Knowing Your Odds

Knowing your odds is effectively about knowing whether or not you are getting value on your betting action. If you get value more often than not, it is likely that you will enjoy more winning sessions than losing ones at the cash tables and progress deeper in tournaments.

There are three types of odds in online poker – the odds of winning a hand, the pot odds you are getting for calling a bet and the implied odds available to you for making a drawing hand. Getting the odds right every time does not mean you will win every hand, but it is a good place to start!

The Odds of Winning a Hand in NL Hold´em

Without knowing what your opponent´s cards are, it is very difficult to accurately assess your odds of winning a hand. There is some software on the market that will calculate your odds of winning a hand based on probability; but there can be massive swings of probability as the community cards are dealt, and it is often not in your advantage to rely on this information to determine your pre-flop action.

More commonly, players rely on the odds of making a hand – for example turning a pair into a set or hitting the cards you need to make a straight or flush draw. Let´s look at some of those odds and how they are calculated:

Example 1. You have been dealt a pair of Fives. To work out your odds of making a set, you know that there are two more Fives among the fifty cards you cannot see, and that five more cards are going to be dealt on the Flop, Turn and River.

The odds of hitting a set of Fives before the end of the hand are expressed as the number of “outs” you have (2) divided by the number of unseen cards (50), and then multiplied by the number of cards still to be dealt (5). This gives you 2/50*5 = 0.2, which means you have a 20% or one-in-five chance of making a set at the pre-flop stage.

Once the flop has been dealt, the odds change again. Now you are still looking for two outs, but there are now forty-seven unseen cards and only two more cards to be dealt. The equation to calculate the odds of making a set now becomes 2/47*2 = 0.085 – meaning that the odds of making a set have now increased to about one-in-twelve (8.5%).

Example 2. You have been dealt A 10 and the flop is J 8 4. Among the forty-seven cards you cannot see, there are nine hearts remaining in the pack that would give you the nut flush. Before the Turn and River are dealt, your odds of making the hand are 9/47*2 = 0.38, or about one-in-three. If you miss the fifth Heart on the Turn (9), your odds reduce to 9/46*1 = 0.195, about one-in-five.

Why not one-in-four you may think. After all, there are four suits of cards and I only want one of them to appear. What you have to remember is that four of the cards you can see are Hearts. There is one Diamond, one Club and no Spades. As there are more cards of these suits left in the pack, there is a higher probability than one-in-four that one of them will be dealt on the River.

However, it should also be noted that you have the possibility of making Top Pair with your hand (the odds of catching an Ace on the River are 0.065), and that any Queen or Seven would give you a straight (0.174). You should be aware of these “secondary” hands when deciding your betting action prior to the final community card being dealt.

Getting Value with Pot Odds

Getting value with pots odds is all about how much money you have to put into a pot, in relation to what is already in the pot, and compared to your odds of making a winning hand. It sounds complicated, but in fact it is a fairly simple concept to explain.

If, for example, there is $50.00 in a pot and one of your opponents bets a further $20.00, you have to then decide whether it is worth your while to call the $20.00 bet with the hand you have. They way this is achieved is as follows:

If you call the $20.00 bet, you are getting pot odds of 70 (the money already in the pot) / 20 (the money you have to pay to remain in the hand). As a decimal, this can be expressed as 0.285.

Depending on what stage of the hand you are at, and how many players are left in the hand, you can determine whether you are getting value or not by calculating the odds of making your strongest possible hand.

In my Example 2 (above), I calculated that the odds of making the nut flush after the flop were 0.38. As these odds are better than the pot odds of continuing in the hand after the flop, the bet should certainly be called.

However, if the same scenario occurred after the Turn – when the pot odds are 0.285 and the odds of making the Flush are 0.195 – you will be getting no value by calling the bet. The margins may only be small but, over a period of time, they can make the difference between playing online poker profitably and playing online poker at a loss.

The Implied Odds of Making a Drawing Hand

Let´s look at that last hand again and, instead of calling the $20.00 bet after the flop, let´s say we raise the bet to $40.00 – after all the object of playing poker is to make as much money as possible when the odds are in your favor!

Assuming that your opponent calls, you bet $40.00 into a pot that already had $70.00 in it (after your opponent´s initial raise) and he or she had to pay a further $20.00 to call your re-raise. This increases the pot odds from 0.285 to the implied odds 0.307 ($40.00/$130.00).

The implied odds are still in your favor, but the margins are smaller. However, assuming that a Heart did get dealt on the Turn, you will now win a pot containing $130.00 instead of $70.00 (possibly more if you get called on your post-Turn bet).

Obviously, raising in this situation is only worth your while all the time the implied odds remain in your favor and they will vary substantially depending on the size of the pot, the amount of money being bet ahead of you and the number of players remaining in the hand. The more players in a hand, the better your pots odds and implied odds usually are, but it is always better to know your odds rather than to guess them.

Don´t Let the Odds Control Your Game

Knowing the odds of making a hand, your pot odds and the implied odds of drawing a winning hand are useful pieces of information to have prior to making your betting decisions, but they are not the only factors that should control your game.

Some players – usually using poker software – rely on knowing their odds to make their betting decisions. If you can identify these players, and base your betting actions on the pot odds and implied odds they are most likely getting, your will know when to call or raise a bet, or fold your hand against it – ultimately increasing your profitability further still!