Many poker players forget why they play poker- to make a profit. It’s easy to get caught up in winning and losing, streaks and ruts, big hands and great moments. But amidst all the excitement, some lose sight of the fact that they need to play a fundamentally sound game in order to consistently win. Poker, like many games of chance, can be reduced to mathematical expressions and calculations with relative ease. Give a skilled player the basic picture of a hand you’ve played at some point in your career, and he can tell you exactly what your expected value was on all streets of play. In other words, he can tell you, mathematically, whether or not you should have won, whether or not you played to maximize your profit, and whether or not you could have done anything differently. All because of math.
Don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to get a picture stuck in your head of a nerdy guy, sitting alone in a dark basement, pouring over complex algorithms and calculations in order to tell you if you play poker well or not. Most people assume that the math behind poker is complex, and as such don’t even bother learning it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth- poker math is easy as pie! To illustrate just how easy it can be to play a profitable game, let’s take a look at the concept of pot odds.
What are pot odds?
Pot odds are the ratio of the amount of money in the pot at a given time in a hand, to the amount of money you need to pay to call a bet. It’s really very easy. Let’s look at an example. You are heads-up with John in a game of $600NL. John is in middle position. You’re in late position, and it’s John’s turn to act. The pot before any action is $100. John decides to bet $50 into the $100 pot, making the pot $150. It’s now your turn to act. For the purposes of this example, let’s say your only options here are call, or fold. Let’s analyze.
Bet you need to call- $50
Pot Odds- $150:$50, or, 3:1.
Your pot odds on this turn are 3:1.
Let’s take another example, under the same assumptions. You’re playing with John again. He’s in middle position, you’re in late position. On the flop, the pot is $60 before any action. John acts, and bets $50 into a $60 dollar pot, making the pot $110. You need to call a $50 bet in order to potentially win a $110 pot. What are your pot odds?
Bet you need to call- $50
Pot Odds- $110:50, or 2.2:1
Your pot odds on this flop are 2.2:1.
How does this help me?
The basic ideas behind pot odds are that they will help you determine whether or not a play is profitable according to the laws of probability. How can you determine this? Again, very easy. All you need to do is compare the pot odds you’re given to the chance you have of making your hand, or winning.
How do you calculate your chance of winning? Basically, you can just count your outs. If you already think you’re ahead, you don’t need to bother counting outs. At least not at this point in your poker career. But when you’re drawing to your hand, comparing your outs with your pot odds is critical.
An out is defined as any card that helps your hand become better than your opponent’s hand. For instance, let’s say you’re in another hand with John. You two are playing a heads-up game, with no other players involved. You hold an open-ended straight draw on the turn, and you’re pretty sure John has a pair. The pot is $100. John is in late position, you’re in early position. You check to John. John bets $60 into the $100 pot, making it $160. Can you profitably call John’s bet hoping to draw to your straight?
Well, you have eight outs. There are two cards in the deck that help you, and four of each of those cards. That’s where we get the eight outs from. We need to compare the outs to the total cards left unseen in the deck in order to determine our chances of winning. We were dealt two cards, so we count those as known. There are four seen on the board. Fifty-two total cards in a deck. So, 52 minus 6 equals 46 cards left unseen. 8 out of 46 cards help make your hand a winner.
Chance of winning: 8/46, or 5.75:1.
Pot Odds: $60:$160, or 2.66:1.
Your pot odds here are much less than you would need to draw to your straight, and you can fold profitably. If you do not fold, in the long run, you will lose money by calling. Nobody likes to lose money, and the surest way to do so is to play poker ignoring expectation!
In sum, compare your pot odds to your chances of winning at all times, and act in whatever way results in the most profit for you. You’ll find that winning is easy when you play according to the math!