Poker can be a dramatic game. Portrayed often in film and media, it conjures the image of a rugged, fearless player courageously bluffing a more tepid opponent out of a pot. The reality of high-level poker, however, is often quite different.
In truth, poker is as much a game of probability and careful calculation as it is about psychology. While it is true that certain players do have a style that is more focused on reading tells, and using their instinct or intuition, every good player knows how to calculate their odds of winning a hand efficiently.
In addition to knowing how to calculate their odds of winning a hand, good players know how to calculate pot odds. Pot odds refer to the ratio between the amount required to bet to stay in the hand and the amount already in the pot. The reason why pot odds are so important is that they allow players to determine what kind of risk to reward ratio they are looking at when deciding whether to call, raise or fold.
Pot odds can be helpful because they give players insight into how good of a hand they must have in order to make a call or raise given a certain pot. Granted, if a player is bluffing, he or she could choose to ignore the pot odds, but good players still know how to calculate these probabilities well.
As with all probabilities calculated in poker, pot odds are still subject to the context of the game. Many players that are bluffing take pot odds into consideration as well. Such a player might bet substantially more than what is already in the pot or an amount that represents a very large part of the existing pot. This could be done intentionally to give his or her opponents pot odds that would make it less likely for them to call.
Lady luck plays a big factor in any player’s chances of winning a hand. But if you ensure that the odds are in your favor, over time you’ll make a profit playing poker.
So, with all that said, pot odds are of no use unless players can calculate them quickly in real-time while playing. Here are a few tips to calculate pot odds to make sure you can factor them.
Practice Calculating Pot Odds as a Ratio
Many players find it easier to calculate pot odds as a ratio or fraction. It can be easier to understand how to do this with an actual example.
It’s also important to note that pot odds apply differently to different variations of poker. For example, you can take a look at Gambling News Magazine's guide for information on three-card poker.
As an example, let’s say there is $10 in the pot, and you have to decide whether to call your opponent’s bet of $2, you would have pot odds of 5:1. However, if you had to call a $5 bet with the same $10 pot, your pot odds would be 2:1. It’s important to note that pot odds are calculated using the total size of the pot after your opponent bets, not before.
In other words, if the pot is $100 and your opponent bets $50 the pot odds for you would be 150-50 which simplifies to 3-1. So your pot odds, in this case, would be 3-1. In order to calculate this quickly, it can be helpful to brush up on your division skills.
However, even top players often don’t calculate exact fractions. Estimating it totally fine. In fact, it will save you important time so you can concentrate on decision making while on the table.
There are pre-made charts that help to calculate a fraction without actually doing the math. Most good players don’t use charts at the table thought. In fact, they are prohibited at some tournaments.
Calculate Your Pot Odds as a Percentage
Some players prefer calculating their pot odds as a percentage. Calculating pot odds this way does have certain advantages. Most notably, some players find it easier to compare their pot odds in percentage form to pot equity. We’ll get into pot equity a little later.
In order to calculate pot odds as a percentage,divide the amount you would have to call to stay in the hand by the total amount in the pot. Then, multiply that number by 100 to arrive at a percentage. Do note that the total amount in the pot includes the totals put into the pot during the most recent round of betting.
If we take another example, let’s say the action is on you. Your opponent just bet $50 on a $150 pot. The total value of the pot is now $200. To calculate your pot odds as a percentage, you would divide the amount you have to call to stay in the hand by the total value of the pot, and then multiply that by 100.
So, 50 divided by 200 equals 0.25. 0.25 multiplied by 100 equals 25. So, in this case, your pot odds would be 25%.
Brush Up on your Arithmetic and Don’t Be Afraid to Approximate
These calculations can become more complex. Especially when calculating pot odds as a percentage, many players get intimidated when dealing with long decimals. That is why good players become proficient in estimating instead of dealing with long decimal calculations.
The last thing you want to do is waste all your time at the poker table doing long division. Calculating an estimate is a perfectly viable approach and one that even top players frequently implement. Even so, you might have to revisit some of your highschool textbooks to regain your comfort in converting fractions to decimals quickly.
As this article from the Wall Street Journal explains, poker will always be about playing your opponent to some extent, but modern players are increasingly relying on math theory.
Understand how Pot Odds Relates to Hand Strength and Pot Equity
A related concept to pot odds is pot equity. Understanding pot equity will provide more clarity on why pot odds are so important and why it’s worth the time to become quicker at calculating it. Pot equity is your odds of winning the pot at any given point in time.
There is a shortcut to estimating pot equity so that you don’t have to rely on complicated charts and formulas. This is known as the rule of twos and fours.
You can use this rule by multiplying your number of outs on the flop by 4 and the number of outs you have on the turn by 2. This will give you a direct percent that represents the chance of you making your hand. This can be slightly modified to give a more accurate result if there are more than 8 outs available in the deck to complete your hand by subtracting the number of outs minus 8 from the number of outs multiplied by 4.
This percentage can be compared to your pot odds percentage. If you have pot equity that is larger than the pot odds based on these calculations, you can profitably make the call to stay in the hand.
The best way to get better at calculating pot odds or any related skill is by practicing while playing.
In conclusion, there are many variables to consider when deciding when to call and when to fold. It’s important to note that these calculations do include your ability to accurately predict what hands your opponents could have. However, given you can get a good read on your opponents given their betting patterns, these concepts can give you a mathematical edge so that you win more hands.
As Lucien Marinescu of Online Casino Gems has stated, “Poker is as much about playing your opponent as it is about playing your hand and ensuring the odds are in your favor.”
Even when learning to calculate pot odds and pot equity, good players should never forget that fact.