Understanding Pot Odds On Poker

Mention "Pot Odds", and just about everyone, from the newbie to the online poker playing veteran, will tell you they have a firm grasp of the definition. But when asked to actually verbally define what pot odds mean, the answers you get are all over the board. The better players learn to keep their thinking away from probabilities and focused on odds. If you play probabilities, a one in a million chance still gives you a chance. When you play odds, you would never think about wasting your money on a one in a million shot. And that's what pot odds help you do. They let you know when to play, and when to fold.

Strictly defined, pot odds are the payout odds of your hand that exist when only factoring the amount of money currently in the pot. And since online poker play does not deliver the wonderful opportunity to pick up on physical poker tells that your opponents are displaying, making up for the loss of that valuable tool by understanding pot odds perfectly is crucial to your success. It is also much easier to disguise betting patterns online, which makes an intimate knowledge of your pot odds at any given time such an important skill to master.

And since there is a set number of cards, a set number of suits, and a set numerical designation of each card in each suit, your odds can be hammered down to an exact number, instead of you playing a hunch or knowing only approximately how successful your venture may be. For instance, since there are 4 suits with 13 cards each, there are 52 total cards in a full online poker deck. That means your probability of drawing a single ace from that deck are 4 in 52, or 1 in 13. In other words, your odds are 1 to 12 (expressed as 1:12) in favor of you drawing an ace. But when evaluating decisions in poker, you will usually be talking about your "odds agains" achieving something, and your odds against drawing an ace from a full deck of cards would then be expressed as 12 to 1 (12:1).

Now, understanding pot odds is simply a practice of doing some quick math. And one of the huge benefits of playing poker online is that you can have any number of notes, books, odds charts and other physical data at your fingertips to study before you make a decision. But honestly, in a very short period of time you can become a quick odds calculator, determining with a glance exactly what your chances are of winning any hand. Once you know your odds of success, you can then factor in how much money you must add to the pot versus how much money is in the pot, and you immediately know if your pot odds are favorable or disastrous. For instance, if you have an open-ended straight draw after the flop in Texas Hold 'Em, you have eight cards that could complete your straight, four on the high-end and four on the low-end. Since you know the three cards on the flop and the two cards in your hand, that leaves 47 cards (52-5). Divide your 8 "outs" by 47, the number of cards you don't know, and you get your odds of filling your straight. Since you have a one in 5.88 chance of hitting a card you need, your odds against hitting your straight on the turn are 4.88 to 1 (4.88:1), as found on any Texas Hold 'Em odds chart. Now we know we simply need better pot odds than that, and we can play.

Let's say you have the above-mentioned example, an open-ended straight draw after the flop. The player before you bets $100 into a $200 pot, making for a $300 pot and a decision by you. Are pot odds in your favor, or against? Since you have to call $100 to stay in the pot which already has $300 in it, your pot odds are 3:1 against. You then compare those to your odds of hitting on the turn, which are 4.88 to 1. Since your odds of hitting your straight are worse than your pot odds, the smart play here is generally to fold. In this same situation, if you only had to call a $100 bet looking at a pot of $500 or more, your pot odds would be 5 to 1 or greater, making a call the right play. You always want to get much better pot odds than your odds against filling your hand when playing online poker. Used correctly often enough, and over an extended period of time, and pot odds will steadily build your bankroll and limit your losses.