Understanding Poker Pot Odds

Perhaps one of the beauties of poker is that it’s a game of many attributes. On the one hand, it’s a game of luck, depending on the cards that you are dealt. On the other hand, it’s also a game of nerve, working out how to get the better of your opponents.

However, poker is also very much a game of strategy. With the help of a little bit of simple maths, it is possible to work out the odds of being dealt a crucial card. Calculating this is an important skill to pick up as it will help you make crucial decisions during a game.

So, where do you begin? Start by applying some logic. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that even if you have weak cards, it’s worth remaining in the hand if there is $100 in the pot and the bet is only $1. Although the chances of winning are slim, the risk is minimal.

However, if the situation was reversed and there was only $1 in the pot and someone bet $100, you would be crazy to continue playing with the stakes so high. So, by working out the level of risk, or the ‘pot odds’ as it is known, you can begin to work out whether you should call or fold. Calculating this is not too difficult. If an opponent has bet $20 into an $80 pot, then the total pot now stands at $100. This means that if you call then you will need to risk $20 in order to have a chance of winning $100, which makes your odds $20: $100 or in other words 5-1.

However, to measure whether your pot odds of 5-1 are worth running with and continuing the hand, you need to have some kind of guideline. You can obtain this by comparing your pot odds to what is known as the ‘card odds.’ This is essentially a mathematical expression for the likelihood that the next card will be useful for you in winning the hand. You can calculate this by comparing the number of cards left in the pack that you don’t want against the number of cards left in the pack that you do want.

For example, if you are looking for a heart because you already hold two hearts and another two appear in the flop, then there are a possible nine heart cards left that will help you. As there are already five cards that are known to you (you hold two plus another three in the flop), you can easily work out that there are a possible 47 cards left in the deck that you might be dealt. That means that there are 38 cards left that will be of no use to you.

Essentially, you just need to weigh up the possible useful cards against the number of useless cards, which in this case is 9 against 38. In other words the odds are 38:9 or more simply, roughly 4:1 that you will be dealt a useful card.

The final and crucial calculation that you will need to make is simply to compare pot odds with card odds. If the card odds are shorter than the pot odds, then you should call and run with it as the odds you are getting from the pot are bigger than the chances of being dealt a useful card.

Quite simply, the risk is relatively small and mathematically it makes sense to remain in the hand. So, just work out your pot odds, compare them to the card odds and you have the makings of a smart strategy.


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