How to best use a poker hand's implied odds

Mar 24, 2009 4:09 PM
By George "The Engineer" Epstein |

In previous articles, we explained card odds – the odds against catching the card needed to make your hand, and pot odds – the ratio of the money already in the pot to the amount you must bet in order to call.

The bottom line is you enjoy a Positive Expectation as long as the pot odds are higher than the card odds – in the long run, you will be a winner!

It is prudent to use the pot odds on the turn when you have a drawing hand – one that usually must improve to be the best hand on the showdown; the same is true on the flop.

But what about pre-flop? In that case with a drawing hand, the Implied Pot Odds are more meaningful and useful. Furthermore, often on the flop, your estimate of pot odds may be very close to the card odds, making it difficult to decide whether or not to call. Here too, the Implied Pot Odds would be more meaningful.

The Implied Pot Odds

This is the amount of money you would expect to win at the end – at the showdown on the river – if you make your hand, relative to what the current bet costs you.

The implied pot odds (or "implied odds") considers how much money is likely to be bet by opponents during this and subsequent betting rounds in addition to the money already in the pot.

Admittedly, this is a guess. You have no idea how many opponents will fold before the river; nor whether there will be any raises. Rather than trying to guess an amount, here’s a simple rule of thumb:

In limit games, if three or (preferably) more opponents stay to see the flop – a multi-way pot – there probably will be a decent size pot at the showdown. That would make the implied pot odds favorable. In no-limit games, you need to judge whether or not your opponent(s) will make or call a huge bet on the later streets.

This rule-of-thumb is quite adequate and has practical value, considering that your goal is to ensure a large pot at the showdown, and assuming you make the winning hand.

Before the flop, when you have a drawing hand – a hand that usually must improve to become a winner – you should call if the implied pot odds are favorable, but fold otherwise.

Generally, it’s a sound investment if three or more opponents stay in – especially if there are no raises.

On the flop, should the card odds and pot odds be close, you might be inclined to fold. However, if several opponents remain in the hand, then the implied pot odds would be more meaningful.

If they are loose players, likely to call turn and river bets – after you catch the card you need – then you should use the implied pot odds rather than the pot odds at that moment.

Reminder: We are talking about your play when you hold a drawing hand. Your strategy should be much different if you hold a made hand. We’ll discuss the difference in a future column.