Shape your strategy around 'poker odds'

Mar 17, 2009 4:06 PM
By George "The Engineer" Epstein |

Calculations ensure your proper action

In an earlier article, we discussed the Card Odds – the odds against catching the card needed to make your hand. For example: You have four-to-the-nut flush on the turn. This is a drawing hand, one that usually must improve to become a winner. In this case, the card odds are approximately 4-to-1 against making the flush on the river. (In a future column, we will explain a simple method for estimating the card odds.)

Today, we will discuss the pot odds, and how to use these along with the card odds to make the best decision.

Pot odds are the ratio of the money in the pot to the amount you must "invest" – or risk – to call the last bet.

Example: It’s a $3-$6 limit game. You hold four-to-the-nut flush on the turn; the pot contains $48 after an opponent makes the $6 bet. In this case, your pot odds, including his bet, are: $48/$6 or 8-to-1. Easy, isn’t it?

Should you call the bet?

Knowing the pot odds (8-to-1 in this case), now the question is should you call his $6 bet so you can see the river card? The rule here is: Call the bet if the pot odds are higher than the card odds.

In this example, with four-to-the-nut flush on the turn – card odds of 4-to-1, and pot odds of 8-to-1 – calling would be a wise decision. With the pot odds so much higher than the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation.

In the long run, this situation will be profitable. Why is this is so?

Card odds of 4-to-1 against, means that you will miss four times for every one time you make the nut flush – which presumably will win the pot with the best hand.

Of course, this is true only on the average, in the long term; the short-term result is strictly a matter of luck. Since we are playing poker for the long run, we can discount the vagaries of the poker gods.

The four times that you miss (don’t make the flush) and lose, will cost you 4 x $4 =or $16; but the one time you make your hand and win the pot, will gain you $48.

Your net gain is $48 - $16 = $32.

That’s a very favorable return on your investment! That bet has a Positive Expectation.

Note that our example was limited to a situation when you were trying to decide whether to call a bet on the turn with one more card, the river card, to come. When faced with a similar decision on an earlier street, it often is best to use the Implied Pot Odds. We will discuss this aspect of the Poker Odds in our next column.

Summing up

Now you know how to figure (or estimate) card odds and pot odds. If the pot odds are higher than the card odds, it’s a Positive Expectation bet – an investment that will pay off in the long run.