Pot Odds: The Basics
"I think you've got me beat but I can't fold with these pot odds". Many of you will have heard this sentence before when watching poker on TV. A beginner would probably think: "So why do you call if you know you're behind? You're crazy!" Wrong! Pot odds are very important when making decisions in poker. After reading this article you will know why.
2) What are pot odds?
Pot odds are absolutely fundamental to one's poker game and every good poker player should know how to use them. Many players think they're using them correctly while they're doing exactly the opposite. I will try and put an end to these thoughts. Good players will also be thinking about (the even more important) implied odds, but that's not what this article is about. Pot odds help you with making decisions, mostly calling or folding, but also raising can be an option. It is a concept with which you compare the chance of your hand winning to the amount you have to call in a certain pot. The idea behind it is Expected Value. If you don't know what Expected Value (EV) is, ask around in our forum and your questions will be answered quickly. Let's imagine you have a flush draw on the turn and your opponent bets his last $25 into a $40 pot. The pot odds you get in this situation should tell you whether it is worth calling the bet or not, which in this case it isn't.
There are two common forms of notation. The first one is the odds-against notation, which is often used in gambling (and also in poker). An example of this is 4:1 (read: four to one) or 2:1 (read: two to one). Often it will also be written as 4 to 1 or 2 to 1. What this actually means is how often something won't happen compared to how often it will happen. 4:1 chance of winning actually means that you lose 4 times and win once. Note: it does not mean that you win 1 in 4 times, but 1 in 5 times.
The second notation is that of the percentages, which is often used by people who grew up with it (in mathematics for example). I will be using both notations in this article, but mainly the odds-against notation. This might take some getting used to if you're not familiar with this notation, but once you're used to it, it's a lot easier to use at a poker table.
Converting odds into percentages is very simple. Divide 100 by the sum of the numbers left and right. So 4:1 is equal to 100/(4+1) = 20%. To change a percentage to odds you do the following: Odds = X:1, where X = (100/percentage) -1. So 25% is equal to 3:1 because X = (100/25) -1 = 4-1 = 3.
Every time it is your turn to act in a hand you should be thinking about pot odds. Calculating them is fairly simple. It's your turn to act and you need to call a certain amount to play. Compare the amount you have to pay to EVERYTHING that is in the pot at that moment and everything that has been bet by other players. Example: You're in the big blind at an 8-handed table with blinds $1/$2. A good player UTG raises to $6, two players fold, two players call, the button folds and the small blind calls. You have to call $4 to see the flop and you look at your hand and see 10h-6h. Not necessarily the best hand to call an UTG raise from a strong player with, as you are most likely behind. But let's see how much is already in the pot at the moment where you have to decide between calling or folding. We have $1 + $2 from the blinds, a $6 raise, two callers, and the small blind also calls for $5, which brings us to a total of 3 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 5 = $26. Note: Your $2 big blind is also added to the pot at the time you have to make your decision. The money is no longer yours. Never forget this throughout your poker career! Money that you bet, called or raised is in the pot and no longer yours.
So you have to call $4 to see a flop. As I mentioned before, we are going to compare the amount we have to call with the size of the pot at this moment. Pot = $26, call = $4. How to we notate this? Well, that goes as follows: 26 to 4. Very simple as you can see. First the pot, then the call. But 26:4 doesn't tell us much yet. Is this good or bad? Well let's simplify this notation. When using odds-against you should always try to have a 1 on the right side of the notation, as in 4:1 or 2:1. So how do we get a 1 on the right side of 26:4? Very simple. We just divide the left side by the right side. 26/4 = 6.5. This gives us 6.5:1 (or 13%). These are good odds for a hand like 10h-6h, as you only have to contribute a small amount into a large pot with a hand you might flop the nuts with every now and then.
For practicing purposes I will give a couple more examples. (Remember to include the bet from your opponent in the pot)
Pot = 15 $, someone bets $5, You have to call $5 (20:5 or 4:1 or 20 %)
Pot = 40 $, someone bets $30, you have to call $30 (70:30 or 2.33:1 or 30 %)
Pot = 50 $, someone bets $100, you have to call $100 (150:100 or 1.5:1 or 40 %)
Pot = 20 $, you bet $10, someone raises to $30, you have to call $20 (60:20 or 3:1 or 25 %)
5) Calling or folding?
Now that we know how to calculate our pot odds, we need to compare it with our chances of winning the hand, so that we know whether to call or fold. Example: You have 8h9h and the board on the turn shows 2h7hAcQs. The pot is $40 and your opponent bets $20. Your pot odds are now 60:20 or 3:1 (25%). You think that you can only win the hand if you hit your flush. There are still 9 hearts in an unknown deck with 46 cards. Now we can use the odds-against notation again. With 9 cards you win, with 37 cards you lose. Therefore we get 37:9 or roughly 4:1 (20%). You can also just divide 9 by 46 to get roughly 20%.
So your chance of hitting a flush is 4:1 or 20%. If you call, you will lose $20 in 80% of the cases because no heart will show on the river, but 20% of the time you will win $60 because you hit your flush. If you call here your EV = (0.20)($60) + (0.80)(-$20) = -$4. As you can see this would be a bad call because your expected value is negative. But since we don't have a calculator with us at the poker table to make these calculations, we just compare our pot odds with our chances of hitting the flush, which will give us the same result.
Our pot odds were 3:1 (25%) and the chance of hitting the flush was 4:1 (20%). You have to risk 25% of the pot, while you will only win it 20% of the time. Therefore it is a fold situation. I will tell you now why you should fold.
6) General Rule
You have to call(or possibly raise) if:
- the left number from your pot odds is HIGHER than the left number from your win odds
- the percentage from the pot odds is LOWER than the win-percentage
You have to fold if:
- the left number from the pot odds is LOWER than the left number from your win odds
- the percentage from the pot odds is HIGHER than your win-percentage
Pot odds = 4:1 (20 %)
Win-percentage = 2:1 (33 %)
Here you have to call because 4 > 2 (or 20 % < 33 %).
You pay too little here compared to the chance you have of winning, which is good.
Pot odds = 3:1 (25 %)
Win-percentage = 4:1 (20 %)
Here you have to fold because 3 < 4 (or 25 % > 20 %).
You pay too much here compared to your chances of winning, which is bad.
An important observation: Some players make mistakes when calculating. Let's say they have a flush draw on the flop. The chance of hitting the flush on the turn is 20%, and on the turn and river together 35%. If someone bets on the flop and you call to see the turn, you should not think that your win-percentage is 35%, as your opponent is likely to bet again on the turn if you don't hit. So your actual win-percentage is 20% or 4:1, and THAT'S the number you should consider when calculating your odds. If a player goes all-in on the flop, you buy two cards at the same time if you call, so your win-percentage increases as you will automatically see the turn AND the river. Always think about the number of cards you're paying for and compare it with the win-percentage you have for that/those specific card(s).
7) Final Examples
You have AhKh. The board on the turn shows 2h-3h-5d-Qs. The pot is $30 and your opponent bets $20, so the pot is now $30 + $20 = $50. Your pot odds are therefore 50:20 or 2.5:1 (28%). How many outs do you have? You put your opponent on QJ or QT, so you can win the hand with an Ace or a King for a higher pair, any heart for a flush and a 4 for a straight. That's three Aces, three Kings, nine hearts and three 4's (the 4h gets counted with the 9 hearts, so we can't count that twice). That's 3 + 3 + 9 + 3 = 18 outs. That gives us a chance of 1.6:1 (38%) to win. So we have pot odds of 2.5:1 and a win-percentage of 1.6:1. According to our general rule we have to call (as 2.5 > 1.6 or 28 % < 38 %).
We're in a tournament with blinds 200/400. You have a healthy stack and get AsJs in middle position and you raise to 1600. The shortstack on the button goes all-in for 3000 and the blinds fold. The player on the button says: "I have Queens, so call me!" AJs vs QQ is about 33% vs 67%, so you're a 2:1 underdog to win the hand. This means your behind in the hand, and without knowledge of pot odds you would fold your hand here. But we know better than that! We start counting the pot. 600 from the blinds + 1600 from your raise gives us 2200. Add to that the 3000 all-in and we get a pot of 5200. You have to pay another 1400 to call. That gives you pot odds of 5200:1400 or roughly 3.5:1 (22%). According to our general rule this is an easy call, even if you are a slight underdog (because 3.5 > 2 or 22 % < 33 % ).
200 NL 8-handed cashgame. You get Jh3h in the small blind. The player UTG min-raises and everybody calls. The player in the big blind doesn't look very interested in his hand and you assume he will just call after you call. The pot is now 1 + 2 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 = $27. You have to call $3 so you get pot odds of 27:3 or 9:1. These are unbelievably good odds, and although you don't know what percentage you have to win the hand, this is an insta-call with these kind of pot odds.
Voila, this should be enough information to give you a good idea about pot odds. If you have questions or comments, these are more then welcome in our forum. Bear in mind that I have not yet mentioned anything about the also very important implied odds, but I will address that in another article.