These are the people who “came to play” – our Poker Pigeons. Those who do use the poker odds are the Poker Sharks; they “play to win!” (Ref. The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!; Epstein and Abrams).

It’s really quite easy. Example: Let’s say, in a limit game, with A-10 suited, hearts, you saw the flop and turn: 9h 3c 2s and then 7h

With four hearts to the nut flush, you have nine outs (13 total hearts minus the four showing). Using the 4-2 rule, multiply the number of outs (9) by 2; that gives approximately 18% as the probability you will catch a fifth heart on the river for the nut flush. Rounding off to 20%, you will miss the flush about 80% of the time on the river.

So the card odds are 80/20 or 4-to-1 against you.

Now, there is a bet on the turn; should you call? Examine the pot; there are about 10 big bets including your opponent’s last bet. That’s 10-to-1 pot odds compared to your card odds of 4-to-1 against. With the pot odds higher than the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation. Calling is the smart thing to do.

On the other hand, if there are only 3 big bets in the pot, folding is the wiser decision. That’s not difficult, is it?

Sometimes there are so many chips in the pot, it doesn’t require making the estimation for the poker odds. The same is true if there are only a few chips in the pot; save your money and fold; the pot odds are much lower than the card odds. In doubt? Make a quick estimate. Without a Positive Expectation, you are bound to be a loser.

So that’s an easily correctable mistake. But only you can make the effort.

What’s your opinion?

Send us your most significant (costly) mistake in limit hold’em, explaining how you would avoid making this mistake. The best responses – to be judged by my granddaughter Esther, who created the now famous Esther Bluff, and me – will receive a copy of my Hold’em or Fold’em? booklet. (It’s powerful!) Please include your name, address and where you play poker; we may publish your comments in a future column. E-mail your response to [email protected].

Meanwhile, try to avoid making mistakes…

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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